Elizabeth Bird couldn’t help but get involved. About two years ago, she realized that faculty involvement at USF needed a boost. While she was working as a faculty advisor to the provost, the Board of Trustees called an emergency meeting to discuss their intent to terminate Sami Al-Arian. It wasn’t so much the action that administration was taking against Al-Arian that Bird disagreed with, but the way it was done.
“I’m not a supporter of Sami Al-Arian; that’s not the issue. The issue was that at the time, … I thought it was inappropriate that they voted to fire him and that there was no faculty consultation about the issue,” Bird said.
So after working in administration for two years, Bird resigned. She went back to the anthropology department to teach, as she had for her previous six years at USF and the 15 years prior to her employment at the school. This time she did what she wishes more faculty would do: Join the Faculty Senate. She served as a senator, and it inspired her enough to take over as president of the Faculty Senate this year.
“I became interested in faculty governance particularly after I worked for the president, and I found it very interesting to find out how things work at that end of the university,” Bird said.
Since becoming a Faculty Senate member, one of Bird’s most important tasks has included rewriting the temporary set of rules passed by USF for faculty to follow after the collective bargaining agreement expired in January.
Bird and other faculty have alleged the university neglected to seek faculty input about the new rules.
With that in mind, the Faculty Senate organized a workgroup to rewrite the rules in a way with which the faculty felt comfortable, and to ensure there were no misinterpretations of what the rules demanded.
“It was a good moment then, in the sense that, that was when the administration actually realized that if you put faculty and administration together, we can talk and get things done,” Bird said. “While creating the rules, our main concern was that they be good rules for all people who are not in the collective bargaining agreement, which is the medical schools.”
The Board of Trustees met Aug. 21 to vote on approval of the temporary rules, after this issue went to press. Bird said the positive outcome of the development of the temporary rules was because faculty responded.
“I think it was a good thing because it got a lot of faculty a little more energized, and a lot of people who never really had been involved before … but I think there’s a lot that still needs to be done. We really don’t have a true shared governance at USF,” Bird said. “So the work that I hope to do this year is to actually develop some working principles of shared governance and get them in place and get everybody to pay attention to them.”But in order for that to happen, Bird said both administration and faculty have to be involved, and not all faculty members want to be involved.
“It’s not just up to administration; it’s up to all of us to work together. Sometimes I think there’s this sort of perception that the faculty and administration are on opposite sides, but we’re really not,” Bird said.
Bird said interim provost Renu Khator has been cooperative with the faculty. Bird added that it may be a good idea for the BOT and Faculty Senate to meet if they need to discuss any major issues.
“But it’s difficult to get the Board together; they are very busy people,” Bird said. “But we could explore having Board members sit in on Faculty Senate meetings.”
As Faculty Senate president, Bird sits on the BOT to serve as the faculty’s voice. The position was created in January when the Board of Governors was added to university governance in Florida.
“I thing it’s a step in the right direction. It adds an extra dimension to be the voice of the faculty as far as I can,” Bird said. “Anything faculty have an opinion about I will try my best to speak for the faculty the best I can.”
Listening is something Bird has had to perfect during the past year. She said Faculty Senate meetings are always full of people who want their opinions heard.
“We need to make it clear that we want our voices heard on anything that will affect the academic climate,” Bird said.
After the collective bargaining agreement expired, faculty union president Roy Weatherford thought it was necessary to improve communication between the Faculty Senate and the faculty union, for the sake of the bargaining process, with a new contract. Weatherford said at the time, it was important that the Senate and union agree on the same issues in order to make a stronger case against the university when requesting a new contract. Bird said the Senate and union will continue to have a mutual relationship but pointed out that they are two different organizations.
“I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Weatherford, but his job is different than mine,” Bird said. “The union looks after conditions of employment, while the Senate is the elected representative of academic enterprise.”
While serving as the Faculty Senate president, Bird said she will also be the chairman of the anthropology department. Originally from Newcastle, England, Bird began her studies in anthropology at the University of Strathclyde. Bird said her instruction in anthropology focuses on media and pop culture. Before teaching at the University of Minnesota for 15 years, Bird earned her masters in journalism. Bird said she considered becoming a journalist while doing some freelancing for the Des Moines Register. Instead, Bird went on to teach anthropology and wrote several books, one of which examines tabloid history titled For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of Supermarket Tabloids.
“We live in a media-saturated society so we have to understand what it is doing to us and for us,” Bird said.
Bird said she has yet to travel the world in her observation of cultures. Right now she said she wants to continue studying the culture in the United States.
“Everyone always assumes when you’re an anthropologist that you travel the world, and of course, many do. I still would like to get away and do some extended study overseas,” she said.j