The View From Underneath My Desk

May 1, 2010. Time to hunker down! FAU Administrators appear to be laying groundwork for reorganization and faculty layoffs.

“’Knock-knock-knock!’ Professor Tracy, are you in?” someone calls outside my office door. “Oh, yes,” I reply. “But like most other faculty, I’m hiding underneath my desk, waiting for FAU’s reorganization, where I may or may not find myself booted from the the University plane and careening toward earth with little-if-any parachute.”

These are, after all, tough times, or so we are told. Faculty and staff must once again pull in their belts, our well-compensated leaders tell us. Pay no attention to that pesky 2009 Financial Audit that shows the University’s $20 million increase in unrestricted net assets as it proceeded to terminate tenured faculty. That’s a tidy sum that would easily allow for a much-needed salary increase for Florida’s most poorly paid professors who reside in the state’s highest cost-of-living region. In fact, the administration is moving in the opposite direction, opening what will likely be a costly medical school and anxiously looking to place a whopping $60 million for a football stadium onto the University’s credit card. This is not to mention that administrator positions have grown far beyond those of instructional faculty since the early 2000s.

Augustine once remarked that hope has two beautiful daughters. One is anger and the other is courage. For most FAU faculty faced with the facts yet also demoralized and dealing with “battered faculty syndrome,” it is understandable to be hope-less. In fact, staying underneath one’s desk in these turbulent times certainly isn’t courageous, but it’s not entirely unwise either. Heck, it’s gettin’ ugly out there.

Consider the pronouncements of Interim President John Pritchett, who at a forum on the budget on April 5 told faculty that “layoffs are still on the table.” Such threats will likely be repeated at the May 3rd forum. Last October, however, Pritchett remarked in the College of Arts and Letters Faculty Assembly that if you “were to read a certain blog” (the one you’re presently reading, by the way) you’d think layoffs were right around the corner. What a bunch of alarmists—those union folk!  The Interim President continued to emphasize to those gathered that there would be no layoffs. Instead, administrators simply wanted to reorganize the university with the faculty’s helpful feedback and guidance, “from the ground up,” as they say. This was to be a collective “visioning” process, you will recall, done with the assistance of efficiency expert Susan Clemmons–“a fresh set of eyes.” We are now told by the same individual that layoffs are essentially not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The threat of a substantial reorganization of the University leading to faculty terminations was again expressed in no uncertain terms by Pritchett at the College of Arts and Letters Faculty Assembly on April 23. At that time the faculty from that venerable FTE-generating dynamo—which, given this status, you may also recall , was to be “defended” from such personnel reductions—were told of forthcoming programs where professors would be offered “retirement incentives.” On a less generous note, the President remarked, it would be a priority to allow terminated faculty “more than 30 days notice” to find another job, short-sale their home, pull their children out of school, load up the car and Tom Joad-it out of South Florida. Yes, the unnerving prospect of being wheeled out to the curb is one of many endearing feature of “belonging” to the “FAU family.”

It is probable that such plans for reorganization and additional layoffs have gone forth in stealth form since mid-2009. You may recall that at that time the administration had to back track and regroup after the seriously botched attempt to layoff faculty in the College of Engineering. Not surprisingly, given the University’s considerable resources, administrators miraculously “found” the money to rehire these colleagues and avoid costly extralegal and legal actions. With Pritchett’s probable reappointment as provost it is almost a certainty that this planned reorganization and set of layoffs will be carried out like clockwork by FAU deans. And such a set of events, my dear colleague, may also tell us a great deal about FAU’s new leadership.

If you are an in-unit faculty or staff member I encourage you to review Article 13 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement: Layoffs. This article is by no means perfect. However, it does require that administrators follow certain procedures if layoffs are to take place, the most important of which is the matter of rank and seniority. When administrators and their highly-paid attorneys laid off faculty in Engineering in 2009 they set up bogus “functional units” to get around this element of the CBA. This was obvious even to the casual observer, and may be attempted again, so for the foreseeable future please be especially attuned to any abrupt changes in the organization of your department, unit, and/or college.

The continued planning of any reorganization resulting in layoffs will likely ensue over the summer and be implemented in fall. I encourage you to become a member of UFF-FAU for assistance in the grievance process should that avenue be necessary to protect your position and contest any wrongful termination. Please remember that you need to be a Union member for at least thirty days prior to any incident. If you choose not to go that route and you have reason to believe you may be targeted by the administration for layoff, it may be appropriate in the near future to consult with an attorney who will be able to act swiftly and vigorously on your behalf should such an unfortunate sequence of events come to pass.

In solidarity,

James Tracy
UFF-FAU President

See related posts:

FAU’s Assets Swell to Almost $1 Billion: 2009 Financial Audit Now Available!

FAU Personnel Growth By Employee Category

FAU Administration in Violation of Statute 447.501(1)

January 28, 2010. Letter from UFF Service Unit Coordinator Nissen was last chance for Pritchett administration to take responsibility under CBA before Unfair Labor Practice charge filed, Florida taxpayers to pick up tab for hefty legal fees.

(Hand-delivered on Jan. 11)

Bruce Nissen

Service Unit Director, UFF

5130 Jackson Street

Hollywood, FL 33021-7234


January 11, 2010

Diane Alperin, Provost

Florida Atlantic University

777 Glades Road, AD10-309

Boca Raton, FL 33431

Dear Provost Alperin:

We are in receipt of your December 11, 2009 letter to UFF-FAU President James Tracy refusing to proceed to arbitration over the arbitrability of the UFF’s grievance regarding layoffs in the FAU Engineering School to arbitration. Your refusal to proceed to arbitration, even over the arbitrability issue, is a violation of Florida law Section 447.501(1).

All of your arguments for why you refuse to move further are matters for an arbitrator to decide, not for unilateral university decision. Whether the issue is moot, whether the UFF Chapter has standing, and whether the old language of the collective bargaining agreement is enforceable while a new contract is being negotiated are issues that the arbitrator will decide when making a decision over the arbitrability of the original grievance over the Engineering layoffs.

The legal questions surrounding arbitrability are well settled by now. Since the university has competent legal counsel, you should know this. However, if you wish to consult some pertinent decisions by the Public Employee Relations Commission, see DeSoto County Teachres Ass’n v. DeSoto County School Board, 5 FPER 10307 at 324C (1979), Westfall v. Orange County Board of County Commissioners, 8 FPER 13367 at 648 (1982), Communications Workers of America, Local 3179, Clearwater Employees Association v. City of Clearwater, 9 FPER 14278 at 561 (1983), and Boynton Beach Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1891 v. City of Boyton Beach, 114 FPER 19149 at 378 (1988), among others. For a very recent ruling regarding higher education, see the Hearing Officer’s recommended order in PERC Case No. CA-2009-046, concerning Pensacola Junior College’s refusal to proceed to arbitration on an issue.

We are giving you one final chance to contact UFF-FAU Grievance Chair Doug Broadfield to pick an arbitrator. If you do not do so by January 20, 2010, the UFF will proceed with an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with PERC. We will be requesting legal fees, so further refusal on your part may be a very costly decision for the university.


Bruce Nissen

See Related Post:

Now You See Faculty Layoffs, Now You Don’t: FAU Administration’s Land of Make Believe and Denial

Medical School is a Luxury FAU Can’t Afford

January 25, 2010. (Updated January 26) Over the past year the University’s top administrators have become especially adept at claiming there’s absolutely no money in the school’s coffers. But mention a new medical school and they’re ready to mortgage the farm. FAU’s pursuit of a medical school, particularly in these difficult times when Florida faces increasing budget shortfalls, will be bad for faculty, students, and the entire FAU community. Here’s why.

The FAU administration’s medical school proposal states that FAU can run the school with no additional dollars, if the state agrees to continue to provide the College of Biomedical Science with the 12 million dollar line item it currently enjoys. However, in all probability the School will require a good deal of extra money, and this money will have to come from other colleges, tuition increases and ultimately dollars that would normally go toward bolstering the already meager salaries of FAU faculty.

An even more troubling scenario is that the failure to request adequate funds to run the proposed medical school will likely lead to faculty layoffs, and Biomedical Science faculty are in a tough spot. A few years ago the FAU administration unilaterally took Biomed faculty out of the bargaining unit protected by the UFF-BOT Collective Bargaining Agreement and, based on current university regulations, the Dean of Biomedical Science will be entitled to layoff whomever he chooses without regard to rank or tenure in order to keep the fledgling medical school afloat.

A medical school at FAU at this juncture is simply a bad idea–bad for students, faculty and staff, and the overall continued viability of FAU’s higher education mission.

FAU Medical Program a Milestone for School, County
Letter to the Editor by FAU President John Pritchett
January 25, 2010.
There are moments in the life of a university when it becomes clear that the institution is poised to take a quantum leap forward. Such a moment is unfolding at Florida Atlantic University right now. Last Wednesday, FAU’s board of trustees unanimously approved a proposal to end the university’s medical education partnership with the University of Miami and transition to FAU’s medical education program, in cooperation with The Scripps Research Institute. Read more at

See related post:

Lawmakers skeptical of Crist’s $69.2 billion budget proposal