SENATE BILL TO SHUT DOWN USF POLY:
BILL TO BE HEARD WEDNESDAY MORNING -
UFF ASKS FACULTY AND COMMUNITY FOR HELP
A new bill to eliminate USF Polytechnic will be considered by the Florida State Senate Budget Committee, chaired by
Senator J. D. Alexander, on Wednesday, February 15. The United Faculty of Florida is requesting all faculty, professional employees, and friends to contact
Florida State Senate President Mike Haridopolos to ask that the bill be stopped; it is required that you use your use their personal phone or personal computer to contact President Haridopolos at email@example.com or at (850) 487-5056. UFF also asks people to contact their own state senator.
Here are the details.
On Wednesday, February 8,
Florida Senator Evelyn Lynn presented a "Conforming Bill" at her Budget Subcommittee on Higher Education to create a new and autonomous Florida Polytechnic University (FPU) by scuttling USF Polytechnic, stripping it of its physical and financial resources and somehow sending all USF Polytechnic faculty, staff and students elsewhere in USF – despite the fact that all records and staff and faculty positions at USF Polytechnic will be transferred to this new FPU.
This new university will, by statute, by an accredited university by 2016, although the act is to go into effect immediately. So under the law we may expect four years of academic chaos. (Senator Lynn's statement that this bill merely accelerates the Board of Governors' timetable for USF Poly independence was a little misleading.) Fortunately, to provide advice and counsel, the University of Florida is invited to kibbitz on "hiring, accreditation, administration, and other areas."
It is not entirely clear who is responsible for this proposal. Several newspapers have suggested that it was Florida Senator J. D. Alexander, whose partial victory in winning the Florida Board of Governors endorsement of eventual independence of USF Polytechnic was not as expeditious or as melodramatic as he had hoped. Circumstantial evidence supporting this theory included:
However, Alexander said that the bill was the work of the subcommittee chair, Senator Lynn, who did indeed propose it (see the video; the conforming bill comes up about eighteen minutes into the recording). However, the bill is not listed on her web-page.
Whatever the provenance, the bill dumps over a hundred USF faculty and staff – and several hundred USF students – into limbo while stripping USF's budget of an uncertain amount of money ($ 40 million? $ 50 million?) in a capricious act that would set the precedent that a Florida public university is a plaything of powerful legislators. The effect on Polk County could be disastrous: it is not clear where the current faculty, staff, and students would go, and President Belle Whelan of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (which accredits USF) warned that "Until the (SACS) board approves [FPU] as an institution, [it doesn't] exist as far as we're concerned."
Polk could wind up with an immense parking lot surrounded by half-built buildings if things go wrong. Even if FPU is somehow launched, a new and compliant administration may try to bust unions, shift liabilities to USF, and generate other litigation. USF's own reputation and standing could be compromised. And as for more STEM in Polk County, well...
The United Faculty of Florida is concerned about how this bill is being rammed through the legislature – without seeking input from administrators, faculty, students, or other stakeholders. Universities should not be waved into and out of existence by legislative fiat; the issue should be considered carefully and actions planned carefully, as the Board of Governors did and planned to do.
So the United Faculty of Florida strongly recommends that this is the time to speak out. The bill is being heard again on Wednesday morning, February 15. UFF is encouraging all members of the USF community and all friends of USF to contact their senators: see the list of links to senators' webpages or UFF's excel file of contact addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. UFF believes that the most impact will be felt if people contacted Senate President Mike Haridopolos; whose email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and whose phone number is (850) 487-5056; in addition, you can send an email or make a call to your own state senator, here is the link to the form for finding your senator and contact information.
When contacting legislators, you should use your personal computer or phone – and not a state computer of phone for such an email or call.
Time being critical, phone calls and emails – especially phone calls – are the most useful; as the bill is being heard on Wednesday morning, phone calls and emails would be most effective on Monday or Tuesday (the earlier the better). Both phone calls and emails are being taken by staff members, so messages should be short, polite, and make one point clearly.
This affair is an example of the mutual support that the administration and the union can provide. After the last round over USF Polytechnic, the United Faculty of Florida commended President Genshaft for her role, and at the last USF Tampa Faculty Senate meeting, President Genshaft thanked UFF for its support. We all share a commitment to the mission of the University of South Florida in higher education, and we will continue to work – in our own ways – for the future of the institution and the community of which we are a part.