Genshaft apologizes

It didn’t take long. As soon as USF President Judy Genshaft left the stage after apologizing to faculty, there was a burst of anger from the crowd.

Faculty union members shouted at Genshaft, “Aren’t you going to answer our questions?” Before Genshaft left the podium in Theatre I Wednesday to address USF’s governance issues, she said questions would be answered in the lobby. But for the faculty in attendance, that wasn’t enough.

Faculty union president Roy Weatherford marched to the stage and asked “Would anyone care to hear the faculty’s side to this position?”

It was an awkward situation for everyone. Even Genshaft began her speech to say it was unusual for USF administration to address the university mid-year. The reason for this meeting, Genshaft continued, was to address what has happened to faculty now that the collective bargaining agreement has expired and the Board of Governors was inaugurated.

The new Board, Genshaft said, required USF to add temporary rules of misconduct so the university could continue to operate.

“Unfortunately, we made mistakes in the process of implementing these rules, and it caused even more uncertainty … and misunderstanding than already would have been in existence had we not made these mistakes,” Genshaft said. “We did not consult with the faculty and staff as much as we should have, and that’s wrong for an institution who believes that faculty and staff should be deeply involved in decision-making.”Genshaft apologized on behalf of the university and said the Board of Trustees will modify the rules Jan. 21 to eliminate confusion and define misconduct as it was under the collective bargaining agreement.

However, the Board has to vote on whether the definition should be changed and faculty will still have to wait to bargain with the BOT for a new contract.

Because the Public Employee Relations Commission has not yet certified a bargaining agent, Genshaft said the university can not begin creating a new agreement for faculty. Genshaft also stressed that the collective bargaining agreement ended Jan. 7, a date that was set since its creation.

It was one of the many things Weatherford later criticized as political decisions. He said PERC has never taken away the union’s certification and, by Florida law, management must honor the collective bargaining agreement if a new one has not been negotiated.

“It is not a legal struggle; no legal authority has ordered the university to do this. They claim that their attorneys have told them to do this, my attorneys have told me that’s bulls—,” Weatherford said. “This administration has never received a PERC order or a court order telling them to refuse to recognize the existing union.”

But according to Steve Meck, general counsel for PERC, administration and faculty are both correct. Because an employer has not yet been designated to the faculty union, certification from PERC is on neutral grounds.

Either way, Meck said until an employer is assigned, the faculty union has to wait to begin negotiations for a new contract. Meck said, however, if certification is ultimately lost with a new employer, the union no longer represents faculty, and they would have to be represented independently.

Meck added that it has still not been determined whether the Board of Governors or the BOT will be the local employer.

But Weatherford said the faculty union will continue to recognize the collective bargaining agreement. The Board’s failure to do so, Weatherford added, is an attempt to break up the faculty union and diminish academic freedom.

Weatherford said the administration’s motive to fire controversial professor Sami Al-Arian is being done without due process. As Weatherford has said before, it doesn’t matter to him whether Al-Arian is fired, but they must follow the correct procedures.

But Genshaft said one of administration’s “top priorities is supporting the university’s core values”: academic freedom, tenure and shared governance. Genshaft added that she wants to keep communication open between the faculty and administration and encourages faculty to give their input about the definition of misconduct and permanent rules that will be developed.

Provost David Stamps, who also apologized to the faculty, echoed Genshaft’s comments.

“We understand your concerns, and we’ve taken them to heart,” Stamps said. “We owe you an apology … we should have made sure faculty consultations took place with the faculty and staff.”

“At the same time, I want to make it absolutely clear that the faculty still have and will always have academic freedom and tenure.”

Stamps said he understands why faculty feels uncomfortable because the collective bargaining agreement expired, but added that they have to understand the contract was set to expire Jan. 7.