FL Board of Governors approves blueprint to reopen college campuses, but unions and faculty want more say

Florida State University. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Florida Board of Governors on Thursday approved a blueprint to guide public universities to reopen campuses safely, but faculty and union members pushed for more say on the individual university plans.

“Local union officers or their acquainted representatives, with their in-depth knowledge, are best equipped to help navigate complexities of these changing operations,” Carolynne Gischel, assistant professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, said during the meeting.

“Please require union involvement in reopening plan development,” she said.

The United Faculty of Florida, which represents full-time faculty at colleges across the state, supported the blueprint but argued that previous discussions on how to safely reopen schools in the fall excluded the union, students, faculty, parents and others who offer significant insight.

“I’m not speaking against the guidelines but I have a neutrality position…I think they are a good template for universities to follow, my concerns up to today, have been that most discussions about any governmental level dealing with reopening our schools, colleges and universities have not been open to our members (UFF) or faculty members,” Marshall Ogletree, UFF executive director, said in the meeting held via conference call.

But UFF – establishing its own task force for reopening campuses in the fall – plans to come up with recommendations to offer officials at each of Florida’s 12 public universities.

The task force includes “faculty, former trustees, medical providers, public health experts, mental health experts, students and parents,” according to Olgletree.

“As universities adopt their unique plans, I request that the university presidents and trustees reach out to the UFF chapter presidents for appointments to their reopening committees,” Ogletree said.

The Florida Board of Governors presented its safety guidelines at the board meeting in a draft called, “State University System of Florida Blueprint for Reopening Campuses.”

The document includes a variety of safety protocols, from implementing COVID-19 screening, testing and even quarantining at each university, to conducting hybrid education models and ensuring athletics and extracurricular activities will have specific protections.

During the meeting, board member Zenani Johnson expressed concerns about students with preexisting health conditions who may feel safer with remote learning rather than returning to campus for classes.

And higher education leaders said they anticipate a situation that suits each students’ unique needs, choosing between online or in-person classes on campus.

“We are hoping that we can tailor our academic delivery in such a way that we are meeting the student where the student wants to be met,” said Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the State University System of Florida.

Each university must develop individual plans by a board meeting on June 23, based on those safety and health guidelines.