United Faculty of Florida-Florida Atlantic University Chapter
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
See related posts:
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.
February 17, 2010. “Educational reform” measures put forth by Florida’s Council of 100 business leaders and endorsed by GOP power broker Jeb Bush require scrutiny in historical context.
When considering the recent proposals comprising “Closing the Talent Gap,” put forth this month by Florida’s Council of 100, it is important to keep in mind the dramatic political and structural changes to Florida’s State University System that have occurred over the past ten years. An oft-overlooked or forgotten chapter of Florida higher education’s recent past should be kept at the forefront of our thinking so that we may place the United Faculty of Florida and SUS’s plight in proper perspective. Central to this is the quasi-privitization of the state’s public universities, termed “devolution,” that took place under Jeb Bush’s governorship and the successful move to destroy the statewide collective bargaining framework existing between the United Faculty of Florida and Florida’s Board of Regents.
Florida is part of the “Old South,” and one of the South’s legacies is a hostility toward independent worker organization that can be traced, without too much imagination, to the antebellum era. In the face of broad unionization throughout the US northeastern, mid-west, and western states during the 1940s and 1950s, American corporations sought to relocate to areas where there was less unionization and the deck was stacked against organizing through anti-labor laws. Like many of their counterparts in the Old Confederacy after passage of the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, Florida legislators moved to make it more difficult for workers to form unions through implementation of “right to work,” or “open shop” laws. At institutions where a majority of workers managed to vote union representation into existence, such laws allowed employees to opt out of paying dues even though they were members of the bargaining unit and received the protections and benefits of representation. UFF’s present organizing efforts are rooted in attempts to work within the framework of these very laws designed to undermine worker power and solidarity that a strong union can provide. Our organizing efforts are never-ending.
The UFF membership’s resolve to maintain its capacity as a statewide faculty union was dealt a heavy blow in the early 2000s. The Board of Regents that oversaw the SUS resisted a handful of powerful legislators’ attempts to build law schools at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Florida International University, and a medical school at Florida State University. Infuriated at the BOR’s recalcitrance, Governor Bush and an unusual coalition of Republican and Democratic state legislators moved to abolish the BOR and decentralize the SUS. The result was that each institution was placed under the direct oversight of a separate Board of Trustees.
This decentralization of power to BOTs was in close accord with the national Republican Party’s mission to privatize public institutions and run government “like a business.” The move was also an obvious attempt to weaken Florida’s teacher and faculty unions, which have been strong supporters of the Democratic Party. Bush made sure the eleven new BOTs were loaded with pro-business Republican donors, a practice reconfirmed in BOG Chancellor and Bush associate Frank Brogan’s October 2009 BOT (re)appointments. These trustees, many of whom do not possess a full understanding of public higher education and would just as soon farm out university instruction to unqualified “private contractors” (adjuncts), are indifferent if not hostile toward public employees’ unions and collective bargaining.
The governance changes were used by the new BOTs as a basis to end bargaining that, since the UFF’s establishment in the mid-1970s, took place between UFF and the BOR. The BOTs argued unanimously that they were no longer bound by the statewide agreements. In response, with the aid of our parent organization, the American Federation of Teachers, UFF mobilized and collected thousands of authorization cards from large majorities of faculty to recertify each UFF chapter as a bargaining agent with their respective BOTs. At eight universities faculty support for recertification of UFF was 65% or more and the BOTs at these institutions voluntarily recognized UFF. At FAU 70% of faculty members who were approached signed cards for recertification. University of West Florida and Florida State University held out for elections where UFF went on to win 90% or more of the ballots at each institution. The University of Florida’s BOT refused to recognize UFF until 2005, when an appellate court decided in the Union’s favor (Fiorito and Gallagher, 2006).
The radical move to decentralize was tempered in 2002 when Florida Governor Bob Graham’s voter amendment mandated a Board of Governors to administer SUS affairs. In contrast to the BOR, however, power exercised by the BOG takes a backseat to the BOTs. (The BOG Chancellorship being occupied by Bush’s former Lieutenant Governor is a curious new development that deserves close scrutiny.) In light of the above, the aforementioned package of “educational reform” proposals put forward by Florida’s Council of 100 and vigorously endorsed by Bush must also be looked at with major reservations, particularly by public educators. For example, the moves to strip K-12 teachers of tenure–or to otherwise make tenure meaningless–is a policy already being tested in the SUS. Further, the document’s buzzwords, such as “accountability” and “efficiency,” often translate to jeopardized academic freedom and an increasingly deteriorating educational experience for students.
This history is willfully forgotten by administrators and trustees at FAU and other state universities, many of whom calculated that UFF would be incapable of reviving itself after the SUS’s decentralization. The sentiment is reflected in remarks such as, “UFF ‘represents some faculty at [ABC] University.'” Keeping in mind this recent history, such an assertion should be recognized for what it is: an attempt to mislead those of us who’ve forgotten or are unaware of our institutional and historical positions in the struggle to preserve the profession’s autonomy. Without question faculty at FAU and throughout the SUS desire independent representation before their administrations and Boards of Trustees, even though the legacy of Old Dixie allows them the opportunity not to pay for such representation.