UF dean warns of more layoffs

Published: Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 at 10:24 p.m.

Just as faculty are fighting layoffs from 2008, a University of Florida dean has warned there will "almost certainly" be more layoffs if expected budget cuts occur.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Paul D'Anieri sent a letter to college faculty last week girding them for more layoffs.

"There will almost certainly be layoffs, and if the cut is more than a few percent, there will be layoffs of tenure-track and possibly tenured faculty," he wrote.

UF President Bernie Machen announced last week that the state's continued budget woes could cause a 10 percent cut to the university's funding. Last year's cut of 6 percent led to layoffs of eight faculty members, including one who challenged the decision Friday before an arbitrator in a hearing on campus.

Andrea Pham, a Vietnamese language and linguistics assistant professor, claims her layoff violated the faculty union contract. In a decision that could affect the next round of layoffs, she's seeking to overturn the decision and keep her job.

"I want to get tenure (and) build my career here at UF," she said.

Pham teaches two Vietnamese courses, the university's only offerings in the language. There is no major or minor in the subject. UF contends that last year's cuts forced the elimination of Vietnamese and other low-priority subjects in the already debt-ridden College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The university "decided that it could no longer afford to do all the things that it had done before," said Charlie Deal, an attorney for UF.

The arbitration hearing is the first to be held in union challenges to layoffs. A decision is expected in two months, meaning it would come before this year's budget plan is finalized.

Machen has asked D'Anieri and other deans to start crafting budget plans that will be made public in mid-March. A final decision on layoffs and other cuts is expected to be approved in mid-May.

A tenure-track faculty member for seven years, Pham argues that least experienced faculty should first face layoffs. She dropped a discrimination claim in her case, although she and two other foreign-born women who were laid off are still pursuing discrimination complaints before state and federal equal-opportunity agencies.

The United Faculty of Florida claims its contract requires UF to prioritize layoffs based on seniority and other factors. In Pham's case, there were eight non-tenured faculty members with less experience in her department.

Her attorney, Thomas Brooks, argued the university could have eliminated Vietnamese classes and still found her classes to teach in linguistics.

"It's not an issue of if she can't teach Vietnamese, we don't have anything else for her to do," Brooks said.

But UF countered that linguistics just hired an instructor, who was the spouse of an endowed professor in another area, and lacked the funds to hire anyone else. It provided evidence showing that the liberal arts college is grappling with years of accumulated debt.

The college's budget fell to $95 million in the 2008-2009 academic year from $110 million three years before, according to testimony. Consequently, UF eliminated Vietnamese and Korean subject areas, cut other language instructors and merged all languages but Spanish into a single department.

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