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