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Fired Tenured Faculty Members Reinstated at Florida State

An arbitrator has found that layoffs of 12 tenured faculty members last year at Florida State University (FSU) were the result of an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” process. Faced with that stinging rebuke, FSU President Eric Barron has reinstated all 21 tenured faculty members who were slated to be laid off earlier this year in a cost-cutting move, saying that “the university believes strongly that we should treat all tenured faculty uniformly.”

Fired faculty members heartily agree with the 83-page opinion released on Friday. “The actions of the [FSU] administration were a rotten fish; they stunk,” concludes Philip Froelich, the tenured Francis Eppes Professor of Oceanography.

Some of the firings were found to be flawed because FSU administrators failed to take a faculty member’s length of service into consideration, as required by the faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement with the university. For example, the way administrators went about merging the geology, oceanography, and meteorology departments and cutting faculty members in the process “appears to have been a subterfuge to avoid having to comply with [the union agreement], which requires that tenured faculty be laid off last,” wrote the arbitrator, lawyer Stanley Sergent of Sarasota, Florida. In paring tenured faculty members from the anthropology department, Joseph Travis, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, manipulated the process, according to Sergent’s opinion, in order “to arbitrarily select who got laid off, based on his personal judgments and relationships, and not criteria of [the union agreement].”

Barron, who took office in February, argues that FSU “did the very best to protect program quality while being forced to balance its budget.” The Florida legislature had cut the state university system’s annual $380 million budget by $82 million over 2007 to 2010. That compares with the total salary costs of the fired 21 tenured FSU faculty of $1.58 million, according to Froelich.

“It’s been humiliating, enervating,” says Froelich. Faced with imminent firing last year (he and others were later temporarily supported by federal stimulus funds), he dismantled his research and student advising and considered other options. Some colleagues had found academic positions elsewhere. Froelich says Barron still needs to redress the damage done to the university from the firings while addressing the continuing fiscal crisis.