UF's board: Bring them home!
Jenny Brown
August/September 2003

Remember how Jeb Bush reorganized the educational system in Florida to have local Boards of Trustees for each university? In 2001 he said "...the majority of decisions should be made at the level closest to the student." (www.myflorida.com)

Well, UF's own Board of Trustees meeting is coming up September 5-6 and your input is welcome. Except they're meeting in Coral Gables, near Miami, over 300 miles from UF. Short of the Florida Keys, it's about as far as they could get from Gainesville and still be in Florida.

According to UF's legal department, the meeting is being held in south Florida, to discuss UF's 'various south Florida programs' and facilitate discussion by participants in those.

But faculty union representative Candi Churchill is skeptical. She stated that the board was responsible for raising tuition over the summer, and that they might be more interested in avoiding controversy than in tending to UF's fairly small south Florida programs. "What about the thousands of programs here?" she asked. "What about the 2500 faculty, 4000 graduate assistants, 9000 staff, and 48,000 students and the community here in Gainesville that might want to make a 'public comment' in the ten minutes allowed us?"

The board is required to meet quarterly, and the next meeting won't be until December 4-5, according to Karen Grable at the UF General Counsel's office. "As far as I know, that meeting will be in Gainesville" Grable told us August 18. Comments from the public are scheduled for 10 minutes at the end of the two-day agenda.

Board on the Run
The relocation of the meeting is all the more pungent since one of the reasons given for dismembering the Board of Regents and devolving power to local university boards was to create more opportunity for local input. "Local boards would allow communities to play a greater role in the selection of presidents and degrees offered at universities," Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala reportedly said during the debate about the new structure (Shelby Oppel, St. Petersburg Times, March 29, 2000.)

But perhaps there was a little bit too much of a community role for the board's taste. At its December 2002 meeting, the newly-formed UF Board of Trustees received heat for approving a $93,000 raise for UF President Charles Young.

Then they were addressed by faculty union president Jon Reiskind, asking that they voluntarily recognize the faculty union, which has represented faculty at UF since 1976. After 70% of faculty they represent said they wanted the union, Reiskind argued, the Board should not force them to have an election. (Indeed, seven universities did not force expensive elections and have moved forward to work with their faculty.)

Reiskind had to argue this before the board in the first place because university lawyers claimed that the institution was an entirely 'new employer' after the statewide Board of Regents was abolished. UF claimed that there was no legal requirement to recognize the unions as representing the workers at UF, nor to recognize the contracts it signed with them guaranteeing pay and job protections.

AFSCME union secretary Mark Piotrowski also spoke to explain the effort to eliminate the union meant that University of Florida staff were being pushed out of the decision-making processes on the conditions of their work. He urged the board to reconsider. AFSCME Local 3340 represents full-time non-managerial support staff at UF, including technical, administrative and janitorial workers.

Also at that meeting Graduate Assistants protested the imposition of new fees on international students so that Florida could do insulting 'background checks' on them. Nearly half of UF's Graduate Assistants are foreign students.

The meeting ended with faculty and staff chanting, "Recognize the unions!"

Recalling December the meeting, United Faculty of Florida Organizing Project representative Churchill said, "The board insisted it had no authority yet and refused to comment on the increased fees and the expiration of 3 collective bargaining agreements and the multitude of protections workers at UF built up over the past 30 years."

After the meeting ended, UF president Charles Young placed his hands on Reiskind in a hostile manner, an incident which a Gainesville Sun reporter described in an article about the meeting, which forced Young to apologize.

Churchill notes that that in subsequent meetings, the labor contracts have been ignored and tuition has increased 18%. So perhaps it's the crying need of UF programs in South Florida, or perhaps it's the prospect of too much democracy at the meetings.

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