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Grave concerns

Roy Weatherford, president of USF’s faculty union, strolled out of USF president Judy Genshaft’s office Tuesday, down the steps of the administration building and out into a circle of waiting media.

And, following a short 20-minute statement, he went off to teach a class, leaving behind him a line clearly drawn in the sand for Genshaft and the USF Board of Trustees.

In fact, Weatherford’s comments were the culmination of months of faculty distrust held toward the board, much of it centering around the Jan.7 termination of the collective bargaining agreement. Once that occurs, the USF faculty will be officially employed by the board.

Weatherford said he feels the BOT does not have the best interests of the faculty in mind, largely because the university will not work on a new deal. He said he worries that faculty rights will die once the agreement is gone.

“I’m here because we’re facing a crisis here at USF,” Weatherford said. “It now appears that this managerial reorganization will be used against the faculty. It seems to be their intention to break the collective bargaining agreement, to end the (bargaining abilities) of the faculty union that has advocated for faculty interests for 25 years now, to abolish collegiality and to no longer consult with the faculty in developing the rules and policies of the university.”

Therefore, Weatherford said, he is calling on Genshaft to be a leader and advocate for the faculty. Weatherford sent a letter to Genshaft Tuesday asking for help.

“The USF chapter of the UFF hereby officially requests that the university and the union immediately engage in collective bargaining,” the letter said.

The letter is in direct response to a board decision to vote at its meeting Thursday on a set of emergency rules that will go into effect Jan. 7. The rules, the university says, will last 90 days and provide for faculty employment while a new agreement is reached. Weatherford said the rules go against the collective bargaining agreement and are evidence that the board has no intention of bargaining with the faculty.

The university has repeatedly said that it cannot bargain until after Jan. 7. Weatherford said his letter calls on Genshaft to lead the faculty.

“She can call it collective bargaining, she can call it consultation, or she can call it a tea party if she chooses, but I insist that she must talk with the faculty before she supports these rules,” Weatherford said. “At the same time, I call upon the BOT to pass at this meeting a motion that commits them to voluntary recognition of the union and a six-month extension of the contract as soon as these things are legally permissible.”

Media relations director Michael Reich again reiterated the university’s position that nothing can be done until Jan.7 and that the emergency rules are meant to protect the faculty. He said Weatherford’s desire for bargaining cannot be satisfied yet.”There’s a process, and we’re not at that point in the process,” Reich said.

For months, the palpable distrust between the board and faculty leaders has seemed to grow. Weatherford has repeatedly stated he feels USF has gone downhill since the appointment of the board almost a year and a half ago.

“It is clear that this university had been getting better and better up until last year when the Board of Trustees took over,” he said. “Since then, there has been a serious decrease in faculty rights and faculty collaboration.”

Weatherford said the board is made up of businessmen and that they are only concerned with the university as a business.

“We already have in Florida colleges and universities that are run like businesses. They are for-profit diploma mills where the faculty have low salaries, no academic freedom, no tenure and no role in running the institution. They are the worst institutions in Florida, and none of us would send our sons and daughters to these institutions,” Weatherford said. “Great universities are not run like businesses … They are run like universities. The board apparently wants us to be less like Harvard and more like Wal-Mart.”

BOT chairman Dick Beard did not return a phone message Tuesday. Reich said the board is trying to act appropriately.

“The board’s intentions are to do what’s in the best interest of the university, to support the research, teaching and service missions of the university,” Reich said.

Now that Weatherford has made his position clear, the board will have the union leader’s thoughts to consider when voting Thursday. Weatherford will speak at the meeting but will not be called on until after the vote.

Weatherford said, despite what the university says, there is a chance to protect the current agreement. He is calling on the BOT to make that happen.

“If they have the power to pass the rules, they have the power to pass the protection of faculty rights,” Weatherford said. “(But) we still can’t be sure there is no other devious plan.”