From UFF President Tom Auxter:
UFF United Faculty of Florida
306 East Park Ave.
Tallahassee, FLÂ 32301
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June 2, 2010
Now that the budget is signed, how did higher education fare in this yearâ€™s Legislature?Â The good news is that we saw an increase of 3.5% in recurring revenue, in spite of a three billion dollar shortfall that forced severe cuts for many state agencies. This compares quite favorably with what happened elsewhere. In other states higher education was not spared cuts, and faculty layoffs are now expected in order to balance the budget.
Legislators are responding positively to our â€œinvest in higher educationâ€ campaign. This is our second year of running a campaign that spares or minimizes the damage to higher education in a recession — bucking national trends.Â Most legislators now accept the premise that investing in higher education is the fastest and strongest way out of a recession.
But we also faced serious threats to our profession in this legislative session, which could easily undermine progress we otherwise can make by investing in higher education. If faculty had not been successfully united in opposition to a series of bad bills this year, progress in the future could be meaningless.Â
When the session began, we found ourselves in the middle of intense attacks on public employees in general and on public educators in particular. As one veteran higher education advocate put it, â€œThey are coming at us from all directions.â€ It is amazing we were finally able to fend off these attacks, but we can fully expect they will continue in next yearâ€™s session.
In this yearâ€™s session legislators introduced a bill to cut all public employee salaries by 3%. There were 30 bills filed to cut public employee pensions.Â (One of them cuts pensions by as much as half.) Another bill would eliminate the health insurance subsidy ($1800 annually) for retired public employees.
In addition, we saw intense attacks on tenure and the retention of experienced K-12 teachers (SB 6) — with reverberations across the nation. The attacks were primarily about changing both the criteria for evaluation of performance and the conditions for retention. Legislators were looking for a way to phase out more highly paid teachers with credentials and replace them with cheaper, inexperienced teachers they thought would be ready to teach with an eye on test scores.
In place of credentials and experience, politicians in the legislative leadership decided that improving student scores on standardized tests would now be the way to reward teachers for merit.Â Advanced degrees in specializations like math and science would be discouraged because teachers could no longer pay back heavy education debts with additional salary compensation provided when they finished degrees. In other words, we would dummy down the content of the curriculum with no reward for anything except coaching students on how to improve test scores. Although K-12 teachers were the ones targeted in SB 6, it is clear that faculty would be on the chopping block next.
All of this is the brain-child of Jeb Bush and Senator John Thrasher (now chair of the state Republican Party). They teamed up once before (in 2001) in a failed attempt to abolish the collective bargaining contracts that protect faculty rights to due process, academic freedom, and retention based on credentials and experience.
Against the odds, faculty prevailed — in the midst of sustained attacks by legislators in leadership positions:
1. We defeated the 3% salary cut at the last minute in legislative conference.
2. We defeated all 30 bills limiting pensions and health insurance subsidies.Â
3. We even defeated SB 6 — with the help of a veto by Governor Charlie Crist.
How is this possible? It happened because faculty joined forces with public employees and with teachers to make it happen. We contacted legislators in their district offices and made sure they heard our voices. Faculty actively became advocates for higher education — joining efforts by our affiliate, the Florida Education Association, and gaining recognition for our concerns.
We defeated bills that would have seriously damaged our profession. For our entire profession, it has been a life and death struggle.
The struggle is not over. The same politicians that launched a devious plan this year to rob public education of its status as a profession will be back again next year — with more plans and perhaps with a Governor who will back them.
Join us in the fight to defend the values at the heart of our profession. We need the full support of all faculty to stop the attacks.Â
Sign the form* to join United Faculty of Florida. The 1% membership already paid for itself three times over when we stopped the 3% salary reduction this year.Â Join your colleagues in the struggle for our professional future.
Our strength is in our membership. Every member counts.
President, United Faculty of Florida
*The membership form can be found at http://faculty.ourusf.org/join-uff/ — Join us today.