FAU Faculty and Students Rally Against Slashed Summer Course Schedule

April 11, 2012. Chorus grows stronger over MJ Saunders’ high-handed style and forced austerity

Responding to deep cuts in the summer course schedule at Florida Atlantic University, faculty and students are planning protests against what they call unfair and arbitrary reductions which will hurt students, faculty, and academic programs.

In response they are planning protest rallies on the west steps of the administration building on the Boca Raton campus.  The first, organized by students, will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday, April 12.

The second, organized by the UFF-FAU and supported by students, will be held on Wednesday, April 18 at 12 noon.  In addition, everyone is invited to make protest signs in the lobby of the Culture and Society Building at 5 on Monday, April 16.

Administrators have cut almost a thousand courses from 2011, about a third of the total.

FAU was hit by the Florida Legislature last month with an unprecedented $30 million in budget cuts for the coming year.  In all, the eleven public universities have lost $730 million in state funding since 2008, and will lose another $300 million this year, half from appropriations and half from their own reserves.

This last legislative move prompted Moody’s Investors Service to take the unusual step of publicly criticizing the Legislature for damaging the universities’ credit.  Meanwhile, the Legislature and Governor gave corporations another $80 million in tax breaks in addition to the billions they’ve received in recent years, while cutting hospitals and nursing homes in addition to universities.  State colleges have endured similar cutbacks.

“It’s bad enough that the Legislature and Governor are undermining our state’s future by slashing higher education.  But the university is compounding the problem by using a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to summer cuts,” said Chris Robe, president of the faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida – FAU.

Robe points out that cuts have been imposed unilaterally from the provost’s office with virtually no regard for students’ needs or faculty advice in particular programs.  The cuts are also insensitive to the needs of FAU students, many of whom are non-traditional students who have jobs and families, and cannot afford to delay graduation for a semester or a year because a required course is not offered in the summer, and who are thus more likely to drop out.

In her message to students and parents on the front page of FAU’s web site, President Mary Jane Saunders says that “the most important thing you need to know is that nothing has changed for you at FAU.  Students are still our first priority, and we remain committed to helping you progress steadily toward your degree.  As in the past, we will continue to offer all courses needed for graduation.” http://www.fau.edu/explore/homepage-stories/2012_03budgetcut.php.

However, a March 21 memorandum from Provost Brenda Claiborne instructs deans and chairs to cut all courses from the summer 2012 schedule which during summer 2011 did not enroll at least 24 students in undergraduate courses or 11 students in graduate courses.  While the provost leaves room open for exceptions, some programs have been hurt very badly, others not at all.

According to faculty and students in various departments, this edict ignores the need for small classes in lab and studio courses with prerequisites, many of which have simply been cancelled because they did not enroll 24 students last summer.  While some programs have accreditation requirements which protect their course sequences from arbitrary disruptions, some of these programs were cut anyway, while others were not.

Students in Education, Business, Science, the Visual Arts and elsewhere have had their progress toward graduation interrupted and their lives put on hold.  In other departments, students and faculty have had their class sizes arbitrarily increased, with little regard for academic quality, to accommodate the smaller course offerings, and the problems promise to compound themselves in the fall and spring terms because of delays to student graduation.

In a follow-up memorandum dated April 10, the provost appears finally to begin to listen to faculty and students and add some courses, but much unnecessary damage has already been done.  Many students have already opted to enroll elsewhere this summer, and faculty summer plans have been disrupted.  Faculty and student leaders remain determined to keep the pressure on until their voices are heard.

Monique Paramore, a graduate student in Education who is organizing the protest to be held April 12, also created a petition to FAU administrators at http://www.signon.org/sign/students-in-opposition/.  In addition to attracting over 700 signers so far, the petition contains comments from students in numerous programs describing the negative consequences of cancelled courses.  Ms. Paramore describes her protest in these terms:  “I and several other students are concerned with the university’s decision to cut certain courses necessary to our graduation.  On Tuesday the 27th, I created a petition concerning this matter. I currently have 723 signatures and comments. I/we understand the need for certain cuts but I feel that when this decision was made the university failed to take into consideration the differences among departments, the different class schedules, and the specific needs of each program.

I received my undergraduate degree from FAU and have continued to be a dedicated Owl. I am hurt and upset at the way the university has handled this matter. I created this petition to bring attention and awareness to this situation. Even after the petition gained several hundred signatures, the administration refused to answer our questions, listen to our suggestions or simply apologize. So I decided to continue my protest by leading my fellow students in a rally against the course cuts. All I/we want is the opportunity to get some questions answered and to figure out our options as it pertains to future class offerings and graduation. We simply want the chance to suggest other options and to have our voices as well as those of our department leaders heard!”

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.

“The Classroom is Not a Marketplace”: Rebuking Rick Perry’s Prescription for Higher Ed

October 8, 2011.  July report by U of Texas faculty levels stern critique of Governor’s attempted higher ed “reforms”

Many UFF-FAU members are aware that Florida governor Rick Scott is proffering a plan modeled on one proposed by Texas governor Rick Perry to “reform” higher education statewide . A detailed report, Maintaining Excellence-and-Efficiency at The University of Texas at Austim, published in July by UT faculty critically assesses and condemns Perry’s varied and ill-informed “one size fits all” approaches.

Chronicle: Florida May be Next Battleground Over Faculty Productivity

September 14, 2011. United Faculty of Florida readies “to fight the changes in how [professors and higher ed professionals will be] expected to do their jobs,” Frank Brogan continues to trumpet his support for plan

Source: Chronicle of Higher Ed (09/13/11)

By Audrey Williams June

In Florida, college professors, presidents and lawmakers are preparing for a vigorous debate about faculty performance, pay, and productivity.

That’s because Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has made it clear that he’s looking toward Texas for ideas on how to revamp higher education in his state. In Texas, a controversial plan—backed by Gov. Rick Perry, another Republican, and his allies—proposes to do more to measure faculty productivity, emphasizes teaching over research, and advocates paying faculty members based on their effectiveness.

Governor Scott, who has spoken publicly in recent weeks about his interest in the Texas proposal, hasn’t yet talked specifics about which pieces of that plan he would push lawmakers to adopt. But he’s actively soliciting feedback on Texas’s “Seven Breakthrough Solutions,” which was written by the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a research institute. Just a few of the solutions have been adopted, most of them at Texas A&M University.

Governor Scott has shared the plan with enough people, including the chancellor of the state university system, the appointees he has made to college governing boards, and the presidents of Florida’s 11 public colleges, to jump-start what is sure to be a lengthy conversation about what kinds of changes should be made.

The governor’s spokesman, Lane Wright, said that there is no plan in place to make changes in higher education in Florida and that Governor Scott has simply been “talking about his ideas” as a way to generate discussion on the matter. The governor has had no formal talks at this point with legislators about ways to overhaul the system, Mr. Wright said.

It isn’t yet clear how much traction the governor’s higher-education ideas will get in Florida, but people are taking the push to revamp higher education in the state seriously. The union that represents about 20,000 public university professors and professionals in Florida is gearing up to fight the changes in how they’re expected to do their jobs, which, they say, would ultimately drive talented faculty away from Florida colleges. The Texas-style higher-education proposals are also expected to be discussed during the next legislative session, which begins in January.

A Counterproposal
In a move to counter what he saw as major shortcomings of the Texas solutions, a Florida university president has created a detailed alternative, which he calls “Florida Can Do Better Than Texas.”

Eric J. Barron, president of Florida State University, said he came up with the alternative plan after reading a copy of the Texas plan sent to him by Governor Scott. “My immediate thought was that we can do better,” Mr. Barron said. “I took each of the proposed Texas solutions and did an analysis and then I thought about how they could be stronger.”

The governor has asked for a copy of the plan, said Mr. Barron, who shared his ideas with his trustees last week.

Mr. Barron said his plan (which offers eight solutions, instead of seven) ensures that colleges are held responsible for their students’ success, while allowing colleges in the state to “still be on the cutting edge.”

For instance, the Texas solutions focus on measuring the productivity and effectiveness of faculty by how many students they teach, how highly they are rated on student evaluations, and how many A’s and B’s they award to students. Critics say the Texas model wants colleges to operate like businesses that offer degrees as their main product. But such metrics, Mr. Barron said, could have unintended consequences, among them larger classes that could limit learning and faculty’s pandering to students to positively influence student evaluations.

A better way to measure efficiency, according to Mr. Barron’s plan, is to look at freshman retention and graduation rates, survey students about their university experience after graduation, test them for how much they know about a subject before and after a course, and calculate cost per student per credit hour. Among other elements of Mr. Barron’s plan are an emphasis on performance-based pay and less weight on student evaluations as a litmus test for awarding tenure.

Mr. Barron, who is scheduled to discuss his plan at the Faculty Senate meeting this month at Florida State, said he hopes his ideas “start a discussion about what we could do differently in Florida.”

“My belief is that this plan will get improved as it goes along,” he said, “and hopefully what will emerge is an even stronger document that we can talk about.”

No Room for Debate?
But some professors are concerned that the window to discuss the pros and cons of the Texas plan is a narrow one, if it exists at all. The governor’s consistent promotion of the Texas ideas as a possible template doesn’t bode well, they said.

“He’s already finished the conversation all by himself,” said Tom Auxter, president of the United Faculty of Florida and a professor of philosophy at the University of Florida. Mr. Auxter wrote a letter to union members last week that outlined several challenges the union expects to face when the legislative session begins anew, including the likely reintroduction of bills that would make it harder for public employees to keep their union going. Yet, Mr. Auxter wrote: “The most ominous threat to higher education comes from the governor.”

“Faculty are talking about this across the state,” Mr. Auxter said in an interview of the governor’s push to consider the Texas ideas in Florida. They’re not against a plan that tries to increase efficiency since it’s clear that “we don’t have enough money to go around,” he said. But at the root of critics’ worry, just as in Texas, is how that efficiency will be achieved.

“The ideas are often general ideas that people may or may not agree with,” Mr. Auxter said of the Texas plan. “But when you look at the implementation, all the duplicity is in the details.”

Mr. Auxter and others say that a key component of the Texas solution, its merit-pay plan, would push professors away from Florida colleges. Under the Texas plan, faculty who are top-notch teachers would be given a bonus, but that amount, Mr. Auxter says, would not be added to the base pay that professors get. So the salaries of high-performing faculty wouldn’t increase over the long run.

Faculty will say, “‘I’m going to have this salary for the rest of my life,'” Mr. Auxter said. “You need people who are on the cutting edge in their research and can teach well. They’re saying you don’t have to invest in talent.”

Mr. Auxter added that “I think we’re going to have to fight this all year long.”

Frank T. Brogan, chancellor of the State University System of Florida, has met with Governor Scott to discuss the changes the governor has in mind for higher education. Mr. Brogan was not available for comment, according to his spokeswoman. However, he told the News Service of Florida last month that he supports “accountability-based funding,” and thinks that scrutinizing the quality of programs is key. He also acknowledged how fast-moving—and divisive—discussions about overhauling higher education were in Texas and he hopes talks about the issue will take a different tone in Florida, the news service reported.

The Board of Governors, which oversees public colleges in the state, meets Thursday, and Mr. Brogan is on the agenda. Kelly Layman, a spokeswoman, said Mr. Brogan will give a report, during which he will weigh in on the talk surrounding potential changes in Florida’s higher education system, and will also lead a discussion on national trends in higher education.

“The Florida Board of Governors is excited that this dialogue is occurring in the context of work it has dedicated itself to the past 18 months on updating our strategic plan through 2025,” Ms. Layman said in an e-mail. “We will build whatever additional performance metrics to our existing annual report the board feels are necessary.”


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

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

How FAU Faculty Won

September 9, 2010. On overcoming challenges to tenure, truth, and what the profession at FAU is worth.

It is not entirely good form to “toot one’s own horn,” especially when victory or defeat are undecided. Yet if one doesn’t take a bow once the final whistle has sounded those in attendance may not recollect what parties, if any, deserved recognition. This is especially the case for FAU faculty.

To sum things up, it has been we have been through a great deal over the past sixteen months. You will recall that in the spring of 2009 under the tutelage of former Republican Lieutenant Governor and FAU President Frank Brogan, the FAU Board of Trustees spurned a modest salary increase recommended by an impartial arbitrator. “The University can’t afford it,” the already demoralized faculty were told. “After all, times are tough and we all have to pull in our belts.” Also at the time, there seemed to be no prospect of Brogan departing FAU anytime soon. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s difficult to beat a $340K-per-year gig that comes with free rent.

The following month, as if to add insult to injury, the Brogan administration terminated five tenured faculty members. The firings were justified under a shotgun reorganization of the College of Engineering and Computer Science. In terms of publicity and any semblance of professional decorum, the terminations were a colossal blunder for all involved–including administrators. Less than one week after they occurred, the Faculty Senate held an emergency meeting condemning the actions. A week before they took place, concerned about the administration’s opacity and evasions, I made numerous public records requests to find out more about Engineering’s alleged reorganization and what this meant for faculty in the College and the University as a whole. UFF subsequently filed grievances on behalf of the faculty and chapter, and the entire affair was watched closely by the local press. In two subsequent Trustees’ meetings the Faculty Senate President struck poignant (though arguably too short-lived) stances opposing Engineering’s reorganization.

I also wrote angrily about the salary decision and firings on the “pages” of this blog. Both actions were personal for me as they were for many other faculty members. They were also wrought with professional implications. But to paraphrase a political figure whom I’ve seldom felt much affinity with, Extremism in defense of the profession is no vice. In other words, to accept the severe potential compromises to academic freedom and free association symbolized in these actions would be to turn one’s back on what we as faculty have essentially devoted our professional lives to, regardless of our discipline. And, if the move to render tenure meaningless was not vigorously contested, the damage to the institution would be immense since an FAU faculty position would be perceived as an increasingly empty promise, subject to the unchecked designs of those who are often far-removed from the everyday task of carrying out the University’s instructional and research missions.

Along these lines, another thing that stuck in my craw was the University’s alleged budget crisis–a crisis under which broad reorganization of colleges and departments was proposed (and which may still proceed under somewhat different auspices). There was no question that FAU and other state universities have lost some funding from the state. Yet the University also possesses many millions in reserve assets, stocks, and other securities that could have been utilized to shore up certain shortfalls, particularly as these related to instructional quality, while providing much-needed salary increases for faculty.

My suspicion that something was rotten in the state of Denmark was confirmed in the release of FAU’s 2008-09 Financial Audit, which revealed that when the administration and its attorneys were busy pleading poverty and dismissing tenured professors, FAU’s unrestricted net reserve assets increased by twenty percent. This canard endured through April and May of 2010, when a few professors even proposed forfeiting a portion of their retirement benefits to bolster the University’s coffers. Lo and behold, the following month the sea parted and faculty and staff were informed of potential 3% salary increases.

So, how much has changed since last year? Perhaps a great deal more than we realize (or wish to fully acknowledge in polite company). The five professors who were stripped of their tenure and shown the door have since been given new appointments with their seniority and tenure intact. Because of these actions UFF has chosen not to proceed with filing Unfair Labor Practice charges and a lawsuit to compel arbitration. We may safely conclude that the re-appointment of these professors was done with the prompting of some very “squeaky wheels” from both UFF and a handful of those in faculty governance.

Although painful, the past year’s events also led to a positive outcome in terms of restoring FAU’s leadership and direction; the Board of Trustees embarked on a painstaking process to appoint a new university president. In fact, the Trustees’ lengthy and careful discussion on the final candidates’ merits and drawbacks for FAU should be considered among the University’s finer moments. They acted independently and impartially to conclude the process that at least some of us were skeptical about from the start.

As noted, when the Trustees’ choice took the reins in June there was almost immediate movement on faculty and staff salaries–in other words, an attempt to address what UFF had been pointing to in its newsletter, at the bargaining table, and on this blog for the past three years. We regret that there was not a greater effort to distinguish between the less-well-paid faculty and already highly-compensated administrators. Yet as things proceed further we remain hopeful that this may be a step in the right direction toward not only more equitable corresponding pay scales with our peer institutions, but also renewing and strengthening relations between FAU’s faculty, administrators, and Trustees.

In solidarity,

James Tracy
UFF-FAU President

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

State of the Union Address

April 10, 2010. UFF can help create a workplace where faculty and staff are treated fairly and with respect, but it is only as strong as the degree of member involvement.

I picked one hell of a year to make my debut as UFF-FAU Chapter President. In the winter of 2008 a colleague who was also involved in UFF telephoned me and said they had been informed that no one from UFF was returning Palm Beach Post reporter Kim Miller’s calls. Miller really wanted to speak to a faculty and union member who would provide some remarks that might contrast with the administration’s press releases and soundbites, and reflect what at least some of the faculty likely have on their minds.

And then this person essentially said, “If you do speak to the press you had better be careful because they’re going to come after you.” I had heard similar remarks previously from others. For example, that Frank Brogan likely has an enemies list and you had better not speak out of turn or you’ll find yourself on it. So, I thought, “Who are we working with? The mob?”

So, I made a decision to speak to reporters as frequently as they wished. I figured that the administration likely has the power to retaliate, and Mr. Brogan may have an enemies list. Yet, as scholars we have an obligation to stand up and speak out against an environment of intimidation, fear and favoritism. Such an environment is totally antithetical to what we do–which is to inquire, to question, to teach, and to do so from certain underlying principles of morality and truth. And sometimes the truth flies in the face of the latest press release.

In addition, we have a union. Some of us even have tenure. And since we have these things we should put them good use; to create a workplace where faculty and staff are treated fairly and with respect.

That being said, this past year has felt more like ten years. The Union may have lost some battles. For example, the Trustees’ decision on the 2.5% salary increase that our bargaining team fought so hard to secure. It was just when I was learning the ropes of being a Chapter officer when I attended the Board of Trustees Personnel Committee Hearing last April, and the decision was made to vote down that very modest salary increase. I can’t convey to you how humiliated the faculty in attendance were made to feel at that venue.

With the layoffs of tenured faculty in the College of Engineering the following month it appeared that the administration had bent the stick too far. This was an overt attack on tenure, the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the faculty as a whole. As one member of the Faculty Senate remarked on June 5, “If they can do that to them, they can do it to any of us.”

I think it’s safe to say that in the wake of these events the Union and the Faculty Senate fought vigorously to defend tenure and enforce our Contract. The five faculty members who were laid off have since been appointed to positions–not their original positions–but positions with their tenure and seniority intact.

We also learned a few days ago that the administration is moving to do away with the College of Engineering’s “functional units,” which were used to cordon off faculty in that College for layoffs. I’m not holding my breath for administrators to issue a statement that these actions were in response to the steadfastness of UFF, the Faculty Senate, and the Faculty Assembly in Engineering. But I would like to think that these bodies may have had some modest influences on these decisions. We should especially thank Faculty Senate President Tim Lenz for his leadership over the past year, UFF Grievance Chair Doug Broadfield, and UFF Service Unit Coordinator Bruce Nissen.

FAU also has a new university president who’s been appointed and we would like to think that perhaps we’re turning a corner.

Another exciting thing the Chapter is undertaking is a campaign to build our membership. As some of you know, this involves one-on-one contact with colleagues asking that they pay their dues, thereby becoming full-fledged UFF members. We have to remember that Florida is a right to work state, and as public employees we do not have the right not to work.

In 2003 an overwhelming majority of FAU faculty members voted to recertify United Faculty of Florida as their bargaining representative. But, in a right to work state the same faculty can opt out of paying their dues. That’s why, aside from bargaining and contract enforcement, we have to constantly build our membership. We do that by asking colleagues to become dues-paying members. We also have to make sure that all of our resources go toward building membership. That’s what makes the chapter, the statewide UFF and FEA, and our national affiliates, NEA and AFT, strong advocates for higher education in the state and federal legislative levels and capable of rendering aid locally when we need it.

Why is this important? Well, take for example what Republican legislators in Tallahassee are presently trying to do to the Florida Retirement System. Or what they’re trying to do to Florida’s school teachers. FEA lobbyists are in the halls of the capitol defending FRS, and prompting us to telephone and email our legislators to preserve the retirement system and teacher tenure.

Our website has averaged close to 1,000 hits daily over the past three-to-four weeks. We could not keep you updated on this unless our state affiliate had the resources to put people on the ground to report back to us and coordinate collective action. The same can be said for providing our chapter with legal assistance when that has become necessary.

So, our dues-paying membership is growing. We have about 42 new members sign up since September. Please thank Rob McCarthy, Mike Budd, and Dave Lee for all of their hard work on membership.

On that note, I don’t see our Chapter moving forward in the medium and long term without us building a strong sense of community and purpose. What does that entail? It entails becoming involved, even if that involvement is one or two hours per month. We can’t have a union just by people paying their dues in case something goes wrong. The union is not merely a service plan. It consists of the collective activity of its members.

We are fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us an incredible degree of professional autonomy and freedom. This makes it that much easier to say, “Well, let them do it. I’ve got my own projects and deadlines, so let the ‘union people’ do it.”

With that attitude we’ll never develop. We are the union. When we begin thinking and acting more so along those lines–each of us making a modest commitment toward building the union–we’ll be on our way. Then there will be nothing that can stop us.

James Tracy
UFF-FAU President

Message From UFF President Tom Auxter on HB 1319 & SB 6

Thursday, March 18, 2010, 4:05 PM

Dear Colleague:

Legislative leaders are moving rapidly to pass a bill, HB 1319 (Grady), that could cut your Florida Retirement System pension in half. By changing rules about how pensions are calculated, they can cut your average yearly pension from $30,000 to $15,000, for example.  Tell your legislators to vote against HB 1319.
(See pdf of HB 1319 below for details.)

Legislators are also preparing to destroy tenure (continuing contracts) for K-12 teachers when they vote on Senate bill 6. (See link to FEA analysis of SB 6 below.) This bill abolishes continuing contracts for teachers (earned after a probationary period), places them on annual contracts, and makes both reappointment and pay raises contingent on test scores of students.  School boards will actually be punished in funding if they pay teachers more for earning advanced degrees rather than rewarding teachers for test scores of students. Tell your legislators to vote against SB 6.

Over time, the economic effect of SB 6 will be to eliminate graduate programs in education when funding is taken away for advanced degrees, and make it impossible to adequately fund undergraduate education degrees by imposing unfunded mandates (expensive reporting mechanisms) to check on test scores of graduates. In other words, it is an attack on the funding and potential enrollment in public universities and colleges at the same time that it is an attack on teacher tenure and professional achievement. It severely jeopardizes recruitment of both faculty and teachers when legislators strip away professional compensation and restrict the academic freedom of educators by abolishing tenure.

Moreover, if legislators abolish tenure for K-12 now and get away with it without resistance, we can expect higher education will be next — losing tenure and finding ourselves subjected to the latest testing scheme to decide if we have the professional standing to continue. Contact legislators now to stop attacks on the conditions of employment of educators. The loss of professional standards now will make it impossible for us to retain and recruit both teachers and faculty in the future.


Tom Auxter
President, United Faculty of Florida

Click here to view pdf of HB1319 (Grady)
Click here to link to FEA analysis of SB 6.
Read and Sign Defend Tenure Now Petition, by Henry Thomas, UFF-UNF President