Today may be one of the more important days in recent memory for USF’s faculty.
On the distant and remote Lakeland campus, the USF Board of Trustees will vote on 16 proposed rules that will take over for the faculty’s Collective Bargaining Agreement when it expires Jan. 7. These “emergency” rules will be in place for 90 days, by which time the university hopes to identify the bargaining agents needed to barter a new contract.
However, today will also be a day of controversy and possible confrontation.
The battle lines on this issue have been clearly drawn. Speaking for the concerned faculty is faculty union president Roy Weatherford, who firmly believes that an approval of the BOT’s rules will make today’s meeting the faculty’s Waterloo.
Weatherford claims that the emergency rules are unnecessary, and the BOT need only extend the current Collective Bargaining Agreement for a six-month period until a successor agreement can be negotiated.
But on the other side of the table sits a man who has become Weatherford’s nemesis, BOT chairman Dick Beard. Beard has come across as unconcerned with faculty complaints. He has gained national notoriety for his strong comments about controversial USF professor Sami Al-Arian.
And lost hopelessly in the midst of this faculty union versus BOT war of words is USF President Judy Genshaft, who has said very little on the subject other than that Weatherford need not worry.
But while today’s BOT meeting, at which Weatherford will speak, will take place away from the Tampa limelight, Wednesday provided a chance for both sides to take their case directly to the people the decision will affect.
Weatherford and representatives for the university appeared before the Faculty Senate, each describing their respective viewpoints about what will happen following the Jan. 7 deadline.
R.B. Friedlander, USF’s general counsel, said USF cannot legally act to extend the Collective Bargaining Agreement as Weatherford has asked. She said the set of rules on which the BOT is voting is necessary to allow the university to function during the interim period.
“If we don’t have rules in place, we don’t have the authority to do any of the positive things as well as what some people would perceive as the negative things,” Friedlander said. “That’s why rules have to be in place.”
Friedlander said the university will set up a public hearing during which the rules would be discussed, probably coming in January. She said the university is worried about complaints from faculty that they were not involved in deciding on the rules.
“We’ve made every effort to try to make (the process) as public as possible,” Friedlander said.
USF adviser Phil Smith echoed Friedlander, saying the university cannot enter into a status quo, which is a continuation of the current agreement, until after Jan. 7 when bargaining decisions are made. He said he is surprised at the objection to the rules because the wording came from the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Weatherford, who Tuesday held a press conference during which he challenged Genshaft to meet with him about the contract, told his fellow faculty members Wednesday that their rights are in danger.
“The details are not nearly as important as the process, because if they succeed in breaking the contract, all the current protections in the contract will go away, and the rulemaking process will reign supreme,” Weatherford said. “The rulemaking process is inherently unilateral. They can talk to us all day, but they can do any damn thing they want to.”
Weatherford said the importance of extending the Collective Bargaining Agreement is that rules made by the board are automatically subordinate to the contract. He said Genshaft could calm faculty concern simply by saying that the administration intends to extend the contract once it has the power to do so.
However, Weatherford said a completely new contract would be disastrous for the faculty.
“A one-day interruption (in the contract, and they can say ‘Now we’re going to negotiate a new contract,'” Weatherford said. “A new contract, as opposed to a successor agreement, means that you start from ground zero. … Whatever we’ve succeeded in gaining in 25 years, they can wipe out in one day.”
Weatherford said the BOT has the ability to solve all of these problems. But, he said, Beard has no intention of doing so.
“He knows damn good and well what his options are going to be if he gets the authority (over the faculty), and that’s what he’s waiting for,” Weatherford said. “The president and the provost have said that it’s not their intention to try to break the union or the contract. But they have not said that it is their intention to try to protect the union or the contract.
“They have not said ‘I commit to the faculty that I will do what I can to continue in place of the contract until somebody bargains a new one.’ How hard is that?”
Weatherford said he is sure now that it is the board’s intention to break the contract. He said there is little doubt, if things continue as they are, that the faculty will lose important rights.
“Why won’t they pass the union contract as a rule? Then all of this will be behind us,” Weatherford said. “They won’t do that because that’s not their purpose, that’s not their intention. They’re going to try to screw us.
“This time next year, we’ll be again worse off than we were before. We probably won’t go back the whole 25 years, but we’ll go back five or 10 years. They’re deceiving us. They’re lying to us, and they’re going to screw us.”
Of the university officials, including Genshaft, who attended the meeting, all but Smith had left by the time Weatherford was called to the podium.
Genshaft addressed the Senate early in the meeting. After speaking for 20 minutes about a hodgepodge of construction and growth issues, she spoke briefly about today’s vote and on the proposed rules.
“These are temporary rules and regulations,” Genshaft said. “These are 90-day rules and regulations.”
Genshaft said all universities around the state are acting in a similar fashion. She said the administration does care about faculty concerns.
Genshaft repeated the phrase “90-day rules and regulations” four times before deferring to Friedlander and her advisory team. She left the room immediately thereafter and did not take questions.
The Senate itself also got in its say about the new rules. Senate president Greg Paveza expressed his concern about the BOT’s vote during his opening remarks.
“(This rule on academic freedom) is among the most conservative I’ve ever seen,” Paveza said. “One has to wonder whether it is academic freedom at all.”
Paveza questioned why the rule changes were needed and said the university’s handling of the situation is troubling.
“It’s not as if we didn’t have almost eight months to get ready for this,” Paveza said. “Yet, there were no consultations with the senate or its leadership on these changes.”
Senators spent much of the meeting discussing the rules. There was some confusion as to the meaning of the rules and what their implementation would bring.
But the senate finally passed a resolution that will send yet another statement of faculty concern to the board. The resolution states that the senate “urgently” requests that the rule changes be postponed until proper consultation with the body’s executive committee.
That decision means the faculty senate has joined the faculty union in its opposition of the rules. Genshaft said the administration is concerned about a worried faculty, but that might not make a difference in today’s vote.