Mass Layoffs Rescinded at Florida State

By Jordan E. Kurland

Recent months have witnessed a depressing series of cutbacks in state funding for higher education that resulted in mass layoffs of tenured professors at major public universities. A welcome major exception, however, occurred in November at Florida State University, where twenty-one tenured professors who had been notified of layoff learned that they could remain in their positions with their tenure intact.

In June 2009, the FSU board of trustees had approved a plan for dealing with a large budget deficit that included the layoff of sixty-two faculty members, among them twenty-one tenured professors. Budget problems existed throughout the state university system, but the twenty-one anticipated FSU layoffs were more than the number of tenured professors subjected to layoff at all of the system’s ten other institutions combined.

The AAUP staff was in touch early on with the presidents of the faculty union (a chapter of the United Faculty of Florida that is jointly affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association) and of the faculty senate. After consulting with those bodies, the staff contacted the FSU administration to convey its concerns (a new president, Eric Barron, took office in February). The faculty union also pursued arbitration.

In its communications, the AAUP staff praised Barron for extending the effective termination date for the notified tenured professors to June 2011, giving them an additional year, and for enhancing the faculty role in future decisions on funding academic positions by increasing faculty membership on the budget committee and faculty involvement in school and department budgetary recommendations. It pointed out that even if an arbitrator found the layoffs permissible under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, the layoffs still did not need to occur. Commenting on gloomy predictions by FSU administrative officials about FSU’s financial prospects beyond 2011–12, the staff wrote that worry about future funding years is not the existing or imminent financial crisis the AAUP considers as warranting termination of tenured appointments.

The arbitration hearing continued through much of August, and posthearing briefs were submitted by both parties in September. Two related developments also occurred in September. The faculty senate, with no one dissenting, adopted a resolution stating that it “condemns the actions taken by the administration in 2009 to lay off tenured and tenure-track professors at FSU under the pretext of ‘necessary budget cuts.’” Before the meeting at which the vote was taken, Barron had announced that the provost, who was viewed as chiefly responsible for the 2009 actions, was retiring from office at the end of December.

On November 8, the arbitrator issued his opinion and award, which ordered the FSU administration to rescind the notices of layoff to the tenured professors. The arbitrator roundly denounced the administrators who had made the specific decisions for having “manipulated” the process and having resorted to “subterfuge” in order to avoid the requirement that tenured professors be the last to suffer layoff. He found that some were spared from layoff because of “personal relationships” rather than established criteria and that at least in one case the action of a dean was “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable.”

The arbitrator’s award applied directly only to the professors, twelve in number, who were UFF members in good standing. Barron, however, promptly announced that the layoff notices would also be rescinded for the nine other professors who were not union members, stating that all tenured professors should be treated uniformly.

The AAUP staff, conveying the Association’s congratulations and commendations, called the outcome “a splendid victory not only for the affected professors but also for Florida State, for tenure, and for AAUP principles.”

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