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Member & Activist Spotlight

Karen Morian: Sticking Up For Public Education

Dr. Karen Morian is a professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville and a past president of the United Faculty of Florida
Dr. Karen Morian
Published: October 4, 2021

As an educator, I enjoy sharing my love of learning with my students. Those lightbulb moments, when students get truly excited about something, are what keep me coming back.  

For the past 15 years, I’ve been a humanities professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville. Our department offers a variety of topic courses, so I get to create new classes around things I’m excited about. Over the last few years, I’ve done courses on U.S. civil rights in the 20th-century, women in American culture, and the cultural history of Islam. These courses help expose students to different types of collective action, which can be empowering for young people. 

In 2012, following redistricting, I also ran for a newly created Florida House seat. I saw what was happening to teachers in the state but I didn’t see any lawmakers sticking up for them. So I ran a campaign on behalf of public education. I got 20,000 votes despite having no name, team, or money, which I thought was pretty good.  

Both of my parents were members of unions, so it was a natural step for me to join. My mother was a member of the Florida Education Association (FEA) back when we had a walkout in Florida. I was in second grade, and at the time she gave me the choice to either stay home or go to school. I remember asking her what it was about and she told me, “It’s about making sure that all students have a school as good as yours.” And that’s been the underpinning of my advocacy as an educator​​—I want all our students to have schools as good as the one I went to. 

I ultimately served as the president of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF) for three years. As UFF president, I lobbied Tallahassee and got to know lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. I testified before committees and helped to organize our members to testify about how certain legislation would play out on our campuses and in our classrooms.  

A lot of this work centers on protecting the integrity of our profession. Issues like intellectual property rights and academic freedom are especially important. The Florida Retirement System has been under attack for a number of years, and we’ve been fighting to maintain the pension plan so folks can have economic security in retirement. And, with COVID-19, we put together a higher ed task force last year to offer recommendations for how we could safely reopen. Our local chapters were able to use this tool to negotiate strong impact bargaining clauses that benefited our students and helped save lives.  

Even though I’m no longer UFF president, I’m still involved in our union’s work -- including serving on the FEA’s Executive Cabinet and serving as our local chapter’s government relations chair. So I’m still very engaged and still wearing lots of hats—just in a different capacity. 

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.