On the surface, it seemed like a shocking admission.
USF President Judy Genshaft and USF Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Beard apologized for the way faculty members were consulted during the construction of the now infamous emergency rules that replaced the collective bargaining agreement on Jan. 7. Not only that, the pair apologized for one of the more controversial rules and promised a change.
However, judging from the events that followed Genshaft’s Wednesday address in Theater I, it seems safe to assume the faculty did not accept her apology.
Moments after she told the audience that she wants to work with them to make USF great, she was berated by faculty members. Several audience members called for her to go back on stage and answer questions. She refused and walked quickly toward the exit. She said she would take questions outside. But five minutes later, she was gone from the building.
Meanwhile, faculty union president Roy Weatherford, who has become Genshaft’s nemesis, rose to his feet and began to shout his opinion about the collective bargaining issue.
The entire post-meeting scene lasted only a few seconds. But those few seconds represented a microcosm of recent events in the controversy.
Genshaft was on the defensive as she had been for several months. She didn’t break into a panicked sprint, but certainly retreated quickly from the request to stay in the auditorium.
Weatherford continued on the offensive. As soon as Genshaft finished speaking, he and fellow faculty members sprang to action. Moments after Genshaft’s retreat, Weatherford took the stage to explain the faculty position. Genshaft’s apology, which was apparently seen by faculty members as hollow, seemed to be forgotten quickly.
But the ironies went even deeper. The contrasts between Genshaft and Weatherford, the embodiment of the administration vs. the faculty, were obvious. More importantly, they revealed both sides’ game plans.
Genshaft took the stage in a well-pressed USF-green suit. Under the lights and behind a microphoned lectern decorated with the USF seal, Genshaft spoke to a camera recording the event for an Internet broadcast. She spoke calmly, and there was little perceptible response from the crowd until she attempted to leave.
Weatherford’s time on stage had the air of an impromptu political rally. He ran up the steps to the cheers of the audience. The lights had been turned off. The microphone was not only turned off, but a technician removed it in the middle of Weatherford’s address.
Despite that, Weatherford, with tie off and sleeves rolled up, delivered his comments to the cheers of the crowd. His voice was strong, his opinions forceful and his language dressed with colorful words. And, maybe most importantly, his statements seemed to overshadow Genshaft’s earlier statements.
What Genshaft’s Tuesday meeting really amounted to was a slight move in what has become a grand chess game. The move, however, changed the Board very little.
Genshaft and the administration decided to apologize to the faculty. And they did so again and again. The faculty was not placated as Genshaft had hoped. In fact, the faculty argued, it seemed as if Genshaft apologized after the damage was done. The rules, the faculty points out, are already in place. Months before an apology, the administration had already gotten its way.
Weatherford did not hide the fact that he felt the administration was playing a game. He questioned why the apology came now, when the controversy has raged for six months. In fact, he continued to insinuate that all administrative actions have been premeditated deceptions in order to break up the union.
Genshaft, however, went a step further than just apologizing to the faculty. She offered to change one of the more hotly debated of the emergency rules. The BOT will vote Tuesday whether to make the change.
The faculty acted as though Genshaft had done little more than throw them a bone. By changing this rule without addressing the overall issues of collective bargaining, the faculty seem to think Genshaft has flicked an ant off her arm with her foot still in the ant pile.
The administration’s motives are a matter of speculation. Could Genshaft’s apology and concession to the faculty backfire on her?
The faculty may see the move as an attempt to calm them down or, even worse, an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.
If only one thing can be said for sure about Wednesday’s address, it is that the faculty is still very much on edge, and that a chasm exists between the union and the administration. Genshaft did nothing to calm the faculty. She may have made it worse.
Both sides feel they are right. According to PERC, both sides are right. How it will end remains to be seen. But the bad blood has developed. Today, Genshaft tried to cool tempers. Instead, it seems the controversy has officially come to a boil.