For more than a half century, Marshall Ogletree has fought for FL educators

Marshall Ogletree, speaking in 2018 before the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida. Credit: Florida Channel.

A veteran educator and higher education lobbyist has retired from the United Faculty of Florida, a statewide union representing full-time faculty, after a long career fighting for the rights and protections for educators, students and faculty in Florida.

Marshall Ogletree. Credit: United Faculty of Florida website.

Marshall Ogletree, who served as the UFF’s executive director from November 2014 to December 2020, has been a staunch supporter of enforcing more COVID-19 safety measures at Florida colleges and universities, such as more distance learning over in-person classes. That was a recent goal.

But in a phone interview with the Florida Phoenix, Ogletree reflected on his longtime profession, saying he has worked in education in various roles since 1969 — more than a half a century.

“Half of my career in education was in lobbying…that’s kind of where I came from, the political part of it,” he said.

He’s been unrelenting in calling for state officials to take more action amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sending letters and emails on behalf of UFF to the State University System of Florida officials and even Gov. Ron DeSantis to recommend stricter protocols to curb the spread of COVID-19 at schools.

Ogletree acknowledged that the organization has had to adapt to the effects of the global pandemic, which has led to many staffers working from home and holding meetings and news conferences through video.

And the union continues to fight on behalf of college faculty members in Florida who have expressed concerns over adding more in-person classes on campuses in the spring semester.

As the pandemic continues, Ogletree believes state officials and higher education leaders should do more to protect the health of students, faculty and staff in college communities across Florida.

“The COVID-19 situation has been exacerbated by the governor’s (Ron DeSantis) lack of leadership,” he said.

Candi Churchill, executive director of United Faculty of Florida. Credit: UFF website.

Candi Churchill, who has served in a previous role for the union, has taken Ogletree’s place as the new executive director starting Monday.

According to a press release, Churchill previously worked as UFF field staff since 2002 and has “significant experience” in many aspects of union work for higher education.

“I think Candi is going to do a great job. Most of her fulltime work has been in the union world… she comes with a great amount of experience,” Ogletree said.

Candi Churchill said in a written statement:

“I am honored to be selected for the UFF executive director position. Higher education is a pillar of our democracy and, in Florida, there are no better advocates for our students and communities than the faculty, staff and graduate employees who make our universities and colleges so successful.

UFF is going through a pivotal transition from a union that reacts and mobilizes to one that flexes its muscles and pushes our own agenda. I am looking forward to supporting our members as they stand up for health and safety, academic excellence, and fair working conditions for all.”

UFF overwhelmingly represents faculty at public colleges and universities in Florida, with only one private college represented by the union. That lone school is Saint Leo University, a private institution north of Tampa.

“In the time I’ve been there, we’ve added” several public schools in the state but the organization could see more private colleges become UFF members, Ogletree said.

“That could happen in the future. I think UFF welcomes anybody from higher education,” Ogletree said.

“There are other colleges in the state that haven’t been unionized,” he said. “Candi can build more unionized colleges. I think that is going to be her goal, to move that forward.”

According to a press release, “UFF represents more than 20,000 faculty at all 12 public universities, 15 colleges and Saint Leo University, along with graduate assistants at four universities.”