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10 Florida Memorial professors are now out of a job. 4 are claiming discrimination

Florida Memorial University has made a series of cuts in an effort to tighten its budget and refocus resources on programs with higher enrollment. As a result, 10 faculty members were laid off. Some claim the school discriminated against them.
Carl Juste / Miami Herald
Florida Memorial University has made a series of cuts in an effort to tighten its budget and refocus resources on programs with more students. As a result, 10 faculty members were laid off. Four of them claim the decision was discriminatory.

Ten professors at Florida Memorial University are out of a job as of May 14. The school says the cuts are a way to restore financial stability and redirect resources into programs with more students. But some of the professors allege the university discriminated against them.

After 22 years at Florida Memorial in Miami Gardens, Richard Yaklich is back on the job hunt. Up until Saturday, he had been a tenured associate professor of music at the school, South Florida’s only historically Black university.

“I'm desperately looking for employment. The difficult thing about academia is positions are filled almost a year in advance,” Yaklich said.

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Yaklich and three of the other professors who were laid off have filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that the school is discriminating against them because of their age, race or both.

The university has denied the allegations. According to a school spokesperson, the professors include three Black women who are 64, 72 and 80 years old, two white men who are 58 and 69, two Black men ages 68 and 74, one Asian man who is 72 and two white women who are 55 and 88. The rest of the faculty range in age from 28 to 83.

“There was no discriminatory intent, rather, all of the decisions made were legitimate, objective, and in the best interest of the university and its students. There is no evidence of discrimination by FMU,” spokesperson Sharee Gilbert. “The decisions were a part of a data-driven process, which in turn created data-driven results and were not personal in any way.”

Florida Memorial has eliminated a total of 18 jobs, including faculty, staff and vacant positions, as the university grapples with budget cuts brought on by years of low enrollment.

The school has implemented a series of changes after being placed on probation in 2021 in an effort to regain good standing with its accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

President Jaffus Hardrick has said the decisions were part of an effort to “right size” the university by eliminating programs with low student enrollment.

“I will never do anything where we are violating the protected statuses of anyone. We could no longer continue to have programs open where we have no students in those programs,” Hardrick told WLRN in April. “And so we are aligning many of our academic programs with market needs and demands.”

According to a university analysis of programs slated to be cut, the school’s music program was graduating an average of three students over a five-year period. The school’s BA in Chemistry program had an average of just one student graduating; the Engineering/Physics program had none.

Florida Memorial University

But Yaklich questions whether the programs are being fully eliminated. He shared documents from a course catalog with WLRN showing dozens of music classes are slated to be offered in the upcoming fall semester. For classes Yaklich says he used to teach, like conducting and music appreciation, the instructor is listed as “TBA”.

Yaklich also claims that the school didn’t follow its own termination policies. Citing the school’s Faculty Handbook, Yaklich says he should’ve gotten a year’s notice.

“In case of discontinuance of a program, concentration, or instructional department, the tenured faculty member shall be given a minimum of twelve months of notice in writing, commencing with the end of the current academic year,” reads a section on terminations in the handbook.

“We were supposed to get a year's notice. I think it was like three months was the actual time notice that we got. No terminal year contract,” Yaklich said. “I think they should adhere to what's in their written policies and procedures, what the board approved in the handbook.”

Randy Fleischer, an attorney for the four professors, said they have to wait about five more months for the EEOC to act. If the school doesn’t address their complaints, they plan to sue.

“We're looking for fair and reasonable severance,” said Fleischer. “I think they should all get another full year of pay because that's what it says in the handbook. And that's what they should get, is a full year pay plus two weeks for every year of service.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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