Hear that gasp?
That’s the sound of the USF Board of Trustees drawing in and holding its collective breath.
Today, Election Day, is for several reasons one of vital importance for the future of a board that is only a year and a few months old. It is also important for USF’s faculty and the board’s detractors.
The importance for the board of today’s races starts right at the top with the gubernatorial vote. The board, as it currently stands, was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration. It has often received criticism for lacking minorities and academics, being primarily made up of wealthy businesspeople.
With the inauguration of the governor in January, the board will have to be reappointed. If McBride pulls off the upset today, the face of the board will be quite different, and many of the current people in power at USF may be gone.
Also, the question remains as to what may happen to chairman Dick Beard, who has been quoted making several controversial statements in the past year. Has his shoot-from-the-hip style become a liability to USF and the state?
Certainly, several members of the Faculty Senate and faculty union would be encouraged by a change. Both groups are concerned about what will happen during the government changeover in January. The faculty’s current collective bargaining agreement will end, and the Board of Education will cease to be the primary faculty employer. That honor will fall into the BOT’s hands, giving the group a large amount of managerial power and control over the faculty.
But all of that could change again if Amendment 11 is passed into law today. The amendment would create a Board of Governors that controls all state universities under which the BOT operates.
Passing the amendment would lessen the BOT’s powers. It could change the collective bargaining situation, as well.
Many faculty are in favor of the rule, but last month, the BOT members voted unanimously to oppose the constitutional change.
However, the bottom line on today’s vote as far as the BOT is concerned is that things will change drastically. The current BOT may come out of the election intact and with increased powers. It may also come out completely revamped and working under a statewide governing board.
The day could also be important in the board’s handling of the case of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. If Amendment 11 does not pass and the Board of Education is gone, the BOT’s new employment powers will allow it to become, as some have described, the judge, jury and executioner in the Al-Arian affair.
Beard has regularly called Al-Arian a “terrorist,” and a “cancer.” A change in board members could allow for a more friendly attitude toward Al-Arian. That would be significant because Al-Arian lost an ally in October, when trustee Patrick Swygert announced his resignation from the board. The board’s only African American and academic trustee, Swygert was the only member to vote against pursuing the termination of Al-Arian last December.
If there is a new Board of Governors, Al-Arian will have a different body to which to appeal if USF President Judy Genshaft decides to fire him.
For Genshaft and the administration, the coming months will be a time of uncertainty. The state’s governance of universities will change at the exact same time that the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement ends. The scenarios as to what may happen are endless. But, however the election plays out, the future should be slightly more clear.
For the BOT and universities as a whole, a lot hinges on today.
The sweat builds and the heart speeds up, but still the BOT can only wait for the will of the people.