Who’s In Charge Here?

May 16, 2012. University Press publishes revealing exposé on Florida Atlantic University’s Board of Trustees, “[H]alf the board members have bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, or other financial problems in their past.”
(Published May 15, 2012)


FAU Board of Trustees group photoThe Board of Trustees with President Mary Jane Saunders (center). Photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations.

Experience. Leadership. Management. Philanthropy. Awards.

These are the words FAU’s Board of Trustees members used to describe themselves when they applied to join the board.

Bankruptcy filings. Foreclosures. Tax warrants. Court orders to pay debts.

These are the words they neglected to mention.

As FAU’s highest-ranking leaders, the trustees make FAU’s biggest financial and academic decisions. Their actions affect the entire university community — students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni.

But a University Press investigation also found federal lawsuits, job performance complaints, a federal tax lien, and an eviction order in their past.

Read more at upressonline.com

Florida Ponders Need for Faculty Tenure

February 6, 2012. After eliminating the tenure of K-12 teachers and aiming at state colleges, Florida legislators may now go after university faculty

(February 6, 2012)

By Scott Travis, Sun-Sentinel

Tenure is supposed to give educators a high level of job security, but many aren’t feeling so secure these days.

The Florida Legislature last year eliminated tenure for new K-12 teachers and proposed ending it for community college professors. In the past few months, Gov. Rick Scott has questioned whether university professors need it.

Critics say it handcuffs administrators and protects bad teaching. Supporters call it crucial to protect controversial viewpoints and to help Florida attract and keep the best faculty. Right now, only the University of Florida is consistently ranked among the nation’s top public research universities. UF President Bernie Machen has said it would fall to a regional university if it lost the ability to offer tenure.

Read more at sunsentinel.com.

Your Union: Fighting to Protect Due Process, Academic Freedom and Tenure

February 28, 2011. New legislation could eliminate UFF and Collective Bargaining Agreement protections altogether

Professors, librarians, instructors, and all other faculty in the State University and State College Systems are now under attack and facing a crisis of unparalleled proportions. Several pieces of legislation presently being concocted by right wing lawmakers are poised to target the most cherished aspects of faculty life—tenure, due process, academic freedom, fair summer salaries and every other  favorable working condition enumerated in UFF collective bargaining agreements (CBAs).

Perhaps the greatest threat to faculty at FAU and elsewhere in the SUS is House Bill 1023. Introduced on February 25, HB 1023 amends Section 447.307 of the Florida Statute. Upon passage, HB1023 will decertify UFF as the bargaining agent for all UFF chapters that have fewer than fifty percent dues-paying members. At FAU many faculty members may understand how important the Contract is, yet only about three out of every ten bargaining unit members are dues-paying members.

One percent of your salary can seem like a large chunk of change, and so some colleagues reason that they can “go it alone,” redirecting that money for the cable bill or a fill-up at the gas station. After all, they figure if they do their work and receive excellent evaluations they should be OK in terms of job security and advancement. In reality, however, we fool ourselves if we think that honest and conscientious performance alone can replace a union contract that carefully delineates the parameters and expectations of workplace performance for both employer and employee. Moreover, in a state like Florida the lack of a Collective Bargaining Agreement puts virtually all the power in the  hands of administrators.

Under state law, absent a contract all workers become “at will” employees, meaning that your employment is essentially “at the will of” the employer. There are no protections from arbitrary layoffs in the event that an administrator dislikes you, your teaching or research. A chair or dean merely needs to have a desire of their personal choosing to replace you and—poof!—with a brief two weeks’ notice your life will have changed for good. As the UFF’s successful defense of tenure during the FAU and FSU faculty layoffs in 2008-2009 demonstrated, CBAs are central to the tenure preservation and due process.

It’s true. Without UFF and the CBA tenure will be rendered essentially meaningless because it’s not defined under state law. Our faculty positions, tenured or not, could disappear without any prior notice and FAU administrators will not have to provide a reason for firing us. The many years one has devoted to the institution and the profession will not matter.  Think how tremendously attractive this will be to those who are only awaiting the go-ahead to exchange a full professor for three instructors who can generate about four times the number of FTEs.

An overwhelming majority of FAU faculty recognize the importance of having a collective bargaining agreement, since over and over again they have voted to continue to be represented by UFF.  Yet the CBA can also quite easily be taken for granted, for a majority chooses not to pay union dues. These colleagues may wish to ask themselves if tenure, due process, and academic freedom mean anything, and what faculty life at FAU would be like without the Contract’s guarantees.

If you’re one of the 250+ UFF members at FAU, please print out at least three membership forms at UFF-FAUMembership_Form_2011-3-241 and bring them to your colleagues, explaining the seriousness of the situation.  If you’re not already a member, please print out a form, fill it out, and return it to me at Culture and Society Building, Boca campus, Room 220.

In solidarity,

James Tracy
UFF-FAU President

Facts Could Mess Up the FRS Debate

January 25, 2011. “When you get past the anecdotal eye-openers, the numbers don’t show a big, rich public trough for public retirees.”

Tallahassee Democrat
(Jan 24, 2011)
Bill Cotterell

Link to original article.

There’s an old joke in newsrooms — at least, I hope it’s said jokingly — about not letting the facts get in the way of a good story.

Elected leaders do that, too, but they’re not joking. Ronald Reagan once said “facts are stupid things.” Maybe he meant “stubborn things,” but he was right either way — truth just is what it is, unyielding and unresponsive to what we’d like.

The 2011 legislative session is going to make major changes in the Florida Retirement System. A lot of the new rules will be based on cold, hard fact — namely, money — but much impetus for these changes will come from feel-good political motives.

There’s a perception that public pensions are far too generous and that the FRS is in great financial peril. But the fund is sound, despite some investment losses in the great market collapse of 2008-09. And if you look closely at the greed stories about some 48-year-old cop retiring with a six-figure pension, or retiree health-care costs gobbling up city and county tax revenues, you’ll notice that they occur in other states.

Most frequent examples come from California, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. And in Florida, when you hear about cities staggering under the weight of massive pension burdens, those cities are not members of the FRS.

When you get past the anecdotal eye-openers, the numbers don’t show a big, rich public trough for public retirees. While it’s true that some retire with generous benefits — especially in the “special risk” class of firefighters, police and prison officers — they earn it.

It’s also true that a lot of the local governments now unable to afford their obligations got in trouble by bargaining away future health and pension benefits. It may have been done by previous administrations but, many times, the cities avoided giving big pay raises today by promising big benefits in retirement — and their successors now see the bill coming due.

The Florida Education Association rebutted some popular pension myths at a meeting of the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee on Jan. 12. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is scheduled to do it again this week.

The average state-employee salary in the FRS regular class is $36,423, according to the FEA figures. That’s the lowest of the six groups in the FRS, which includes school boards, universities, counties, cities and community colleges.

For the school boards, the average teacher’s retirement check is $1,868 a month. For secretaries, it’s $1,271 — and that’s based on 30 years of service.

Drawing figures from the state’s Annual Workforce Report, AFSCME calculated that the typical Career Service employee in the regular class has an average FRS benefit of $970 a month. That’s based on 21 years of service, the average, since not many state workers go the full 30.

State retirees also get a health-insurance subsidy of $5 a month for each year of service, capped at $150. But since the average career is 21 years, it works out to $105 a month. AFSCME calculates that monthly health premiums are $549 for single retirees and $1,243 for family coverage — so, on average, a $970 pension and $105 health subsidy leaves $526 a month for single people and $168 for a couple.

AFSCME also notes that, under new federal rules, the average FRS retiree in the regular class is eligible for Medicaid, because the average pension of $11,642 is well below the $14,404 income threshold for the federal program.

All of which is to say, the FRS is not just bursting with lifetime free rides. Legislators will change things, because money is tight and about 12 percent of their constituents seeking jobs can’t find any at all.

First, the FRS is entirely employer-paid. Forget that one. Gov. Rick Scott said during his campaign that Florida is the only state in which employees don’t chip in to their pension pot, and the Senate last year tried to require a quarter-percent contribution. It looks like a sure thing this year — at a lot more than a quarter-percent.

Sooner or later — probably sooner — all new employees will be offered 401(k)-style “defined contribution” pension plans, rather than the traditional defined benefit system. Why? Because the DC plan is more like private-sector pensions, employees manage their own investments, and it’s portable so workers can take their holdings with them when they go to another job.

Ex-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a reduction in the 6-percent interest rate paid on pent-up pensions in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Scott won’t veto such a cut, which is probably the second most-likely change to pass the Legislature.

Another idea is to lower the special risk retirement credit, now 3 percent a year, or to restrict it to officers who face dangers on the job every day — like police, firefighters and prison officers. There’s a wide range of others in the criminal justice system with special-risk status now.

Instead of calculating pensions on an employee’s “high five” earning years, they could start averaging the best 10 years — or even the employee’s salary over a whole career. The practice of “spiking” pensions by counting overtime will probably come to an end, too.

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, chairman of the Senate committee, says “everything is on the table.” But he’s taking a cautious approach, waiting for thorough actuarial studies of every idea.

That’s harder than just buying into the popular presumption of greedy employees gorging on lavish pension plans — which makes a good story, until the facts get in the way.

Red Sky in Morning …

December 6, 2010. The fall semester has been positive for FAU in many ways, but stormy weather lies ahead

This week we conclude a very noteworthy semester that has seen the installation of Florida Atlantic University’s new president, Dr. Mary Jane Saunders, the beginning of a search for a new provost, ratification of the 2009-2012 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the University’ Faculty and Trustees, and the renewal of UFF’s Consultation with the President.

Close to 300 Bargaining Unit members cast ballots for ratification, with 97% voting in favor of the new CBA. The Board of Trustees vote was unanimous. And, in mid-November, President Saunders and Interim Provost Diane Alperin met with UFF representatives to discuss several issues of mutual interest proposed for consideration by UFF’s Executive Committee. Matters that both sides saw eye-to-eye on included having at least one faculty-administrator on the BOT’s Bargaining Team that genuinely understands faculty life, as well as establishing a task force to look at ways in which the status of FAU’s instructors might be addressed.

The Consultation with the President, provided for in Article 2 of the CBA, allows for one visit per semester. However, the practice was stopped abruptly several years ago during Frank Brogan’s administration, and the controversy that ensued during and after Mr. Brogan’s departure made it difficult to renew regular meetings. With this in mind, UFF-FAU sees the November meeting as an important step in renewing and strengthening relations between the University’s Faculty and Administration.

FAU faculty will likely need administrative leadership that recognizes the significance of professional autonomy and academic freedom, particularly over the next few years. Faculty members must also be more engaged than in the past, and their voices must be heard regarding FAU’s imminent plans for reorganization, now well underway. In contrast to our recent past, the administration and Trustees are encouraging active involvement in the process. This degree of involvement has never been more important than now, since the forecast for Florida’s higher education system is hardly as rosy as things have been this fall at FAU.

By a narrow margin Florida voters elected Rick Scott as governor, while strong Republican majorities were returned to the state’s legislative chambers. Many of these new leaders are not the moderate Republicans that recently populated the House and Senate–those who appreciated the arguments made by Florida Education Association, United Faculty of Florida, as well as the Board of Governors, that investing in education was tantamount to investing in Florida’s future economic viability. Rather, these individuals will likely be moving to initiate strict programs of “accountability” and “austerity” (read: undermining state employees’ benefits, job security, and professional autonomy), and there’s little reason to believe that such measures will be restricted to K-12 teachers although, as the passage of Senate Bill 6 last spring suggests, they are especially vulnerable.

The available evidence of the new Republican leadership’s extreme agenda for state employees and Florida’s already beleagured education system is not comforting. As Florida Republican Party Chair and State Senator John Thrasher recently remarked, “There is no way in our state right now that the dadgum unions are going to agree with this kind of stuff. So you either bring them to the table and tell them what you’re going to do, or you run over them.” The Republicans’ plans were also recently on display with governor-elect Scott’s appointment of Michelle Rhee to lead the Education Transition Task Force.

The Trustees of Florida’s colleges and universities will also likely be called on to prove their mettle in the fight to dictate workplace conditions in no uncertain terms or, as Senator Thrasher so eloquently put it, to “run over them.” This is because each Trustee’s individual (re)appointment must be approved by the new Republican governor and senate. Therefore, faculty should be vigilant over the next several months on campus matters, as well as those taking place in seemingly distant Tallahassee. Regular updates from Florida Education Association on how the Republican legislature is proceeding will be made available at this website as quickly as they are received.

Faculty members are also encouraged to become more proactive in affairs of faculty governance and observing how the University is managed. Trustees and administrators who see faculty members as detached and uninvolved conclude (perhaps quite rightly) that they care little about their workplace conditions and professional autonomy. At the same time, however, we are also well aware that there are clear limits to what faculty will tolerate, as suggested last spring when the legislature proposed sticking its hands in the FRS cookie jar to balance the budget. There will likely be similar provocations in the coming months, and they will surely come to pass in the 2012 session.

Now more than ever it is time to become involved in the truly independent voice for faculty at FAU and across Florida’s higher education system. It’s time to join UFF and have the piece of mind of standing together as one while we have a profession we are still able to believe in and defend. “We can accomplish together what we cannot accomplish alone.”


James Tracy
UFF-FAU President