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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Sumi Helal thinks UF faculty needs to be paid more.

Helal, the UF United Faculty of Florida chief negotiator, presented issues UF faculty have with their salaries to Special Magistrate Tom Young on Wednesday morning. Professors wearing blue buttons that read "UF works because we do" nodded their heads and hummed in agreement.

UFF and UF’s board of trustees reached an impasse over salary raises in August. They met Wednesday to present each side of the argument to Young, who will give a recommendation within 15 days on how to proceed.

Helal, a UF professor of computer and information science and engineering, said UFF took issue with the board’s salary proposal, which stated a 2.5 percent merit pay increase will be effective Jan. 1. He said raises are traditionally effective at the beginning of a faculty member’s appointment.

He also said UF’s promotion raises are among the lowest in the State University System of Florida. Helal projected a chart that showed a 9 percent average promotion raise for UF professors compared to Florida State University’s 15 percent and other Florida universities’.

"We have to change this," he said. "This picture has received a blind eye and a deaf ear."

Helal said there needs to be a cost-of-living adjustment to salaries to help faculty cope with a 9 percent inflation rate in Florida.

"You can’t expect to be a top 10 and preeminent school yet not behave like it," he said.

Candi Churchill, UFF’s service unit director, said UF has the money to pay its faculty more and cited UF’s $148 million in unrestricted assets in 2014.

She also cited UF President Kent Fuchs’ State of the University address, in which he said $19 million was given to UF by legislatures to meet performance goals.

Attorney Michael Mattimore of Allen Norton & Blue, P.A. spoke on behalf of the UF board. He said UF’s income is limited.

The board was sticking to its proposal of a 2.5 percent merit pay increase effective Jan. 1, he said.

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"There’s not this huge pot of hundreds of millions of dollars," Mattimore said. "This is tight, this is very tight."

UF is competitive with wages, but he said sources of income are limited.

"We are better than competitive," he said. "We’re at the top."

Mattimore said while UF has faculty who are at the top of their field, not all are advancing their fields. At this, professors in the audience expressed surprise.

UF shouldn’t adopt a starting salary for professors, he said. UF needs to be able to adjust salaries to compete for professors.

Heather Ray, a UF physics associate professor, said the board was presenting biased and skewed data.

The board was comparing UF to other Florida institutions, not the institutions UF will compete with to become a top 10 university, she said. She thinks UF needs to give professors more than a 2.5 percent increase.

"They are completely ignoring the big elephant in the room," she said.

Contact Alexandra Fernandez at afernandez@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @alexmfern

Contact Caitlin Ostroff at costroff@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @ceostroff

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