Sunday, November 21, 2010

Florida State Faculty Union successfully reverses lay-offs of tenured faculty as arbitrary

The United Faculty of Florida -- an NEA/AFT affiliate (and not an AAUP chapter) -- last week won an arbitration hearing against Florida State University.

Florida State is one of several institutions nationally which, last year, terminated tenured faculty without a declaration of financial exigency in response to the budget crisis.

The ruling restored 21 tenured faculty who had been laid off from Florida State, finding that the University had violated its contractual commitments to the faculty in at least two respects -- in how it had calculated the financial cost or benefit to the institution of certain academic departments (such as Anthropology, which had been terminated as not cost-effective because it did not generate significant research funding, but which the union showed actually generated financial resources through tuition) and in using arbitrary criteria to select which individual faculty members were let go.

The ruling found that

University officials used the layoff process to "manipulate" decisions "to arbitrarily select who got laid off," at times due to "personal judgment and relationships," and not established criteria....

[T]he decision also highlights numerous instances in which the testimony of university administrators about how they selected people to dismiss was contradicted by the facts...

...[T]he arbitrator touches on an issue that has angered many faculty members in traditional liberal arts departments in this era of budget cuts: the idea that their departments are somehow evaluated as less financially viable than others that attract outside grants. The arbitrator uses anthropology -- the target of cuts at Florida State -- to challenge this thinking by noting, as many faculty members have, that its tuition revenue makes it financially strong (running a surplus in fact)

It is significant to note that the contract in and of itself did not defend these faculty members' jobs; they were dismissed in violation of the written contract. Standing behind a written document in and of itself clearly offers no protection to faculty. However, an engaged and active faculty, led by an effective advocacy entity, clearly can ensure that written provisions, in spirit and in letter, are followed.

The NFA is committed to such credible, vigorous and responsible advocacy as the best protection of faculty rights, not merely to standing behind a written contract.

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