Deadline spells compromised representation for faculty

Today is the birth of a new board in Florida’s education system. It is also the end of more than 15 years in the USF faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement.

As the Board of Governors 17-member panel is inducted in Tallahassee today, the faculty union’s collective bargaining agreement expires. The faculty union is still uncertain about the future of not only who the new faculty employer will be but more importantly about their future at USF.

As faculty wait for more answers, they will be required to follow a list of emergency rules, including one concerning misconduct, that will last 90 days until a set of permanent rules has been made.

It is this issue that about 45 faculty members criticized at a Friday meeting organized by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Faculty union president Roy Weatherford called it an attempt to disarm the faculty union, while Elizabeth Bird, professor of anthropology and a former intern in the provost’s office, said the rules make no sense.

“They have taken the first step to say we prefer not to help the union,” Weatherford said. “The university can eliminate any doubt and concern by extending the contract.”

However, media relations director Michael Reich said there is no intent for the Board of Trustees or USF President Judy Genshaft to eliminate the faculty union.

“What they’re saying is just ridiculous,” Reich said. “The end of the collective bargaining agreement is determined by the expiration date. These aren’t issues in the university’s control.”

At a meeting Nov. 21, the board said the union’s contract could not be renewed and voted in a new set of rules that some faculty members believe is a threat to academic freedom.

One rule includes: “Interference with academic freedom and freedom of speech of any member or guest of the university.”

Another rule applies to faculty members’ conduct off campus, stating: “Improper conduct, whether on of off campus, when relevant to the orderly conduct, process, reputation and function of the university, including noncollegial and/or unprofessional behavior.”

That rule may directly affect the Sami Al-Arian case.

Bird said some of the rules could be a threat to get rid of faculty members based on their political or any other unpopular beliefs.

“This kind of language allows us to be disciplined for anything the administration disagrees with,” Bird said. “A lack of shared governance is the problem.”

Reich said that is not the case and that the faculty is misrepresenting the facts.

“The definition of academic freedom is substantially the same, whether word for word, it’s exactly the same,” Reich said. “The faculty lose nothing. The definition that (the faculty union) has is the same agreement that we have under our rules.”

As far as what rules will come for the faculty next, Reich said during the 90 days, there will be a process to develop permanent rules for the entire university.

“Ultimately, it will end with the Board of Trustees, but (we) want the faculty to be included in the process,” Reich said.

But Bird said there is a need for the faculty union to explain the difference in the emergency rules first.

“We really need to educate the Board of Trustees about what the nature of academic freedom really is,” Bird said. “It’s not that they have deliberately done this, it’s just that they don’t think. The burden of proof is put on faculty.”

But as far as educating the trustees on academic freedom, Weatherford said it is going to be difficult.

“I don’t think it will be easy,” Weatherford said. “This year, I had one minute per month to explain faculty concerns.”

Finding out who will become the faculty’s employer has been no easy task either. Weatherford said the union is still waiting for those answers.

If the faculty union decides to take legal action concerning the collective bargaining agreement, Weatherford said the only concern he has is who will teach his students while he is in court.

“We’ve got more damn lawyers than any organization needs,” Weatherford said.

However, Weatherford said there was no need to take the issue to court immediately because the contract will handle itself with binding arbitration. The arbitrator, Weatherford said, will make a ruling on the collective bargaining agreement for both sides at a far lower cost.

Reich said he has not heard any talk of legal action with the union’s contract.

But whether the union decides to take legal action or go on strike, Weatherford said the board plans to be more vocal. Weatherford said his term as the union’s president ends in April, and it is possible that the faculty may want to elect a more “militant president.”

“I have had folks ask me to please run again and others who have said I wasn’t militant enough,” Weatherford said.

College of Arts and Sciences Dean Renu Khator, who attended the meeting, said she agrees with the faculty union’s argument on the contract. During the first year of Genshaft’s presidency, Khator said USF was given a new board that should be responsible for education, and it is the union’s responsibility to “set the right tone for the university.”

Alvin Wolfe, chair for the faculty advising committee of CAS, said the BOT’s passing of the emergency rules is “extremely disturbing.”

But this is something Reich said the union knew was going to happen since the collective bargaining agreement was formed. Reich said it is not the university’s authority but the state agency’s authority to renew the contract.

Reich added that the union filed a request with the Public Employment Relations Counsel, and it was dismissed.

“We’ve known about the expiration date,” Reich said. “They know as well as we do that we do not have the authority on the process.”