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UFF-FAU

United Faculty of Florida-Florida Atlantic University Chapter

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

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

    By Audrey Williams June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Feb
    16

    February 16, 2011.  “Teacher Quality” bill passes Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, “Pension Reform” bill set for public hearing February 18

    We urge you to continue to do as you have done so well this year by listening just a little more and a little longer to the voices of those who will do this work.  Given the timeframes in the bill, there is time… then pass a bill that provides our students and our educators the best chance at reaching the goals of this legislation: student success. We need to get this right.” FEA testimony in Senate meeting

    “Teacher Quality” bill passes second committee

    Today (Tuesday) the “teacher quality” bill—CS 736 sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise (R-Jacksonville) moved one step closer to the Senate floor when it passed the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with a single no vote cast by Sen. Paula Dockery (R-Polk).  At first, the bill seemed to be cruising towards easy passage, but as questions were posed to the sponsor there was an unease rippling through the committee members.

    Sen. Dockery told the panel she had so many unanswered concerns about the bill that she felt uncomfortable allowing the bill to leave the committee in its current form.

    FEA pointed out to the committee that, as their own bill analysis states, the total impact now and in the out years, may be hard to gauge, and are indeterminate — but everyone understands that the cost to implement the bill will be large.

    Sen. Montford (D-Tallahassee and former Leon County superintendent) called the bill in its present form “unacceptable.”   Montford said “we’re putting all our eggs into one basket, and the basket hasn’t even been developed.”

    The legislature has been willing to give time to districts in SB 736 – but there is no money attached to this bill. There is no money for developing evaluations systems, creating new tests and not even a nod to helping teachers “needing improvement” to improve. The bill will not add funding for the new performance compensation plan—except to cut or freeze existing salaries.  Sarasota School Board member Shirley Brown asked the committee how districts would be able to plan their budgets or staffing when the data and funding they will need to make these decisions will not be available when needed.

    The bill now moves to Senate Budget Committee to be heard Wednesday, February 23 at 9:00 am. The House version has not been released but we have been told to expect a  committee bill before the first day of session.

    You can read the Senate committee substitute bill at: http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2011/0736/BillText/c1/PDF

    Reminder: “Pension Reform” hearing this Friday

    The retirement (FRS) or so called “pension reform” bill. Senator Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) has scheduled a four-hour hearing for this Friday, February 18 beginning at 8 am to receive public testimony. For more details email Pat.Dix(at)floridaea.org

    Questions?  Call FEA Public Policy Advocacy at 850.224.2078

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  • Dec
    6

    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.”

    Sincerely,

    James Tracy
    UFF-FAU President

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  • Dec
    4

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

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

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

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

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

    Read more at WTSP.com

    Controversial Michell Rhee Part of Rick Scott’ Education Team

    By Cara Fitzpatrick
    December 2, 2010

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

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

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

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

    Read more at palmbeachpost.com

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

    Fall 2010
    By Leigh Dingerson

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

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

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

    Read more at rethinkingschools.com

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