What a difference four years make! In 2019, after winning a narrow victory in his race for governor, Ron DeSantis gave an inaugural address that started with "mindful of the great trust that has been placed in me and thankful for so many of you who have prayed for me" to "navigate the challenges – economic, environmental, constitutional – that lie ahead, and steer Florida to a stronger, cleaner and safer future." He then went into detail on challenges he intended to address, including education. But in 2023, after winning in a landslide, he gave a triumphalist address that began with the stirring line, "Freedom lives here," and then enumerated his victories, including, "We promised we would enact big education reforms – and we delivered." The Miami Herald might complain that In 'free state of Florida' dodgy COVID-19 research is welcomed, critical thinking muzzled [USF login required], but the governor is on a roll.
And that means trouble for unions.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at 12 pm on Zoom. On the agenda: the chapter election, the governor and the governor's office, plans for spring, and more. And here are the minutes for the previous regular meeting; and here are the minutes for the Special Meeting on January 6.
Any employee in the Bargaining Unit may attend, but to Zoom in you must have an invitation: contact the Chapter Secretary to get one.
Benefits of membership include the right to run and vote in UFF chapter and statewide elections; representation in grievances (UFF cannot represent a non-member in a grievance or litigation); special deals in insurance, travel, legal advice, and other packages provided by our affiliates; free insurance coverage for job-related liability; and the knowledge you are supporting education in Florida. Here is the membership form. Come and join the movement.
If you have been the victim of a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement or the recent Memorandum of Understanding, you have thirty days from the time you knew or should have known of the violation to file a grievance. If you are, and at the time of the violation were, a dues-paying member of the United Faculty of Florida, you have the right to union representation. To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, go to the Grievances Page.
Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.
Yes, we are on social media.
For over a decade, Florida Senator Dennis Baxley and (now former) Representative Scott Plakon repeatedly sponsored bills that would bar public agencies (including public colleges and universities) from collecting union dues by paycheck deduction. Mr. Plakon was term limited out, so last year it was his wife, Rachel Plakon, who joined Baxley in pushing the bill. And as usual, the unions were able to persuade legislators to kill the bill in committee.
This time is different. Previously, the bill never got much buzz; this year, Governor DeSantis noisily supported the proposal [USF login required. Calling it "paycheck protection," DeSantis called it "a guarantee that that money is going to actually go to those teachers … It’s not going to be frittered away by interest groups."
Editorial comment: since an employee has to ask for a paycheck deduction, what the governor is saying is that teachers should not be free to fritter away money on interest groups. As the Miami Herald observed, the governor has a constricted notion of freedom.
With the governor's support, the bill may well pass, which would mean that UFF members could no longer pay union dues via paycheck deduction. (There is also the issue of the trustworthiness of the college and university administrations that currently handle those paycheck deductions.) And even if the bill doesn't pass this year, fighting it annually is not sustainable: it only has to pass once. So, the union is taking steps. The union is preparing for alternative forms of dues collection. We are hoping that the bill does not pass this year, as that will give the Florida Education Association (our state affiliate) time for a less hurried transition, but we are preparing for the worst, just in case. We ask union members to stay tuned.
The Anti-Woke Act may be tied up in court, but it has had one effect: many Florida faculty are afraid of teaching anything that might appear "woke".
But that is not enough for the governor, whose office issued a memo that "All state university & college systems in Florida have been required to report expenditures and resources utilized for campus activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion and critical race theory." The memo gives the reason for the request in the first sentence: "As the Executive Office of the Governor prepares policy and budget proposals ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session…"
The news media promptly connected the request [USF login required] with the anti-Woke comments in the governor's inaugural address. UFF (statewide) President Andrew Gothard told the Tampa Bay Times that, "Attempts such as these by the governor to chill speech and to intimidate those he disagrees with into remaining silent, altering their curriculum, and silencing their students are an affront to democracy and the American way of life." Meanwhile, the Chair of the University of Florida Faculty Senate said that "… this request sends a chilling message that anyone who engages with topics that elected officials deem controversial is not welcome in the state of Florida."
In his first inaugural address, Governor DeSantis stressed the importance of vocational education, and that leads to one the governor's problems: his culture war is incompatible with the economic and demographic realities of this century. As the workforce grows more diverse, corporations adapt, for their leadership knows that the market being what it is, those corporations that more successfully adapt will be the ones that survive and thrive.
If Florida becomes the state where economic reality comes to die, then Florida will become - some might say remain - an undeveloped backwater relying on agriculture, mining, and tourism to stay afloat.
Russian media recently reported that a new Fundamentals of Russian Statehood course, covering a " framework of national goals, historical experience and sociological enquiry" will soon be taught at institutions across the nation. This is apparently just one component of an array of mandatory "patriotic" programs appearing "at all levels, from universities right down to kindergartens."
History suggests that this sort of policy has consequences. The value of a domestic education declines as the curriculum is corrupted and some faculty leave the system (and a few leave the country). Ambitious and resourceful parents send their children abroad. Americans who have long enjoyed living in the nation with the world's best higher educational system may watch the spectacle with mixtures of pity and disdain, but we typically don't think of it happening here.
But here in Florida, at the K-12 levels, school boards are becoming corrupted by partisan politics, and now those politicized boards are getting rid of inconvenient superintendents. Anxious teachers are leaving the profession. Politicians react by lowering certification standards, which is unlikely to improve the education students receive.
Meanwhile, higher ed is facing looming shortages in STEM faculty. There are not as many STEM graduates as we would like - indeed, some programs rely on a steady influx of technically skilled people from abroad - and some of the traditional amenities of an academic career (academic freedom comes to mind) are disappearing.
We may be seeing the effect of all this on our student population. For years, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted the National Assessment of Educational Progress surveys of how students in each state at each grade level were doing. And Florida is doing pretty well - according to numbers from fourth grade (which may be affected by the large number of third grade students held back). But stuff apparently happens in higher grades, and above fourth grade [USF login required] Florida students don't do so well. Part of the problem, according to the Educational Opportunity In The U.S. Project, may be the correlation between student performance and family income - for all of Tallahassee's crowing about Florida's business environment, Florida's median income for a family of four is eighth from the bottom with $64,122, as opposed to, say, Massachusetts, second from the top with $106,841.
Florida isn't doing so hot in economics or in freedom, and that is negatively affecting education in Florida.
Florida is already facing education personnel recruiting and retention problems. At the K-12 classroom level, Tampa schools are facing a serious teacher shortage [USF login required] while at the post-secondary office level, Florida colleges and universities are experiencing a growing number of failed searches.
It's not up to us - and in the end, it's not up to the politicians - what is to be done. It is ultimately up to the people of Florida. What we can do is make the situation clear.
The next chapter meeting will be tomorrow Friday, January 13, at 12 pm on Zoom, and for the Zoom link, contact the Chapter Secretary. All UFF USF employees are welcome.the Chapter Secretary. Come and join the movement.
Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.
About this broadcast: This Newsletter was broadcast from uff.ourusf.org, hosted at ICDsoft.com, and is intended for all members of the UFF USF Bargaining unit (USF faculty and professionals at most departments). A (usually identical) version will be broadcast to USF-News and USF-Talk from email@example.com.