United Faculty of Florida (UFF) was born out of the fight to protect academic freedom, defend civil liberties, and end racial discrimination at the University of Florida (UF). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, UF administrators fired or denied tenure to outspoken advocates of racial integration and faculty rights. Believing that only a binding contract, with strong grievance procedures, could protect faculty from such harassment, UFF pioneers launched the union in 1968. UFF achieved a statewide university system collective bargaining agreement in 1976, and it has remained a vigorous and effective agent for academic freedom and faculty rights. In a time where academic freedom is under attack again, UFF members continue to fight. Our nation’s institutions of higher education are important defenders of the civil and human rights of everyone. Specifically, UFF members are at the forefront of this defense while they also provide opportunities for members of color to flourish as union leaders.
UFF members are at the forefront in defending voter rights, as far-right politicians are increasing attempts to suppress voters, particularly voters of color, from their fundamental right to engage in the democratic process. Recently, UF administrators prohibited three UFF members from testifying about provisions of a new voter restriction law in a lawsuit against the State of Florida. Upon learning of this egregious violation of freedom of speech and academic freedom, UFF members organized a well-attended press conference and demanded the University reverse its decision. Shortly after the press conference, UF administrators did. The activism of UFF members directly influenced the university and represents a win for the citizens of Florida.
UFF has led the charge for preserving academic freedom for its members’ teaching as well. UF has been influenced by politicians in recommending a doctoral concentration in “Critical Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Education” change its name to avoid antagonizing the state legislature. UFF is arguing that the university is violating the academic freedom clause in their Collective Bargaining Agreement. By defending the contract language in a grievance, UFF is fighting for academic freedom and the rights of faculty to teach future educators about the facts of racism in our country. Without the contract enforcement of UFF, the College of Education faculty at UF would not be able to accurately prepare their students to study the impacts of racism.
UFF has also created opportunities and spaces for leaders to grow. They began the Organizing Fellows program to increase membership and engagement, especially among faculty and graduate assistants at large university chapters. The Fellows Program funds members to have organizing conversations with their colleagues to boost membership and identify potential leaders. During the pandemic, when Fellows had organizing conversations by phone and Zoom, several chapters saw an increase in membership because of the Fellows program, particularly members of color. UFF has encouraged leadership among members of color in these chapters. Half of the Fellows are members of color, and there has been a noticeable increase in involvement of members of color at these universities, including organizing.
United Faculty of Florida honors the legacy of Rosena J. Willis, an NEA staff member who diligently worked to implement the NEA merger with the American Teachers Association. UFF brings minority leaders to the forefront and protecting academic freedom. In a time when vital scholarship about race is being attacked and politicized, UFF is protecting our democracy and civil rights.