Posted on Tue, Mar. 08, 2005

EDUCATION

Stalemate may hurt FIU med school push

Tense negotiations on a contract have put FIU faculty members at odds with the board of trustees. A union leader warned that it could hinder chances for a medical school.

By NOAH BIERMAN

nbierman@herald.com

Florida International University professors warned their board Monday that they are willing to declare ''war'' with the administration and to threaten the university's plans for a coveted medical school.

The statement from the head of the faculty union was greeted with a raucous ovation by more than 100 union members who attended the board of trustees meeting in the campus ballroom. Board members were less enthusiastic, holding their ground amid tough union negotiations and promising they would not let the union ''blackmail'' them, in the words of board President Adolfo Henriques.

ARBITRATOR ISSUE

The union, which represents more than 900 faculty members, has been working on a contract that expired in January 2003. Negotiations on a new contract are stalled over the issue of sending grievances to an outside arbitrator.

In a fiery speech, union President Alan Gummerson, a lecturer in the department of economics, said that if negotiations are prolonged further, the faculty senate would vote to express no confidence in President Modesto A. Maidique ''and probably in the board as well.'' If that happens, it would become more difficult to attract and retain high-quality faculty, who would be fearful of teaching in a ''war zone,'' Gummerson said.

''Imagine our chances of winning a medical school once it happens,'' he said.

The university has been lobbying for a medical school; support for it has become something of a mantra across the campus. Members of the governing board suggested Monday they want to ramp up the campaign by fostering a ''grass-roots'' petition drive to show broad support among students and the community.

Bruce Hauptli, the faculty senate representative on the board, assured fellow board members that the senate shares the goal of bringing a medical school to campus. Warnings that union issues could harm that effort were offered more as a concern than a threat, he said.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM

Board President Henriques said the contract under negotiation will give faculty a 10-percent raise over the next three years. He also said it would protect professors' rights to lifetime tenure and the academic freedom that accompanies it. Gummerson has said academic freedom issues remain unresolved.

In addition, the contract, for the first time, would eliminate professors' rights to a grievance process through an independent arbitrator. Faculty would instead be subject to internal university review. Gummerson said that change would separate FIU from the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida.

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[last updated: March 08 2005]