Union Protests Layoffs of 5 Tenured Professors as Florida Atlantic U. Slashes Its Budget

June 09, 2009

A budget-cutting reorganization plan at Florida Atlantic University has resulted in layoff notices to at least five tenured professors, causing anger among union officials at the institution.

Florida Atlantic’s president, Frank T. Brogan, has called for eliminating a total of 170 faculty and staff jobs, 30 of which are currently filled, to deal with a $16.7-million cut in state support for the 2009-10 academic year. Those cuts are outlined in a proposed budget that Mr. Brogan will present to the university’s Board of Directors on Wednesday, the president said in a video message on Florida Atlantic’s Web site.

The five professors who received layoff notices last month have not been publicly identified, but all are in the university’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, and all have been teaching at the university for more than 15 years, said Sharmila Vishwasrao, an associate professor and the union’s chief negotiator. All five were told to clear out their offices by August.

The layoffs violate union rules mandating that nontenured faculty members be the first to be eliminated and that any person who had worked at the university for more than three years should be given a year’s notice, Ms. Vishwasrao said. “If they need to do the layoffs, they need to lay off the appropriate people,” she said. “They’re trying to get around the rule.”

The university’s associate provost, Diane Alperin, said that the layoffs did not violate union rules because the same courses will still be offered with tenured professors. Different departments were teaching similar courses, she said, and the university restructured the departments to reduce the duplication.

“The reorganization plan was developed for reasons primarily related to academics and budget, with the goal of defining a more sustainable future for the college in order to improve effectiveness, efficiency, and quality of programs,” Ms. Alperin said.

As for whether the professors should have been given more notice, she said that the contract calls for one year’s notice “if practicable, where circumstances permit.” That, unfortunately, was not practicable in this case, she said.

Ms. Vishwasrao said some of the laid-off professors would file grievances, while others were considering other legal action. —Marc Beja