The University’s failure to disburse spring semester paychecks has ignited feelings of aggravation and whispers of strike among many FAMU employees.
Despite their work and legally binding contracts with FAMU, a host of adjunct professors, teaching assistants and OPS employees, including student media, have yet to receive one paycheck this semester.
Chanta Haywood, dean of graduate studies, said FAMU is no stranger to situations involving paycheck mishaps.
“This has happened before, but I don’t know if it’s been this widespread,” she said.
The lack of paychecks has catapulted many employees’ finances into a calamitous whirlwind.
“It threw off my system,” said Kendra Mitchell, a professional writing tutor at the FAMU Writing Center and University alumna. “I’m basically living off of my savings. I feel for those people who are not as fortunate.”
Pam Bryant, FAMU public relations coordinator, said the administration sympathizes with the employees.
“It’s unfortunate and administrators are certainly sensitive to how this is affecting their personal lives,” said Bryant. “We know people work and they need pay.”
There has been much talk around campus about what caused the delay in pay.
According to Bryant, incomplete or inaccurately filled out paperwork by a particular college or employee could possibly be the source of the problem. However, she also said, “The problem could certainly be related to budget issues. We just don’t know.”
She maintained that “(the FAMU communications department’s) position is the fact that University administrators are working to determine what has happened and even harder to get it fixed.” The lack of information about the progress of the situation has troubled employees seeking answers.
“I’m a little more concerned than anything at the lack of communication,” Mitchell said. “I don’t have a problem with there being human errors or problems with the new system.” I had to fish for answers. The funny thing about it is that no one knows anything. We don’t really know the rhyme and reason of it all.”
She attributes this lack of information to a lack of respect. “If you’re not faculty, it seems as if you’re not really you’re not really respected,” Mitchell said.
Although employees are aware of the situation, some have failed to complain to a higher power. “As far as I know there was an issue with the contracts, but I haven’t received any complaints (from graduate assistants),” said Alecia Burnette, graduate student association president and president of the graduate student association at FAMU.
Burnette also said, “If they bring it to my attention, I can see what I personally can do to help them, but of course, I’m not over contracts.”
Additionally, faculty members expressed concern over the non-payment of their coworkers.
“It’s our job to advocate for graduate students and their well-being, Haywood said. “As a graduate dean, I’d rather see (students) concentrate on their studies than have them concerned about their financial well-being.”
She continued, “We’ve taken a collective role in addressing the matter.”
The postponement of payment has led employees to contemplate implementing other means to retrieve their money as was the case at other Florida universities. Rallies, hunger strikes, press conferences, legal proceedings and unionizing are some of the methods typically used in handling situations of this sort.
Todd Reynolds, chief steward of the Graduate Assistants United, the graduate student union associated with the United Faculty of Florida, at the University of Florida, has advocated to graduate students throughout the state, including at FAMU, the importance of what membership in a union can do for them in situations like this.
“This is a serious event,” he said. “It affects people and causes hardship. The graduate students are talking about organizing.” “(Joining a union) is vitally important especially because grad school is such an isolated position. The union makes them feel like they’re not alone. It’s graduate students united with a common interest,” Reynolds continued. “Individually grad students are small, but together collectively when they unionize, that’s when positive progress and changes happen.”
Bryant said campus administration has been meeting with the College of Arts and Sciences, which has been identified as one of the areas with payroll issues, to fix the situation.
“As we speak, as of today, as of yesterday, even last week, University administrators have been working with those key departments that were affected to come up with a timely solution,” Bryant said.
“Ultimately, we want to ensure everyone that our University is committed to operating FAMU effectively and efficiently,” she said.