UCF faculty members pushing university to use federal assistance to boost pay

ORLANDO, Fla. — University of Central Florida faculty members say the university refuses to pay them a fair wage, despite sitting on more than $100 million in federal assistance it received during the pandemic.

They also said they’re being kept in the dark on where that money will go.

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The union said the $197,000 bonus UCF’s president got for directing the university through the pandemic doesn’t sit well because it feels its instructors were the key to the school’s success. In response to that claim, UCF officials told Channel 9 that President Cartwright’s “performance incentive was tied to his total compensation package and not a direct response to his leading of UCF through the pandemic.

They say they’re the reason he was able to do it, so they shouldn’t be in a position where some of them are struggling to make ends meet.

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“We can only bargain when we know what’s available,” said UCF trustee Talat Rahman.

Faculty members who spoke out in the current union bargaining with the university said the sides grow increasingly farther apart.

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UCF instructors haven’t seen a raise in more than two years, despite a nearly 6% rise in inflation and the highest student-to-faculty ratio in the country.

Now they want to know why more than $100 million in leftover pandemic federal relief hasn’t come their way.

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“They have decided that the individuals that kept this university afloat during this once-in-a-generation crisis don’t deserve to even keep up with rising inflation,” said Andrew Gothard, the United Faculty of Florida president.

Federal data shows of the more than $314 million the university received in pandemic aid, nearly $165 million was marked for institutional expenses.

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So far, UCF reports less than half of that fund has been spent, leaving an open balance of more than $112 million.

Instructors would like to see some of that money reimburse them for steep pandemic expenses.

“Whenever we bring up the budget and ask questions about how the money is spent, and what the rationale for spending said money, we never really get a straight answer,” said UFF-UCF president Robert Cassanello.

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So the union is continuing its quest to be part of the budget discussion.

“They really have to tell us why there is no money around and why these funds are not being used for purposes for which they were assigned,” Rahman said.

The union maintains that under the U.S. Department of Education, payroll is an allowable relief fund expense.

The two sides meet again Dec. 15.

UCF released the following statement to Channel 9 regarding the negotiations:

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“During ongoing negotiations, UCF has offered the United Faculty of Florida a 2.5 percent raise for faculty and a 3.5 percent raise for faculty who earn less than $48,500 annually. This is the same raise UCF provided to non-union faculty and staff and also accepted by the other unions that represent UCF employees.

For the student aid portion of HEERF dollars, UCF has awarded to students 94.3% ($122.9 million) of the $130.3 million we were allocated. We continue to accept applications and award those dollars.

For the institutional share of HEERF dollars, UCF has allocated $119.1 million out of $184 million. The university also has plans for an additional approximately $25 million, including expenses related to HVAC and IT systems.

The institutional share of HEERF dollars has supported expenses such as additional financial assistance to students, support for remote instruction and course delivery during the pandemic, and COVID-19 responses and preparedness. They also have reimbursed revenues the university lost during the pandemic. All of the expenses must be related to the COVID-19 pandemic and must follow the guidelines set by the federal government.

The federal deadline for spending dollars awarded in the latest HEERF round is next year. We continue to utilize those dollars in line with both the purpose and requirements set by the federal government.”

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.