United Faculty of Florida-Florida Atlantic University Chapter
March 31, 2013. A Message from UFF-FAU President Chris Robé
To All Concerned Faculty,
Many of you are aware of the recent controversy concerning an instructor who conducted a classroom exercise that, according to the textbook he used, would enable the class to “discuss the importance of symbols in culture.” The incident has been grossly mischaracterized by most local and national news as the “Jesus stomping incident” and poorly explained by the FAU administration. The assignment from the textbook Intercultural Communication states:
This exercise is a bit sensitive, but really drives home the point that even though symbols are arbitrary, they take on very strong and emotional meanings. Have the students write the name JESUS in big letters on a piece of paper. Ask the students to stand up and put the paper on the floor in front of them with the name facing up. Ask the students to think about it for a moment. After a brief period of silence, instruct them to step on the paper. Most will hesitate. Ask why they can’t step on the paper. Discuss the importance of symbols in culture.
As we all understand, academic freedom serves as the linchpin of the university. According to FAU’s faculty handbook: “Academic freedom and responsibility are essential to the full development of a true university and apply to teaching, research and creative activities. An employee engaged in such activities shall be free to cultivate a spirit of inquiry and scholarly criticism and to examine ideas in an atmosphere of freedom and confidence.”
Although it is never the intention of a faculty member to offend his/her students, at times controversial material might unintentionally do so. As a result, we then use the classroom to discuss the controversy in a forthright and honest manner. But offense alone never justifies immediate censorship of the material and/or the pedagogy. Galileo offended critics by claiming the earth was not the center of the solar system. Some groups continue to be offended by evolutionary theory. Offense, although to be avoided, sometimes accompanies the advancement of knowledge.
We find it outrageous that critics of Dr. Poole immediately condemn his exercise without fully knowing the facts. When the university administration unilaterally claims that such an assignment will not be taught again without the consultation of the faculty member involved as well as the faculty at large, they shred the principles of academic freedom that legitimate the existence of the university and guide genuine scholarly inquiry.
If Dr. Poole is dismissed from his teaching position for this incident, more is lost than simply a stellar instructor who has routinely received high praise from his students and supervisors. Also lost will be the good faith of the faculty who placed their trust in an administration to defend the academic freedom that defines the university. Lost will be freedom of speech in the classroom to “present and discuss academic subjects, frankly and forthrightly, without fear of censorship,” as is enshrined in our collective bargaining agreement. Lost will be the future scholars who will no longer want to work at an institution whose credibility has been tarnished. Lost will be the current scholars who leave our institution for others that respect academic freedom.
It is time to defend academic freedom through the maelstrom of uninformed attacks since the controversy will eventually pass but the institution will remain. And the type of institution that remains will largely depend upon whether the core principles of academic freedom are preserved or not.
For further details on the story see:
September 1, 2012. Welcome back to the Idea Factory! What’s on the horizon for FAU faculty this coming fall.
Welcome back to the Idea Factory. The distant metallic sound you might hear is the sharpening of knives by some of our state overlords in Tallahassee in the hopes of gutting public education and unions once and for all. Our governor established a Blue Ribbon Task Force on State Higher Education Reform in May. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the panel’s main task is “to identify ways to make the state’s higher education systems more efficient.” This euphemism of “efficiency” hangs in the air like a toxic cloud barely covering the cost-cutting and privatizing of public education that lurks beneath it. We have seen efficiency at work in inflating class caps, gouging students for higher tuitions, increasing course loads, questioning the viability of tenure, and demonizing faculty and faculty unions.
We expect to see anti-union legislation making the rounds in Tallahassee again this year. Two bills likely to appear this year will eliminate payroll deduction of union dues and also decertify unions with less than 50% membership. At FAU we are currently hovering at 40%. We need to make our numbers 50% by the end of the academic year so that faculty can be adequately represented on the campus and within the state. You can print a union membership form at the bottom of the webpage: http://www.uff-fau.org/?p=16. Send it to Chris Robé CU 214 on the Boca campus.
On the state level, UFF’s lawsuit (through our affiliate, the Florida Education Association) regarding the 3% FRS deduction will be going before the state supreme court this fall. Although the defendants wanted to drag the case out, our attorneys fast-tracked it to the supreme court since we won an overwhelmingly positive verdict from a circuit court judge who decreed the deduction unconstitutional. If we win the following case, a challenge to the 2.5% ORP deduction is soon to follow. Remember, your union dues help pay for actions like this that protect your paycheck.
On the campus level, we have been bargaining since spring. More details are available on the flip-side of this broadsheet regarding our process. Some issues we have stressed are raises/equity (as always), parental leave, partner benefits, and promotional raises for instructors and lecturers.
Also, after receiving numerous complaints from faculty regarding internal SACS accreditation, UFF-FAU has compiled a report based on faculty comments and submitted it to the provost and others in charge of SACS accreditation on August 14. We are waiting to hear back from them to schedule a meeting regarding our concerns and recommendations. You can read the report on the UFF-FAU website (www.uff-fau.org).
The instructor/lecturer promotional structure has now been put in place. Your departments/schools should have determined the criteria for promotion last spring. If they have not, please let us know. UFF-FAU has contacted the provost to determine submission deadlines for instructor/lecturer promotional materials. We are still awaiting an answer. We will let you know as soon as we hear back from them. Also, we would like to hold a workshop for all instructors/lecturers going up for promotion this year this fall, depending upon the due date of materials.
The UFF-FAU new faculty luncheon will be held in the Board of Trustees’ Room (3rd floor Administration Building) on September 14, 11:30-1:30 PM. This is open to all faculty. We encourage you to bring new faculty and/or non-union members to the luncheon. UFF-FAU will update you on our actions as well as answer any questions you might have. Also, the statewide UFF Senate will be held in Tampa on September 22-23. This is open to all UFF senators, bargaining team members, and EC members. It serves as a valuable forum to network with other UFF chapters to compare issues and concerns.
UFF-FAU wants to hold a speaker series each semester. We are looking for faculty input on who to invite. The talks can range from pragmatic matters (e.g. “What are my retirement benefits?”) to broader concerns (e.g. “How is public education being eviscerated?”). Please email your suggestions to president(at)uff-fau.org.
We will also be releasing the administrative survey in the next few weeks. Be on the lookout.
Finally, we are always looking for faculty to get involved. Half of the union’s task is advocating on behalf of the faculty’s collective interests. But this advocacy becomes hollow if we don’t have faculty actively supporting the union by getting involved. The first step is joining. But the next step is participating in the union with whatever unique skills you possess. We can always use more bargainers, grievance representatives, recruiters, writers, artists, mathematicians, and the like. You can dedicate as much or as little time as you have available. But dedicating some time is of the utmost importance.
Since we would like to have our union density over 50% by the end of this academic year, we need faculty who are willing to recruit: going to other faculty offices and speaking to colleagues about their concerns and how they intersect with union goals. Please write to me at president(at)uff-fau.org if you are interested. If we have enough people interested, we will hold a recruiting workshop this fall. Look forward to seeing you soon!
July 17, 2012. Bargaining team signed off on 16 articles; Next bargaining meeting August 13, 2012 at 12:30PM
We continue meeting throughout the summer bargaining over the entire UFF-BOT Collective Bargaining Agreement. We have already tentatively agreed on the following articles: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 16, 19, 21, 22, 25, 27, 28, and 29.We will eventually send you the amendments when we ask the faculty to ratify the contract after we have finished bargaining.
Some of our main debates concern summer instructional activity. The union is firm that faculty needs to be compensated for any credit-generating activity when they are not under regular contract. The summer compensation clause originated back when faculty took a reduction from summer pay originally being 75%of their regular salary to 12.5% years ago The administration has also suggested only offering one supplemental summer course with a cap at 12,500 dollars. We
Another central issue is regarding notice for non-reappointment. We want the administration to follow the original contract under Article 12.2: subsections 1 and 2. The administration should honor the terms and conditions concerning the original letter of offer or original notice of appointment. If there are no termination dates in these original letters, then the dates of notice in the C.B.A. should be followed.
In regard to the instructor promotions structure, the administration has set the raises at 9% and 12% with the stipulation that any instructors who received raises from September 2008 onwards will have the difference deducted from the promotional raise. For example, if an instructor received a 3% raise in the last three years, s/he can only receive a 6% raise when going up for initial promotion. The administration argues that this structure will help create equity among instructors.
The administration has initially offered no raises. We are disputing this—particular in regard to the massive amount of reserve money they still retain. We have seen what happens when the administration hordes reserves: the state forcibly reduces its contribution. Instead, some of these reserves need to be dedicated to faculty.
Post-tenure review is also beginning to be discussed.
Our next bargaining meeting will be on August 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM in the Provost’s Conference Room (3rd Floor on the Administration Building). Anyone can attend. We strongly suggest that you do so, so that the administration can understand how faculty are deeply concerned about the aforementioned issues.
Send me any feedback that you might have at president (at) uff-fau.org. Hope you’re having a good summer.
June 11, 2012. Provost Brenda Claiborne announces significant changes to Promotion and Tenure policy without notifying UFF or faculty governance bodies
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.
May 14, 2012. The faculty protest in late April was a last resort after the non-responsiveness of FAU administrators. What did we achieve?
First of all, I would thank all faculty and staff who participated in the summer teaching protest held on April 18. As you all know, the protest just didn’t concern itself with summer teaching, but more importantly the way in which faculty have been systematically excluded from most decision-making processes recently implemented by the upper administration. Only after the fact is faculty input solicited. We are hoping as a result of such negative publicity that the administration will start implementing policies where faculty have been an integral part from the inception. I will be meeting with the provost later this month to discuss this problem and see how we can move forward regarding this.
The union doesn’t take protesting lightly. We have attempted to use other more formal channels– consultation, meeting with the upper administration through more informal settings, asking questions during faculty assemblies and the senate, but felt that our concerns were not being taken seriously. As a result, we felt that we had no option other than focusing the public eye on the ways in which faculty, students, and staff feel how that the university has been mismanaged. In this effort we were successful. In addition to attracting at least seventy faculty, staff and students to our protest rally on the 18th, and helping students publicize their own earlier protest rally, we received good publicity in a variety of media. See the links to local media in previous posts on the protests here at uff-fau.org.
The results were productive:
1) We finally received a belated memo from the administration on April 10 regarding the rationale for the implementation of summer policy.
2) Administrators started to reinstitute courses more promptly.
3) The administration publicly acknowledged that the implementation of the summer policy was misguided.
4) After repeated calls by the union since Fall 2011 for a Town Hall Budget meeting, the upper administration finally held one. The result was far from satisfactory. Although we would much rather have had the President and the Provost directly fielding questions, the meeting at least provided a public forum where faculty could directly address some of their concerns and judge for themselves the adequacy of the responses.
But of course the proof is in the proverbial pudding. We’ll see how future administrative policies are made and implemented and if faculty governance and knowledge is respected. We understand that FAU has been placed in a difficult economic situation because of the hostility by many in the state legislature in regards toward public education.
This damage has been compounded by misguided policies on the local level that seem distinctly out of touch with faculty concerns and expertise and thus destructive of some core goals of the university, its discipline-specific teaching and research programs. But for now we look to the future by attempting to establish a more functional and balanced relationship with the upper administration. As you know, the union provides a forum for the only independent collective voice of the faculty. But only faculty can make this voice be adequately heard not only by joining the union, but also by becoming more involved in it.
The union repeatedly and rigorously addresses issues that many faculty members articulate to one another but might be uncomfortable pronouncing on their own to the administration. But the union gives you an independent, collective voice across department, college and campus boundaries. Your involvement makes us a more effective, democratic, well-informed, and vigorous university. Please download a membership form by clicking here today. Send to Chris Robe’, FAU, CU 215, Boca Raton, FL 33431.
Have a good summer!
February 2, 2012. UFF-FAU announces new non-tenure track promotional structure approved by NTT faculty.
The union is pleased to announce that a new non-tenure-track [NTT] promotional structure has recently been approved by NTT faculty. All faculty should be receiving a memorandum from the provost issuing general guidelines for how the criteria for the promotional structure will be determined by departments. NTT faculty will be a central part in determining these criteria. Once the criteria are established, faculty who had been hired at 2002 or earlier will be eligible to submit their materials for promotion in Fall 2012.
Issues concerning salaries and raises attached to promotions will carry over into full-book bargaining this spring. There we will suggest that promotional raises be identical to tenure-track faculty’s promotional raises: 9% after promotion to Senior Instructor and 12% after promotion to University Instructor. We will have NTT faculty on our bargaining team to represent your interests. Feel free to attend our bargaining meetings to lend support and stay informed.
It initially had been a difficult struggle to get the administration to admit the importance of NTT faculty within the university. Even forming a subcommittee concerning NTT issues seemed daunting at first. But when the meetings commenced, the union fought extremely hard regarding NTT interests throughout the process as anyone who attended can attest. Furthermore, these meetings allowed NTT faculty a platform to express themselves to administrators that they don’t often have much access to. We want to thank each and every one of NTT faculty who have been a part of this process. This is the beginning of providing NTT faculty a stronger voice within their departments, schools, colleges, and the university.
With this said, the union still strongly advocates for tenure and tenure-track positions. Tenure serves as the engine of the university by providing needed job security and academic freedom for innovative teaching and long-term research to thrive. We don’t see the advocacy for NTT faculty as opposed to the interests of tenure-track and tenured faculty. NTT faculty provide the teaching and FTE production to offset the time needed by tenure-track and tenured faculty to concentrate on research and service commitments. Yet the union understands that if faculty do not resist trends in increasingly replacing tenured faculty with NTT faculty, tenure will effectively be killed by death-of-a-thousand cuts in the future, isolating tenure to an ever-diminishing number of faculty. We need to guard against such trends while nonetheless not neglect representing the interests of all faculty who serve the university.
Overall, a promotional structure is long overdue for NTT faculty. It belatedly recognizes the new political economy of public universities as state resources and commitments continue to dwindle. More importantly, it only begins to reward NTT faculty for stellar sustained teaching. We find the subcommittee structure an effective method in addressing faculty issues with the administration. So: what do you want to do next and how can you help the union in doing so? We have full-book bargaining this spring and encourage all faculty to attend the meetings. We will twitter feed negotiations at: UFFFAU.
Also, if you haven’t already done so, please fill out the bargaining survey at:
Attend Executive Committee meetings the first Friday of each month at 12:00 PM in CU 222 (Culture and Society Building). Run for union office. Contact chapter secretary Dave Lee with your self-nomination or if you are nominating others at: dlee251348(at)bellsouth.net. At the very least, join the union. Download the attached membership form and send it to: Chris Robé, CU 214. We need to raise our membership density above 50% before July 1, 2012 before any decertification legislation goes into effect. We are currently at about 39%. If around 110 new members join from now until July, we will reach our goal.
January 12, 2012. Questioning FAU administrators’ abrupt decision to increase class sizes and cancel courses, Work on NTT promotional structure continues, Calling all potential bargainers! Join UFF to fight Tallahassee’s anti-faculty agenda
Greetings. While you feasted on candied ham and disposed of unwanted fruitcakes over the holidays, your friendly faculty union has been busy preparing for the New Year. Already, we have contacted the administration regarding the sudden imposition of higher caps upon some faculty’s classes—some were as high as a 50% increase of students. We have alerted the administration that such unilateral decisions decreed only days before the semester are unfair to our faculty and the students. Syllabi suddenly need to be overhauled and quality sacrificed as the strain of a larger student body are imposed upon an already over-taxed, under-funded infrastructure. We will be discussing this further during consultation and bargaining.
We are completing old business by attempting to finalize a promotional structure for full-time Non-Tenure Track faculty. The main points of contention concern the transition time for long-time NTT faculty to apply for promotion and to pay our lowest paid NTT faculty a semi-livable salary. Our most recent meeting with administrators in this regard took place on January 11th.
Additionally, we will be bargaining the entire contract this semester. We will shortly be electronically distributing a bargaining survey. All faculty should fill it out as promptly as possible so we can better represent your interests at the bargaining table. We will also be announcing the bargaining dates when they become available so faculty can attend the meetings. Any faculty interested in bargaining should feel free to attend a bargaining workshop that we are holding on January 25 at 10:00 AM in room CU 222 (School of Communication Conference room). The meeting will be around three hours.
Needless to say, Tallahassee will be attempting to pass anti-union and anti-tenure legislation this spring. Although these two issues might not seem related, tenure and unionization are perceived by hostile lawmakers as impediments to privatizing public education and micromanaging faculty research, teaching, and governance from Tallahassee.
We not only need faculty to join the union so that we will be over 50% by the time July 1st rolls around, the date any anti-union legislation goes into effect, but we need your involvement. We need people to help with bargaining, grievances, recruiting, stewarding, writing, annotating, editing, analyzing—basically, any of the skills you have to offer. Assisting the union means dedicating as much time you feel comfortable with. Even offering two or three hours of help a month would be enormously beneficial. If you would like to talk with us to assist, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Furthermore, we will be having elections for union officers this semester. Feel free to nominate others or yourself for president, v.p., second vice-president, treasurer, secretary, or senator. Send nominations to: maris.hayashi(at)gmail.com.
One thing we are focused upon is changing the mass perception of public higher education and the faculty’s role within it. We are working on holding a teach-in sometime during the semester. If you would like to contribute, let us know. You can either be public with your involvement or work behind-the-scenes. Write to us at: president(at)uff-fau.org. We can use all the help out there. Before that, however, we encourage all faculty to write op-ed pieces to the local papers explaining tenure, the value of public higher education, the complimentary tasks of research and teaching, and so on. Only by flooding the public sphere with our voices can we begin to turnaround ill-informed perceptions of what we do—both within and off campus.
If you don’t see the value in the union, then ask yourself: why are some legislators so intent on breaking the union if it is so powerless, so meaningless and outdated? If the people who want to reduce your wages, stifle your research, outsource your classes, and generally treat you like a disposable workforce take the union seriously, maybe it is time that you do. Join. Write to us. Be involved. You deserve better.
September 5, 2011. Union continues advocating promotional structure and better salaries for non-tenured/tenure track faculty, Call for participation on parental leave and partner benefit committees
Throughout the sweltering days of summer, your friendly neighborhood faculty union continued to be on the move.
We have been conducting a series of meetings with the administration concerning the abject status of much Non-Tenure-Track full-time faculty here at Planet FAU. We are currently establishing a promotional structure that will offer multi-year contracts and accompanying raises for our NTT full-time faculty. The administration seems in agreement to such a structure with accompanying 9% and 12% raises for each level of advancement. But they are balking at tying longer multiyear contracts with each level of advancement. How important are multiyear contracts to you? Write to us: president(at)uff-fau.org.
Ultimately, this promotional system is designed to recognize and reward the outstanding work NTT faculty provide in teaching classes, overseeing labs, and the other numerous tasks that allow the university to function and thrive.
Furthermore, the creation of this new structure and the development of its criteria will foster needed dialogue among NTT and Tenure Track and Tenured faculty concerning the labor and knowledge NTT faculty provide. For too long, NTT faculty has been treated as second-class workers here at the idea factory.
Additionally, the union wants all full-time NTT salaries to be brought-up to $40,000 minimum. Currently, almost 1/3 of NTT (around 60 people) make less than $40,000 with around 40 making $35,000 or below. The administration claims that budget cuts make equity raises impossible. But the facts remain unclear. The UFF suggests the administration host a town hall meeting to discuss the budget where they clearly and cogently outline spending allocations and the amount discretionary monies. Faculty will also be able to ask questions. Only by making this process transparent and open to discussion can we make logical and equitable decisions.
We also believe all faculty deserves 3% raises to partially off-set the 3% mandatory contribution faculty must make to the Florida Retirement system. But, as of yet, the administration will not come to the bargaining table in good faith to even discuss this issue.
We are also currently working on developing our Parental Leave and Partner Benefit Committees, as well as organizing a taskforce concerning tuition reductions for children of faculty and staff, so that we can make FAU a more family-friendly working environment. Any faculty interested should contact me at president(at)uff-fau.org.
Finally, we will be bringing to the administration’s attention the over-burdened parking situation that leaves faculty and students orbiting the campus for twenty to thirty minutes at a time in the desperate search for a vacant parking spot.
Overall, the union is the only collective voice of the faculty. So your involvement is needed in making the university a better, more equitable place. Get involved in making your future! Join the union!
June 21, 2011. FAU depends on instructors who lack job security to teach its undergrads, Almost a third are paid less than $40k annually
For the past month, the union and instructors have been meeting with the administration concerning instructors’ working conditions at the university. We raised three primary areas of concern: 1) low salaries, 2) lack of advancement, and 3) lack of stability. Instructors clearly stressed salaries as a main priority. Out of around 170 full-time non-tenure track instructors at FAU, 51 are being paid below $40,000. Some earn as low as $30,600. Such salaries lie far beneath the typically high cost of living in South Florida. The union recommends that all 51 instructors be raised to a minimum of $40,000. Administration, however, suggests that state budget cuts make such appropriations difficult—a familiar refrain for long-term FAU employees.
Overall, UFF-FAU continues to maintain that salaries have remained at best a secondary concern for far too long. Administration’s first and only suggestion was that the union amends the Collective Bargaining Agreement to reduce summer pay for faculty, which could free up revenue for the equity raises. We reminded the administration that many of us depend upon summer teaching as a primary form of income to supplement our already low salaries. Further, we suggested that administration reduce the salaries of their highest paid employees and any unnecessary or redundant services that exist. Needless to say, our suggestion was not well-taken. We are presently requesting a more detailed, line-item 2011-2012 budget than the administration has currently provided (click for pdf of budget) in order to better assess the ways in which the university might reallocate funds for instructor equity raises. If anyone has any suggestions in how to do so before our next meeting with the administration on August 1, contact us at president(at)uff-fau.org.
In regards to the later two issues—advancement and stability—the administration seems agreeable to establishing a promotional structure for instructors. We are currently conceptualizing a three-tier structure that provides for longer multi-year contracts with an accompanying raise for each advancement. The union will be meeting later in July concerning this issue. Once we solidify a date, we would like to invite any faculty–especially instructors–to attend this meeting to help define the type of advancement structure they desire, as well as the general criteria for promotion.
We would also like testimonials from instructors regarding their experiences here at FAU. We want to make visible the often underappreciated work of instructors that allows the university to function. We want to learn about the type of quality of life employment at FAU makes possible. You can submit your pieces anonymously. We will eventually compile these testimonials and distribute them to faculty. You can send your testimonials to: president(at)uff-fau.org. And remember to follow the union on Twitter at: UFFFAU. It’s where all the cool cats go.
Over and out.
Incoming UFF-FAU President
May 12, 2011. A message from new UFF-FAU Chapter President Chris Robé
I am writing to you as the incoming UFF-FAU union president. First of all, I want to thank outgoing president Jim Tracy and all the other union executives and members who not only managed to prevent the legitimacy of the university from going belly-up with the attempted firing of five tenured professors in Engineering two years ago, but also began to galvanize faculty in considering how to make the university a better place.
Two years ago it was nothing less than hunting season on tenure. After the Spring 2009 semester concluded, Florida State University administrators fired twenty five tenured faculty members. Along similar lines FAU terminated five tenured faculty in Engineering. UFF fought on the colleagues’ behalf and won all the positions back including their tenure. Needless to say, irreparable damage has been done to faculty morale that still lingers on in light of these maneuvers.
Yet, more importantly, the union started to mobilize by visiting faculty in their offices and in the halls to speak about what we could do better, how FAU could be improved, and what type of university they envisioned. Two years later a series of new initiatives have emerged. An Instructor Task Force has been assembled to identify three primary issues concerning the increasing use of non-tenure track labor: low wages, no job stability, and lack of a promotional structure. The union is currently engaged in talks with the administration about taking concrete steps in improving instructors’ positions here on campus. Ultimately, we would like to incorporate some of these ideas into our Collective Bargaining Agreement. If any instructors or other faculty would like to be a part of this task force or have any suggestions, please contact me at president(at)uff-fau.org.
Furthermore, I would start to like compiling instructor testimonials that will then be assembled into a newsletter and distributed to faculty. These testimonials can be done anonymously since I understand the vulnerability that most non-tenure track faculty feel. But it is important to relate our stories not only to the administration, but also to ourselves in order to become fully aware of how the university actually works. We must make this so-called “invisible” labor gain visibility. For example, what is it like being instructor? How does one survive on such salaries? How does one feel at department meetings? These are the things we would like to hear about from colleagues, document, and then make available to the broader faculty body.
Faculty members have also begun to assemble a Parental Leave Task Force conceptualizing the ways in which FAU might offer paid paternity/maternity leave to parents without requiring them to use their sick leave. Also, in the initial stages is a task force dedicated to assessing how children of FAU employees might receive free tuition. Finally, we also have an existent Domestic Partner Benefits Task Force. If any faculty members are interested in these issues, they should contact me so I can place them in contact with the appropriate people. The union, after all, is the faculty, and all of our initiatives come from the bottom-up. If you feel there are other issues that you would like addressed, contact me—but only if you are truly willing to place some of your own time and energy into seriously establishing them.
In order to stay better connected with our members, I am also initiating a Twitter account so that you can receive frequent updates concerning the union’s actions and important meetings that you should try to attend. Please follow: UFFFAU; or search for UFFFAU(at)gmail.com.
Finally, as most of you know, a strong contingent of anti-union representatives have been elected to the state legislature. They would like to see nothing less than not only crushing the union but the entire state system in the misguided belief that private business will somehow resurrect the economy and education. But one needs only look to the astronomical tuition rates of places like Nova Southeastern and University of Miami to see how such a policy will further disenfranchise working-class, ethnic, and minority students—the very student body that actually makes FAU a truly diverse and engaging campus—from attending college or being saddled with astronomical student loans. Pending state legislation wants to remove payroll deduction of union dues in an attempt to decrease membership. Pending state legislation wants to decertify the union if it falls under 50% membership. All of this is ultimately aimed at stripping us of our collective bargaining agreement where tenure, raises, summer teaching, promotions, and countless other rights that we take for granted are defined and become legally binding.
We need to keep building membership not simply to stave off the effects of such legislation but to become more powerful so that when we talk with the administration they clearly know we represent a majority of the faculty’s interest. We need to keep building in order to establish new task forces and rejuvenate our energy in making the university a better place where we want to teach and have our kids attend. If we truly want higher salaries, we need a greater density of membership, with faculty attending bargaining sessions and Board of Trustee meetings so our voices can be heard and physical presence felt. FIU, our sister institution, has over 50% union membership and not surprisingly has higher salaries and better working conditions than FAU.
My main job as president is to help amplify faculty voices, organize around our main issues, and assist in directing our energies in the most productive directions. If we truly believe that faculty are the university, then the union is the main vehicle where the collective faculty voice can best be heard and organized. Things aren’t perfect, and they never will be. But they can certainly get better. The question is: what can you do to make them better? The union will help you, but you need to get involved in order to find out how. Let’s make FAU into a truly inhabitable planet for all.