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Thursday, June 01, 2023

UF Board of Trustees approve furlough policy for faculty and staff

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Some UF employees may find themselves without a paycheck in the near future.

UF’s Board of Trustees unanimously passed an amendment Tuesday to implement furloughs, an unpaid leave of absence while employees still retain their jobs. But some faculty and staff members are concerned they’re being targeted as administrators’ salaries stay untouched.

The regulation only gives UF the ability to enact furloughs. But administrators said there are no immediate plans to furlough anyone.

Board Chairman Mori Hosseini, who dismissed pay cuts to UF administrators, said UF is able to have more in-person classes, furloughs won’t be necessary.

“Is it our goal to furlough people? No,” Hosseini said. “Our goal is to get the University of Florida to top five — no ifs, no buts.”

UF has cited more than $46 million in losses this year due to COVID-19. However, its net assets grew to almost $2 billion in the 2019 fiscal year from $1.7 billion in the year prior. UF is also set to complete its $3 billion “Go Greater” fundraising campaign in the Spring.

UF has also committed to hiring 100 faculty members for its $70 million NVIDIA artificial intelligence program, with the Board approving a $20 million donation from UF to the program in July.

Jodi Gentry, UF’s Vice President of Human Resources, said the goal of furloughs is to avoid layoffs. She cited financial constraints due to COVID-19 as another factor. She will present the final process for how furloughs will be carried out at the Board’s December meeting.

“This is just putting in place the authority that would allow us to move that forward,” Gentry said.

Faculty members and graduate students pleaded with the Board during the meeting to find alternatives to the policy — including administration pay cuts.

Jason Fults, a UF graduate student and member of the Alachua County Labor Coalition, believes UF is not properly using the state appropriations it’s administered.

“When the money is flowing, it seems to me it either gets squirrelled away or flows upwards on unnecessary capital projects and overpaid administrators that I consider to be modern-day robber barons in the public sector,” Fults said.

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Fi Stewart-Taylor, a member of Graduate Assistants United, the graduate employee union, cited William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and urged the Board of Trustees — representing the rich — to understand the moral obligations they have to the faculty — the “wretches.”

“Furloughs, if they are not accompanied by cutting from the top by proportionate pay cuts to the highest paid administrators, will be asking the wretchens of the pandemic to bear the brunt of the cost of the university,” Stewart-Taylor said.

Trustee Sylvain Doré, anaesthesiology professor and chair of UF’s Faculty Senate, brought up concerns from the Sept. 17 Faculty Senate meeting and urged the Board to table the motion until a plan can be developed.

Hosseini thought it was better to vote on the amendment Tuesday to give UF the power to incorporate furloughs if necessary. He instructed Doré to work with Gentry on the official plan for the next meeting, currently scheduled for Dec. 3.

“If, all of a sudden, we’re short on money, we don’t have the money,” Hosseini said, “you have no choice but to fire people.”

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