It was like waiting all day to tune into a favorite sitcom only to find out it was a rerun.
USF President Judy Genshaft walked into the Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday accompanied by interim General Counsel R.B. Friedlander, who is responsible for litigation in the case of Sami Al-Arian. And with questions about possible censure from the American Association of University Professors stemming from the Al-Arian case, as well as concerns about the Jan. 7 deadline for the current collective bargaining agreement, it seemed like Genshaft could talk about a wide range of subjects.
But Genshaft’s speech turned out to be similar, and in some places exactly the same, to her Sept. 19 State of the University address.
And like that address, Genshaft said nothing about Al-Arian, the AAUP or the collective bargaining agreement. After about 20 minutes and a few questions about faculty pay raises and possible new budget cuts, Genshaft and Friedlander departed from the meeting room.
But other speakers at the meeting did not back down from discussing some of the topics that have caused debate among the faculty. Of particular note for faculty members concerned about censure was the visit of David Kerr, who is on the faculty of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
Kerr has served as head of the AAUP’s Florida conference for the past five years. Kerr explained to the Senate the meaning of an AAUP censure.
He said 53 of thousands of institutions nationwide are currently on the censure list. Therefore, if USF were to be included, millions in the academic community would take notice.
“There’s no formula that I know that can assess the impact of censure. It is a public thing,” Kerr said. “Every year, USF will be written up until it is taken off the censure list.”
Kerr said the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, known as SACS, which is the commission that visits and accredits universities, will ” be concerned” about a censure. In addition, Kerr said the Phi Beta Kappa Society, an elite academic honor society that USF has tried for decades to attract, will not allow a censured school entrance.
Some universities, Kerr said, have been on the censure list for 40 years or more.
As for where the process currently stands, a report about possible academic freedom violations in the Al-Arian case is being written. Kerr said the report will be edited several times before it goes to the national convention in June. It is at that convention that a vote for or against censure could be made.
And therein may lie the trouble for the USF administration. As part of its filing against Al-Arian’s motion to move the case to federal court, USF said only a declaratory judgment in the case would determine if a firing of Al-Arian “would provide the basis for the imposition of the sanction of ‘censure’ by the AAUP and its concomitant to the reputation of the university.”
Friedlander said last week a court date may not arrive until 2003 or 2004. The AAUP, Kerr said, works on a different timetable and will probably vote on USF this June.
“The AAUP is not at all governed by the outcome of this lawsuit,” Kerr said. “The AAUP will not necessarily wait several years on such a grave issue.”
A withdrawal of the censure, Kerr said, would require either overwhelming evidence against Al-Arian or some sort of regress by the university, as well as other steps.
Genshaft said Wednesday evening she feels her action is appropriate. She said the AAUP will make its own decision.
“I don’t want this university to be censured,” Genshaft said. “Sending it to the courts is a very legitimate (decision).”
Senate vice president Susan Greenbaum expressed another opinion on Genshaft’s tactic.
“One might argue the lawsuit is a stalling tactic,” Greenbaum said.
Genshaft denied that accusation.
One of Al-Arian’s biggest arguments against the university’s lawsuit has been that by taking him to court, the administration has usurped his rights as guaranteed in the collective bargaining agreement.
And, after Jan. 7, that current agreement will expire. Roy Weatherford, head of USF’s faculty union, said he is hoping a new agreement will be reached smoothly once January arrives.
“The university has taken the position that when the contract expires, we don’t need to worry because they’ll do what’s right,” Weatherford said. “I appreciate President Genshaft and the provost taking the positive high road about this and trying to assure us that we won’t have any problems. I point to the fact that the governor has his ‘devious plans’ and Secretary (Jim) Horne has said in public that ‘I have a plan for higher education, but I’m not going to announce it until after the election.’ That’s not because we’re going to like it.”
Of long concern for faculty has been the fact that in January, the Board of Education will no longer be their official employer. Instead, the USF Board of Trustees will be given increased powers over faculty contracts.
Weatherford said the BOT may not have the best interests of academia in mind.
“They all want to corporatize the university,” Weatherford said. “This is a period fraught with peril. (The administration) has already taken a position that the contract will expire. They refuse to take any positive steps to try to stop that.”
Weatherford said normally unless a new agreement is reached, the current agreement will continue. He said this case, however, is being treated as an exception.
“Maybe they all have honorable intentions,” Weatherford said. “But we are in a perilous place.”
Genshaft was not present for Weatherford’s address. But she said later the faculty has no reason to fear what will happen Jan. 7. After all, she said, everything may change if a new governor is elected on Nov. 5. For instance, the current BOT may no longer exist.
“I’m sorry that (Weatherford) is fearful,” Genshaft said. “(But) we plan to operate in a regular fashion. We don’t have any other motives.”
During Genshaft’s address to the Senate, most of the questions she received surrounded her proposal for an 8 to 10 percent pay raise for about 100 outstanding faculty. Some asked her how these excellent faculty would be chosen. Others asked about the fact that further budget cuts may be looming on the horizon.
“I’ve been told there probably will be more cuts after the elections,” Genshaft said.
Genshaft said she anticipates another 5 percent cut. She said the university has reserve funds ready to help in the situation.