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.”