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New College faculty union joins statewide lawsuit against Senate Bill 266

Written by on Saturday, August 5, 2023

Yesterday, state faculty union UFF filed suit against Senate Bill 266, and the New College chapter has joined as a plaintiff.

By Sophia Brown

Original Air Date: August 4, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: The state government’s campaign to remake public universities in Florida is prompting more push-back. Yesterday, faculty unit UFF filed suit against a new law called SB 266. And today, the local New College chapter joined as a plaintiff. At issue is a provision that prevents unions from accessing neutral arbitrators to resolve grievances. In turn, New College President Richard Corcoran, in a conflict over tenure, has already used that law to deny faculty access to an arbitrator. Sophia Brown reports.

Host: Yesterday afternoon, the United Faculty of Florida union, or UFF, filed a lawsuit against the state challenging provisions of Senate Bill 266, a bill that was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on New College of Florida’s campus in May.

Now, the New College UFF chapter, NCUFF, has joined the fight after pursuing its own grievance against the college administration for several months. UFF filed this lawsuit the second Judicial Circuit Court in Leon County, represented by law firm Selendy Gay Elsburg.

Senate Bill 266 went into effect on July 1. Among other things, it prevents public universities from expending funds on anything arguably related to diversity, equity and inclusion, and prohibits discussions of race or gender in college classrooms. Senate Bill 266 also prevents faculty unions from accessing neutral, third party arbitrators to solve grievances.

The purpose of these arbitrators is to settle disputes between unions and management before they can escalate and result in a lawsuit. But NCUFF President and Professor of Physical Chemistry Steven Shipman says that under Senate Bill 266, it is no longer clear how unions are expected to defend themselves, and the administration now has full executive power to brush aside any concerns they may have.

Steven Shipman: If any other provision is violated and we try to resolve that through our normal grievance process, there’s nothing to stop a college official from saying “No, I made the right choice and we’re done now.” Right? Without that third party appeal, like, the entire contract is gutted, essentially.

Host: Under Senate Bill 266, college administration is also now wholly within their rights to fire tenured faculty members without pause, whereas previously this could only happen under extreme circumstances. This lawsuit also comes as NCUFF has actively filed a grievance against the school, the first one in at least 20 years.

Shipman says that, traditionally, NCUFF and New College administration have had a very positive relationship. But the new leadership put in place by the conservative majority Board of Trustees starting in February has broken this streak.

The grievance NCUFF has filed has to do with the five faculty members that the Board of Trustees denied tenure to in April, with “extraordinary circumstances” being the only reasoning provided. Five candidates had been recommended for tenure by the former president, but Interim President Richard Corcoran added a second presidential recommendation to each of their files and then forwarded them to the Board of Trustees before giving the five candidates access to them.

Each faculty member is supposed to have five days to review any additions to their files before they go to the board. And so Shipman says that it should have been an open and shut case.

SS: There’s not much room for interpretation. Like, there are date stamps on emails that say Board of Trustee members received these materials before the candidates did, and candidates are supposed to have five days to review any additions to their files before it goes to the board. So it’s very direct. And we got a response basically saying, “the college did nothing wrong and you can’t go forward.”

Host: Shipman also says that as soon as Senate Bill 266 went into effect, New College administration immediately denied NCUFF access to arbitration for this ongoing greivance.

Shipman wrote in a statement that by filing the suit, “We hope to restore access to arbitration, not just for our chapter, but for all university faculty in the state.”

This has been Sophia Brown reporting for WSLR News.


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