UFF-FAU Analysis and Recommendations on Southern College and Schools Accreditation (SACS) Process and Report

August 14, 2012. Union receives numerous complaints alleging FAU administrators’ arbitrary application of SACS accreditation procedures, Faculty cite potential attempts to undermine curricular decision-making

After receiving several complaints from faculty regarding the SACS accreditation process, UFF-FAU sent out a general query to all faculty on July 18, 2012 to investigate additional faculty concerns regarding the process and compile a general report. As of August 8, 2012, we have received a total of 33 responses that stretch across all of the colleges of the university.

We highlight here some of your major concerns as well as suggested remedies. We hope to meet the administration soon regarding this issue to make the accreditation process more equitable and fair. If anyone has any additional concerns not addressed here, feel free to contact UFF-FAU at: president (at) uff-fau.org.

Two of the most prevalent concerns relate to the administration’s very limited understanding of some of the academic disciplines being accredited. The first relates to the fetishization of faculty holding 18 graduate credit hours in their teaching discipline. At its worst, this has been read extremely narrowly to mean that if faculty have not taken the actual courses they teach, they are not qualified to offer them now.

This becomes a problem for older faculty whose fields have dramatically changed over the decades. For example, communication faculty who were granted Ph.D.s prior to 1990 probably have never had a course on the internet. Yet it would be laughable to suggest that older faculty in the field could not offer a course on internet technology since their graduate work did not include it.

Even more seriously, such a literal and deterministic link between graduate coursework and the courses faculty teach fails to understand the fundamental ways in which faculty interests and research diverge and develop after graduate school. As one faculty member writes, “Our business is by its very nature much more fluid, and we are expected to expand our own horizons and go beyond our current limits through our own, self-directed research and teaching precisely because we are in higher education.”

Another faculty member notes, “It is not unusual for any faculty over the long trajectory of their careers to pick up some new thread, new idea, and conduct research and teach. The society and students benefit by such advances and so does the university from all the new expertise that is added to the field(s).”

Yet another senior colleague stresses: “If the idea is to make sure that we deliver ‘cutting edge’ programming to our students, then we have to consider the wisdom of linking credentials so heavily to one’s transcript. For those of us who graduated over 15 or 20 years ago, if we are still teaching what is on our transcript, then we have a problem; indeed—in some cases that should be grounds for not being allowed to teach a course!”

A major portion of faculty time is spent producing new knowledge, yet some administrators seem to think that this new knowledge will have no effect on the courses we teach, even after decades of social and curricular change. To not respond to the changes in our fields through our scholarship and teaching would quickly relegate FAU to irrelevancy.

This becomes a particular issue for interdisciplinary-based departments where faculty with degrees from different fields are often hired. Although such issues should be easily resolved by appealing to department chairs’ and faculty members’ expertise within the specific fields of study, this knowledge-base has been at times ignored by FAU accreditors. As one faculty member noted, “Part of the problem involved the reviewer creating her own definition of what our professional discipline is and is not.”

Due to faulty assumptions based on administrators’ limited outside knowledge of the field, faculty members have wrongly been penalized by being de-accredited. Another faculty member well summarized, “I want to believe that when faculty are hired, they are hired based on their credentials. I also want to believe that those who hire faculty know what they are doing. To see the judgment and procedures of colleagues, the colleges, and the departments that hire us being questioned is upsetting and an insult to their judgment, their hiring practices, and their academic integrity.”

The implications of such actions threaten the curricular autonomy of the departments themselves. As yet another faculty member questions, “If faculty who were assumed to be suited for a course by the program area faculty and/or chair are now deemed unsuited for such an assignment, what are the implications for the curriculum over which faculty have jurisdiction? Is this not an indirect infringement on faculty’s right to make curricular decisions?” The union would argue that it indeed is and that it weakens the stature of the entire university.

To exemplify the problem we would like to offer a case study of Judith Burganger, a full professor who has been at FAU since 1980. Burganger had served as Eminent Chair at Texas Tech and as Artist Lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University. In April, her credentialing was challenged by FAU administrators for the very courses that she had developed for the university and that were essential for graduation through the degree program.

To make matters worse, she had a series of graduate students attending FAU to study with her and who had rejected acceptances at other prestigious universities. It is difficult to understand how the credentialing process in this case has strengthened FAU at all. It has challenged decade’s worth of work Burganger has produced, the tenure-and-promotion process, promotion to full professor, the expertise of outside institutions, and the intelligence of students from other institutions who want to study with her. Although this is an extreme instance of the internal accreditation process demonstrating startling ignorance and a usurpation of legitimate authority, it reveals the absurdity to which it has been carried. (We have just learned this morning that Judith has finally been accredited after a four month process).

We have also had repeated complaints about how faculty with degrees from universities outside the U.S. have been challenged to justify the credibility of such a degree. Although one want to believe that there must be some legitimate reason for questioning such degrees, faculty members have not been told what those reasons are. As a result, the process seems xenophobic to many by singling out faculty who have not received degrees within the United States and contradicting the very mission of diversity that FAU supposedly upholds.

This relates to a larger issue of tone: tenured and non-tenured faculty have routinely felt their jobs threatened by the accreditation process. Rather than consisting of a dialogue between faculty and accreditors with the goal of explaining and understanding the specificity of disciplines and their requirements, the process has instead placed faculty on the receiving end of emails that demand transcripts, articles, CVs, and the like with little-to-no explanation and within unrealistically short deadlines.

The union has repeatedly received accounts of faculty unable to concentrate on research or other demands due to the fear inspired by such unilateral demands. Rather than being a collegial process between the faculty and administration, accreditation has deteriorated into what some faculty perceive as nothing less than an inquisition where you are presumed guilty before proving yourself innocent, where you are first decredentialed and then asked questions later, if at all.


UFF-FAU offers the following recommendations to improve the credentialing process making it a less stressful and more equitable for all faculty:

1)      The Provost needs to issue clear and precise credentialing guidelines regarding how the administration is interpreting SACS accreditation. This should then be distributed to all faculty and administrators. This will provide an even playing field for all to understand how they are being judged and what requirements they need to meet.

2)      Chairs’ justifications need to be heeded. The union has heard many accounts of chairs having to repeatedly justify certain faculty members’ credentialing. This is an immense waste of time and resources. Academic specialization and expertise should guide the process. If there is a disagreement, the burden of proof should lie on those outside of the field of study. The departments and schools hold a much fuller and more nuanced understanding of their fields of study than does any outside individual. Therefore, the accreditation process needs to harness such information in order to properly proceed and offer evaluations.

3)      Tone/time: These issues seem to be related. Because of the short timelines being given to faculty members to produce materials, the tone of emails from administrators becomes curt and inhospitable. This becomes a traumatic experience for some faculty members, so they should not only be given adequate time to collect such materials, but should also be entitled to a full explanation of why such materials are needed in the first place.

Although we understand that the administration is under immense pressure from the state to justify the very existence of public education and the role of universities, eviscerating departmental integrity and demoralizing faculty through the accreditation process is not the best way to proceed.

The process should be a dialogue between faculty and administration about the particularities of academic disciplines and how faculty research, creative work, and teaching might or might not fit into the historical and theoretical components of said disciplines. But instead it has at times degenerated into a one-size-fits-all process where accreditation guidelines remain unclear and the challenges seem based on unexamined assumptions and inadequate knowledge of the discipline.

At a time when the Governor and the Florida Legislature regularly demonstrate their ignorance of and hostility to the basic tenets of higher education, it is especially important that administrators do not abandon their defense of the university and the faculty who comprise its core.

As a result, it is crucial that administrators do not pretend that they alone can evaluate faculty credentials without doing serious damage to the diversity and creativity of the faculty’s work. We look forward to working with the administration to resolve these issues. We will keep faculty updated regarding the administration’s response and seeking your further input and participation to assist in improving the accreditation process.

MJ Saunders Administration Attempts End-Run Around Collective Bargaining Agreement, Shared Governance

June 11, 2012. Provost Brenda Claiborne announces significant changes to Promotion and Tenure policy without notifying UFF or faculty governance bodies

Dear Colleagues,

It has recently come to the union’s attention that the provost  released a May 31, 2012 memo regarding Promotion and Tenure (P&T). Particular notice should be given to section 9 where the external letters of recommendation have increased from 3 to 5. The union has recently contacted the provost stating that the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifically speaks to procedures that need to be followed in making changes to P&T criteria. Specifically, according to Article 14.2 (b) and Article 15.1 (c)(4) two things must occur first before modifying criteria:

1)  “The Board and the University may modify these criteria after notifying the UFF Chapter of the proposed changes and offering an opportunity to discuss them in consultation with the President or representative.” UFF has not been notified.

2)  “Any proposal to develop or modify promotion criteria shall be available for discussion by members of the affected departments/units  before adoption.” Faculty have not had any option to discuss this either. The union has never been made aware of such changes and needs to discuss them before any type of adoption takes place. Since the number of external letters was increased from two to three just two years ago after undergoing a comprehensive review by the University Committee, we need to understand the reasoning behind the increase of two additional letters in such a short amount of time.

In regards to the second issue review by members of the affected departments most faculty are not under contract right now so they are not obligated nor might not have adequate time to review the proposed changes. Either way, they were not given the opportunity. UFF suggests that administration should at least wait until the beginning of the fall semester to discuss these changes when faculty are under contract and present so they can discuss such issues as a group. Additionally, the administration needs time to allow the University Committee to meet to discuss any such changes.

If the administration fails to comply with the terms and conditions in the CBA, the union will then contact our legal counsel and proceed accordingly.

Furthermore, faculty should be aware that if any changes do take place, according to the CBA, Article 15.1 (4) states that such changes don’t become effective until a year after their adoption. Also, “an employee with at least three (3) years of tenure-earning credit as of the date on which the tenure criteria are adopted shall be evaluated for tenure under the criteria as they existed prior to modification” unless the employee chooses otherwise.

The CBA serves as a foundational document in such matters of P&T. This is yet another way in which the union protects the integrity of such processes. If you haven’t done so, join today. Download a membership form and send it to: Chris Robe’, CU 214, Boca Raton campus.

We are here when you aren’t making sure that protocols are followed. Join and become active in the union today.


UFF-FAU President

FAU Faculty and Students In Large Show of Unity Outside Administrators’ Offices

April 18, 2012. FAU community voices concerns over M J Saunders administration’s arbitrary decisions on summer classes, increased class sizes

UFF-FAU Chapter President Chris Robe begins rally to “Save Summer” Outside Williams Admin Building

Numerous students addressed rally participants on how the summer cuts have affected them

FAU Faculty donned their regalia to express concerns over administrators’ heavy-handed approach to summer

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

Governor-elect Scott Names Michelle Rhee to Education Reform Team

December 4, 2010. Controversial Washington DC Schools chancellor sacked teachers and battled unions before resigning under fire, Proponents of privatized higher-ed and school vouchers also appointed

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Florida Governor-Elect Rick Scott has named his Education Transition Team. At the top of the list, controversial former Washington, D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee.

Rhee’s three years as chancellor of schools was contentious after she helped restructure DC schools, among accolades from her allies and criticism from groups like teacher’s unions.

At the end of the last school year, Rhee fired 226 school employees for poor performance. An additional 729 employees were put on notice that they will be subject to termination after the 2010-2011 school year if their performance did not improve substantially.

Rhee resigned two months after the mayoral candidate that was critical of the job she was doing won the election.

Read more at WTSP.com

Controversial Michell Rhee Part of Rick Scott’ Education Team

By Cara Fitzpatrick
December 2, 2010

Michelle Rhee, the controversial former chancellor of Washington D.C. schools, has been tapped to join Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s education transition team.

Rhee, who made national headlines for firing teachers because of student performance and favoring merit pay, will be one of Scott’s “champions for achievement.” In the announcement today, he called her a “nationally recognized education reformer.”

Other members include leaders of charter school companies, the executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the director of a school voucher organization.

Rhee resigned from the Washington school system a couple months ago after a raucous three-and-half year term as chancellor. She was praised by education leaders, such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, but also fought with teachers unions.

Read more at palmbeachpost.com

The Proving Grounds: School “Rheeform” in Washington, D.C.

Fall 2010
By Leigh Dingerson

Washington, D.C., is leading the transformation of urban public education across the country—at least according to Time magazine, which featured D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee on its cover, wearing black and holding a broom. Or perhaps you read it in Newsweek or heard it from Oprah, who named Rhee to her “power list” of “remarkable visionaries.”

But there’s nothing remarkably visionary going on in Washington. The model of school reform that’s being implemented here is popping up around the country, heavily promoted by the same network of conservative think tanks and philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton Family Foundation that has been driving the school reform debate for the past decade. It is reform based on the corporate practices of Wall Street, not on education research or theory. Indications so far are that, on top of the upheaval and distress Rhee leaves in her wake, the persistent racial gaps that plague D.C. student outcomes are only increasing.

Chancellor Rhee helicoptered into Washington in 2007 promising to change the culture of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Everyone cheered. But we weren’t counting on the new culture coming straight out of Goldman Sachs. Suddenly, decisions were being made at the top and carried out with atomic force. Parents have been treated like consumers—informed about options and outcomes but denied a seat at the table. The district’s teachers have been insulted in the national media, fired or laid off in record numbers, and replaced by less credentialed and less experienced newcomers. The model views teachers as a delivery system, not as professionals. High turnover is not just the result—it’s the goal. Principals, too, are isolated and expendable. The district lauds the educational mavericks—principals whose “crusades” are described as “relentless” and “methodical”—those who see themselves as an army of one. We are becoming a district where the frontline workers are demoralized, people are looking out for themselves, and trust is all but gone.

Read more at rethinkingschools.com