"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session." Gideon Tucker did persuade the New York Legislature to pass a law against cruelty to animals, but he couldn't persuade them to mandate an eight-hour day. As a legislator he saw enough of the political sausage factory to become a dissident from the Tammany Hall machine. So it goes. Last Saturday, our Legislature wrapped up its annual session - and only a day late. In this issue, we look at some highlights of what they did - and didn't - do.
The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon at CDB Restaurant at 5104 E. Fowler Ave., just east of USF Tampa. There will be pizza (and salad). On the agenda: meeting locations this summer (and a motion to change the dates of the July meetings), the Tenure and Promotion proposal for the consolidated USF, other consolidation issues. Come and check us out.
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The legislative session ended late because of the budget. $ 91.1 billion. That included a 1 % increase in Education & General funding. Lottery revenues were up, tuition stable, but the House and the Senate had a spat over preeminence (!) and we don't see any mention of it in this year's budget. The House was somewhat hostile: UCF had misappropriated funds, preeminence was elitist, etc., but the House proposal to cut the universities by $ 100 million was nixed by the Senate, so there were no great changes. UFF's back of the napkin calculation is that while last year, USF system got $ 494 million, this year the system receives $ 503 million, a 1.8 % increase, assuming that the governor doesn't veto something. (Incidentally, the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index went up 1.86 % from March 2018 to March 2019, so USF system is actually just holding steady.)
Of course, this was not evenly spread out: USF Tampa enjoyed a 0.44 % increase, USF St. Petersburg got 4.88 %, and USF Sarasota / Manatee got 18.53 %. Recalling who is making these budgetary decisions, this disparity may reflect the relative level of activity of the Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota legislative delegations - although it may also reflect some nervousness about how consolidation is going to play out: some of the money to USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota / Manatee is intended for research.
What this means for "preeminence" is unclear. The USF St. Petersburg's Crow's Nest suggested that six million dollars was not enough to justify the "fuss" over the term, and reported that "university officials" say "the word 'preeminent' carries a lot of weight with professors, administrators and prospective students." It may also stir up resentment among non-preeminent institutions - and their legislative delegations. Such resentment seems to have surfaced when the Senate proposed a super-preeminence category including only FSU and UF. The House did not go for that at all, and we can see the result. The future of preeminence is unclear.
As for performance funding, each university must develop a plan for, ahem, continuous improvement and achievement of institutional and national excellence. Such plans will be condensed into a report to go to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House.
UFF had been watching House Bill 839, Representative Ray Rodrigues's legislative train. This bill included a "statistically valid survey" to measure how much faculty and students "feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom" - which UFF saw as an invitation for government meddling in academia. The bill also included the requirement that USF maintain "branch campus status" for USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota / Manatee. The bill was tabled.
It was HB 839's Senate companion bill, Senate Bill 190, that passed. No survey, no branches. Instead, with a jaundiced eye towards UCF's creative accounting, SB 190 adjusts the process for construction and maintenance funding, mandates financial oversight training for trustees and accountability measures for senor administrators, and centralizes construction desiderata to the State University System Board of Governors. It also requires that each university must carry over at least 7 % of their state operating funds into the following year. This may affect how much money is available this year.
Editorial comment about UCF. Within the university, we often distinguish between faculty, professionals (from librarians to counselors), staff, administrators, etc. Some observant members of the community (e.g. many students) may do so as well. But many people in the surrounding community see us as all being part of the university. If a senior administrator uses operating funds to build a building, that reflects on the faculty as well - especially when outraged politicians look for someone to punish (UCF got a 0.26 % cut in funding, the second highest cut after the 0.65 % cut in FAMU's funding - and what FAMU did to deserve that is unclear). If a university is a hotbed of whatever, there is a common perception that everyone, from the secretaries to the professor emeriti, are all into the whatever.
Other bills that passed:
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, May 10, at noon, at CDB Restaurant, 5104 E. Fowler Ave., Temple Terrace.
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