Legislative Update from UFF President Tom Auxter — Week 4

What is happening to the budget for higher education?

In week four of the session the Senate released general amounts each agency will have in its budget but will not publish a detailed budget until later. The House has already published all the details of its full budget. The Senators may be delaying publication of the final budget in the hope that revenue projections will improve and save them (before they face voters in November) from making the draconian cuts the House is proposing.

Call senators now and urge them to vote against any more cuts to higher education. Higher education is already underfunded. Also urge them to vote against $2.5 million for Western Governors University (in Salt Lake City), funding for which appears at the end of the House budget. Sending $2.5 million to Utah for distance education courses to count as credits in Florida hurts the authentic distance education programs already in place at our universities and colleges. These programs should be chosen over one from a private entity without a real faculty creating courses for students and evaluating students carefully.

What is happening to the bill (SB 1560) to prevent faculty from serving in the legislature?

When I spoke with legislators this week, they acknowledged there was a shift of opinion on whether faculty should be the only professionals (aside from professional criminals) that would be prohibited from serving. I even received assurances from some senators who voted for the bill in committee, which only passed by a 7-6 margin, that they would vote against it next time. The message came through loud and clear to all senators when their phones began ringing — thanks to the faculty from across the state who called.

What do legislative leaders have in mind for reforming higher education?

They keep saying 2013 will be the year for a complete overhaul of higher education, with dramatic cost savings as a result. What they have in mind is something similar to what the Legislature did to K-12 education last year in SB 736. They eliminated all forms of tenure, job security, and due process for teachers and made annual evaluations and retention depend on standardized test scores of students.

In the sweeping higher education reform that leaders contemplate, there will be no legal rights or collective bargaining contracts preventing termination of any faculty member. The goal is to have “at will” personnel actions, depending only on what the supervisor decides to do in order to cover all responsibilities to teach students within a severely reduced budget from the state.

The consequence will be to radically “reform” professional conditions of employment for faculty unless faculty organize to convince legislators otherwise. (Some will be re-elected, and some will be new after November.)

We have only twelve months to convince legislators that higher education is not broken, although underfunding definitely creates problems affecting quality that could be fixed with a better budget. For example, Florida remains at the bottom of rankings in student/faculty ratio, compensation for faculty, and per capita expenditures for higher education.

This year we have seen that faculty contacting legislators can make a difference in the outcome. Ask a colleague to join UFF and join us in our struggle to defend the integrity of the profession.

Tom Auxter

President, United Faculty of Florida

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