Weatherford criticizes BOT’s efforts in faculty relations

As the faculty union president prepared to speak before the Board of Trustees, union representatives passed out flyers titled “A Tin-Pot Dictatorship Will Never be a Research I University,” claiming that faculty are being abused by working without a contract.

Roy Weatherford blamed the BOT on Thursday for intimidating faculty members and ignoring their rights for almost a year after the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement expired Jan. 7. Weatherford added that the issue of intimidation came up at a Faculty Senate meeting about a week ago. He said he was told that USF President Judy Genshaft said she was concerned about it, but says no one has reported it to her.

“Who do you think would report it? The intimidated faculty won’t report it because they are intimidated. The bad administrators won’t report it; they are the problem. The good administrators won’t report it for two reasons: The faculty are afraid to talk to them because they don’t know they are good administrators and they too are intimidated,” he said.

Currently, all 11 public universities in Florida are without a collective bargaining agreement. Weatherford said not having a contract raises insecurities among faculty because a contract lists the rights that professors have, such as academic freedom and salary.

In addition, Weatherford said faculty intimidation has been a problem at USF a number of times, but in each case, he said the administration handled the situation in a decent, somewhat appropriate manner.

“We have had no problems with faculty intimidation until this administration,” he said. “I have reported this: back in the days when I had time to speak to the Faculty Senate, I said, ‘I’m sorry to say, but there is a growing atmosphere of fear and intimidation at the University of South Florida.'”

Board chairman Dick Beard tried to stop Weatherford from further criticizing the board during his three-minute speaking time.

“I think we’ve heard enough from you,” Beard said. “I don’t want to get into a debate.”

Trustee Robert Soran echoed Beard by later saying he did not appreciate Weatherford’s verbal attacks.

“The comments stepped over the line,” Soran said.

Trustees did not have many questions for Weatherford. They just wanted to know who wrote the flyers.

“If I told you, what would happen to those people?” Weatherford asked.

The faculty union chapter at USF represents approximately 1,800 employees, but Weatherford did not reveal how many of those pay dues, because faculty members fear there will be repercussions if they speak up.

Weatherford also criticized Genshaft, saying she has refused to meet with him for 18 months on the matter of collective bargaining and faculty rights.

“We have waited to be civil and been denied the right to speak out,” he said. “We are not afraid to fight.”

Weatherford added that he is prepared to take the fight public with pickets, letters to newspapers and complaints to university accrediting agencies.

Beard said there is a committee of USF faculty and administrators that has been put in place by Genshaft to negotiate a new contract and has been doing so for the past two months. But the months without a contract have caused some faculty members to be confused on what rules to abide by.

“We are in a limbo situation,” said Elizabeth Bird, Faculty Senate president and trustee. “No one knows what our rights and roles are. We have the right to know where we stand. We need answers and we will be asking for them.”

Trustee Margarita Cancio said the problem between the faculty and the university needs to be fixed soon.

“It is very concerning,” Cancio said. “I think everyone has good intentions, but there is a horrible lack of communication.”

Beard agreed, saying the problem needs to end soon.

“We have to sit down and get this done as soon as possible so we can eliminate fears,” Beard said.

In other BOT news:

The Board approved two additional paid days off for non-OPS employees during the winter break. The days are Friday, Dec. 26 and Friday, Jan. 2.

Genshaft said she had been examining ways to provide additional paid days off that show her appreciation for the faculty and staff’s hard work, but also provide for the required services of a 24-hour Research I university.

“During the course of the coming year, we will evaluate our options for a permanent policy for additional paid days off during winter break,” Genshaft said. “This gives employees two four-day weekends as paid time off without having to dip into annual leave.”

Florida State University’s Board approved a similar time-off leave for its employees earlier this month.

In addition, the Board also approved using 2.6 acres on Fletcher Avenue for an Alzheimer’s research center, as well as approving the location of a new Lakeland campus at the southwest corner of Interstate 4 and the Polk Parkway.