By Susan Hegeman
UF Chapter President, United Faculty of Florida (FEA/AFT/NEA)
On January 28, the impasse over faculty salaries between UF and the faculty union ended with a Kafkaesque flourish, with UF’s own Board of Trustees deciding in favor of UF against the union.
At the end of a hearing attended by about eighty faculty, students, and other UF constituents, Trustee Steven Scott gave a short statement, in which he lectured the faculty on fiscal responsibility. UF sits on the largest reserve of funds, both in dollars and in percent of operating budget, of any university within the Florida state university system. Yet Scott told the faculty that it wasn’t prudent to give them the raise the union had proposed. Instead, he said, UF’s millions in accumulated funds were for things like replacing the “shrubbery” after a hurricane.
With very little deliberation, the Board voted for what is effectively a 1.25 percent faculty raise for 2015-16.
It may seem strange to be upset about a raise of any amount, no matter how small. But in this case, faculty were angered that the Board of Trustees ignored the recommendation of an outside neutral observer who concurred with the union’s case for better salaries.
In November, a special magistrate was brought in to recommend a resolution to an impasse over salary negotiations brought by United Faculty of Florida, the union representing UF faculty in some of its largest colleges, including Liberal Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Health and Human Performance, the Arts, and Business. It also represents teachers at the PK Yonge Developmental Research School.
Special Magistrate Tom Young, himself a former education administrator, recommended a settlement that more than doubled the UF management’s raise proposal. Young concluded that a reasonable raise package would help UF reach its goal of being a “top ten” public university by making faculty salaries more competitive with those of its aspirational peers: “flagship” universities like UC Berkeley, U Texas, and UNC.
Young also rejected the university’s claim that a higher faculty raise would jeopardize UF’s financial health. In fact, he emphasized that UF owed it to the taxpayers of the state of Florida and its current students to spend a reasonable portion of its reserves on its educational mission, which included attracting and retaining top faculty.
UF leaders have stated that the university has emerged from the Great Recession in good financial health. It has a $1.5 billion endowment, $148 million of which are in unrestricted net assets.
In 2015, it set a fundraising record of $315 million, and its faculty set a research funding record of $707 million. It received $24 million in performance-based funds from the state legislature — more than any other state university. The faculty, whose raises have lagged in recent years, maintain that they should get some recognition for their part in these successes.
There is also the matter of fairness. UF President Kent Fuchs, hired in 2015 at a base salary of $860,000 (plus $160,000 in deferred salary), is eligible for an annual raise of 4 percent if the university meets short-term performance goals. Yet the university claims it can only find money for a 1.25 percent raise for the faculty who do the bulk of the teaching and research at UF.
UF is Alachua County’s largest employer. It has recently made some small strides in addressing the issue of pay inequity. Its lowest-paid employees now receive $12 per hour, up from $10. It has also taken some small steps to help out graduate students who teach and conduct research in exchange for low stipends, yet have to pay student fees back to their employer. But there is still much more to do. Faculty raises have not kept up with those given to administrators, and their pay lags behind that of faculty at peer institutions. Yet UF’s rise to preeminence will be based on their hard work. It’s time they were paid accordingly. D