Something seems fundamentally wrong.
Four years ago UF's Strategic Plan declared that if UF hoped "to become a great public research university" it must have a "top-notch" college of Arts and Sciences. Less than two weeks ago, the Faculty Senate, with the President's endorsement, passed the University's newly revised Strategic Work Plan, which affirms again that UF must "increase faculty size," particularly in the "core disciplines," and thereby reduce our "student-faculty ratio," which currently ties for last among 120 comparable universities. The Plan also affirms "the recognition that university faculty . . . are in the best position to make decisions about curricula, instruction, academic personnel, and research direction; that decisions about academic policy should be independent of short term or political considerations; and that the perspective of faculty is essential for making sound decisions about allocating resources."
Yet this past Friday, despite almost no prior consultation with the faculty involved (or with the Faculty Senate for that matter), the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced a plan, one apparently originating in Tigert Hall, to radically reduce faculty lines in CLAS, the college that houses most of the core disciplines that support the University's central research mission.
Under the Dean's plan, only about 33% of the approximately 80 CLAS faculty scheduled to retire over the next three years would be replaced. Such faculty retrenchment will inevitably increase the student-faculty ratio and lead to increased teaching loads for faculty in CLAS. Furthermore, the Dean of CLAS admitted that commitments in resources that have already been made to individuals and college departments or centers may not be honored. What he did not say, but what is widely acknowledged within CLAS, is that the total number of unfilled faculty positions may end up extending well beyond just retirees, if other faculty choose to leave the University in the wake of such shrinking resources and betrayal of students and faculty in core disciplines.
All of these consequences seem fundamentally inconsistent with key University principles and goalscertainly they are inconsistent with the faculty's commitment to academic excellence. So why is Tigert Hall intent on forcing, in just three years, a net 10% reduction in the size of CLAS? Why is Tigert willing to compromise the quality of both teaching and research, over the objections of faculty?
The reason cannot be primarily financial. The University is clearly investing in many major new initiatives. And even the administration concedes that the current CLAS budget deficit represents a fraction of the college's budget. Moreover, the administration has admitted that the deficit is due in part to the fact that CLAS has not been adequately funded.
Because CLAS faculty are represented by the United Faculty of Florida, certain fundamental individual rights are protected by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. These rights involve terms and conditions of employment such as assignment, workload, and lay-off. Because these rights are in the union contract, they are legally binding and enforceable. UFF will fight to ensure that these rights are respected and will pursue whatever legal means necessary in the event that they are not.
Although the same legal obligation does not exist in relation to the Strategic Work Plan or the CLAS Constitution, the upper administration clearly has a moral obligation to work through recognized avenues of shared governance. In abrogating that responsibility, they have disrespected the faculty and acted against our University's practical interests. Simply put, an institution that will not work with its faculty will not work.
Hence, the union calls on the administration to postpone implementation of the Dean's plan for retrenchment until it engages in thorough consultation with the affected faculty and adequately addresses their concerns. As a preliminary step, we believe, the administration should provide the University community with well-documented answers to the following fundamental questions:
1. Were CLAS's previous budgets adequate in relation to the demands that the college has been asked to satisfy over the past five years? If the answer is no, then why isn't Tigert providing a realistic budget, rather than cutting faculty to fit an inadequate budget?
2. How does the size of CLAS departments compare, relative to the student populations they serve, with comparable departments at the top ten public universities? If the departments in CLAS are already understaffed, how can they expect to compete with top-ten universities if the college is diminished still further?
3. Given Tigert's decision to retrench CLAS in a manner inconsistent with the recent Strategic Work Plan, why should faculty believe that the administration will honor the plan in the future?
UFF does not believe that the faculty, either within CLAS or in the University as a whole, have been given adequate answers to any of these key questions.
As the agent responsible for safeguarding the terms and conditions of employment for much of the core of the University, not least the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the union cannot support the administration's current plan for CLAS without significant proof that this retrenchment plan is truly (1) necessary; (2) consistent with the University's mission and highest academic aspirations; and (3) supported by a majority of the faculty.
President, United Faculty of Florida
238 Norman Hall, PO Box 117055