Beyond Wisconsin and Here in Florida

As in our own 2010 Gubernatorial election, yesterday’s Wisconsin recall election results seem to underscore the Perverted Golden Rule: “Those with the gold make the rules.” We can take some cold comfort in knowing that it took a substantial spending advantage to achieve these results. Estimates heard in recent days put the spending advantage for Walker and allies between 3:1 and 7.5:1. There is also encouragement in that Walker’s allies lost control of the Wisconsin Senate in yesterday’s elections. Although Wisconsin is 1000+ miles away, events there and here are part of a national pattern. For a good concise summary focused on higher education funding aspects of that pattern, see: Read More →

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

Week 3 Legislative Update from Tom Auxter, UFF President

The 2012 Legislative Session: Week Three

1. Are privatized on-line courses the wave of the future? Both chambers are touting the benefits of on-line courses as a way to achieve dramatic reductions in university and college budgets in the future. Legislative leaders actually say that we can create on-line courses once and then use them repeatedly to collect tuition and avoid instruction costs in the future. They are slow to acknowledge the expenses of revising on-line courses each year to reflect changes in research results, and in texts and materials available to students, as well as the expenses of remaining in constant contact with students in answering questions and evaluating their work. If these factors are acknowledged, it cancels out cost savings.

If we ignore these considerations, the academic quality of the offerings will be sacrificed. Such on-line offerings are not real academic courses that serve student needs. If legislators adopt this on-the-cheap model of distance education, we can expect a nightmare.

What will the nightmare be like? A clue can be found at the end of the House higher education budget. There is $2.5 million allocated (“student access pilot project”) to Western Governors University, a private entity without classrooms (charging $6000 per year), which is designated by all Western states as an on-line university with credits acceptable in public higher education institutions in those states. In other words, credits for a baccalaureate degree can come from a private company with no actual faculty interacting with and evaluating students in meaningful ways.

I have spoken with faculty from these states in meetings of our affiliates (AFT and NEA), as well as in meetings of the national Campaign for the Future of Higher Education. They testify to the loss of quality in this approach in which universities and colleges accept credits toward a degree from a private “higher education institution” (without an authentic faculty) that pretends to serve legitimate academic needs.

In Florida, this camel just stuck its nose under the edge of our tent. Unless faculty contact their senators now, we can expect the same result in our future.

2. What kind of higher education budget are we facing? The House released a budget this week. (The Senate budget has not been published.) The approach is to cut appropriations and expect tuition increases to make up the differences in funding lost.

3. Should Florida deny faculty and professional employees the right to serve in the legislature? In SB 1560 Senators John Thrasher and Don Gaetz propose taking away from faculty the right to serve in the Legislature — claiming it is a conflict of interest for faculty to vote on bills that favor their own institution. (The bill is silent on possible conflicts by bankers, insurance executives, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals who often chair committees that craft legislation, and regardless of their possible conflicts of interest, sometimes even use their expertise to prevent damaging mistakes from becoming law.) University and college employees will join convicted felons as the only Floridians barred from serving in the Legislature.

If you accept silencing faculty in the legislative process, this is the time to be silent. If you object, now is the time to ask a senator to vote No when it comes to the floor.

4. Please call their capital and district offices. We are only contacting senators because that is where we have a chance to stop destructive bills. Click on this link and enter your zip code to find your senator. Their contact information is in the attached file.

5. What kind of message can faculty give to make a difference? Say your name and state that you live in the district. State that you want in leave a message for your senator to Vote against SB 1560 Vote against more cuts in higher education.

It is the volume of calls (not the quality of an explanation) that makes the difference. Politeness counts. It takes 30 seconds.
(Emails are not read or in some cases blocked.)

Important: Do not use university or college equipment to call legislators or to forward messages to other faculty. Use a private phone or computer.

Tom Auxter, President
United Faculty of Florida

Last Name First Name Party District District Phone Capital Phone
Alexander JD Rep 17 (863) 679-4847 (850) 487-5044
Altman Thad Rep 24 (321) 752-3138 (850) 487-5053
Benacquisto Lizbeth Rep 27 (561) 753-2440 (850) 487-5356
Bennett Michael S. ”Mike” Rep 21 (941) 727-6349 (850) 487-5078
Bogdanoff Ellyn Setnor Rep 25 (954) 467-4205 (850) 487-5100
Braynon Oscar Dem 33 (305) 654-7150 (850) 487-5116
Bullard (L) Larcenia J. Dem 39 (305) 668-7344 (850) 487-5127
Dean Charles S. ”Charlie” Rep 3 (352) 860-5175 (850) 487-5017
Detert Nancy Rep 23 (941) 480-3547 (850) 487-5081
Diaz de la Portilla Miguel Rep 36 (305) 643-7200 (850) 487-5109
Dockery Paula Rep 15 (863) 413-2900 (850) 487-5040
Evers Greg Rep 2 (850) 689-0556 (850) 487-5000
Fasano Mike Rep 11 (727) 848-5885 (850) 487-5062
Flores Anitere Rep 38 (305) 270-6550 (850) 487-5130
Gaetz (D) Don Rep 4 (850) 897-5747 (850) 487-5009
Garcia (R) Rene Rep 40 (305) 364-3100 (850) 487-5106
Gardiner Andy Rep 9 (407) 428-5800 (850) 487-5047
Gibson Audrey Dem 1 (904) 359-2553 (850) 487-5024
Haridopolos Mike Rep 26 (321) 752-3131 (850) 487-5056
Hays Alan Rep 20 (352) 742-6441 (850) 487-5014
Jones (D) Dennis Rep 13 (727) 549-6411 (850) 487-5065
Joyner Arthenia Dem 18 (813) 233-4277 (850) 487-5059
Latvala Jack Rep 16 (727) 556-6500 (850) 487-5075
Lynn Evelyn J. Rep 7 (386) 238-3180 (850) 487-5033
Margolis Gwen Dem 35 (305) 571-5777 (850) 487-5121
Montford Bill Dem 6 (850) 653-2656 (850) 487-5004
Negron Joe Rep 28 (772) 219-1665 (850) 487-5088
Norman Jim Rep 12 (813) 265-6260 (850) 487-5068
Oelrich Steve Rep 14 (352) 375-3555 (850) 487-5020
Rich Nan Dem 34 (954) 747-7933 (850) 487-5103
Richter Garrett Rep 37 (239) 417-6205 (850) 487-5124
Ring Jeremy Dem 32 (954) 917-1392 (850) 487-5094
Sachs Maria Lorts Dem 30 (561) 279-1427 (850) 487-5091
Simmons David Rep 22 (407) 262-7578 (850) 487-5050
Siplin Gary Dem 19 (407) 297-2071 (850) 487-5190
Smith (C) Christopher ”Chris” Dem 29 (561) 650-6801 (850) 487-5112
Sobel Eleanor Dem 31 (954) 924-3693 (850) 487-5097
Storms Ronda Rep 10 (813) 651-2189 (850) 487-5072
Thrasher John Rep 8 (904) 727-3600 (850) 487-5030
Wise Stephen R. Rep 5 (904) 381-6000 (850) 487-5027