Faculty union weighs in on English department

USF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida has had informal meetings with several of USF’s English department members who have expressed concern that the faculty union should take action and get involved.

On Thursday, USF’s faculty union released a statement in its biweekly newsletter that stated, “The union is profoundly concerned by many aspects of this affair.” Although the faculty union is not involved at this point, Roy Weatherford, USF faculty union president, said the purpose of the statement was to make an effort to show the administration that it is concerned and that no mistreatment should take place while handling the English department situation.

“There have been no official grievances or action by the union,” Weatherford said. “We simply want to communicate our concerns so faculty can understand there are some negative consequences, even if handled by the administration. We are speaking on behalf of faculty rights.”

In April, former English department chairman Phillip Sipiora was forced to step down after an audit report found him responsible for department members’ misuse of nearly $70,000. Another report in May stated professor Debra Jacobs used a textbook that she co-authored for classes without the necessary approval and that she failed to properly report outside contracts. Yet another audit in June found USF English professor Joe Moxley guilty of misusing nearly $75,000 for personal expenses and misusing university resources to maintain an online textbook he co-authored.

Several English graduate students have also complained that the university is not making the necessary efforts to maintain a strong rhetoric and composition program, which has been ranked among the best in the nation. The program’s three most active professors will be working elsewhere come fall since professors Lynn Worsham and Gary Olsen have already accepted jobs at Illinois State University and USF has elected to not renew the contract of professor James Inman, who will be working at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Inman had a series of sexual harassment cases brought against him, the charges of which he has been cleared.

The faculty union states: “First, we are all members of USF community, and the entire community is involved when a department gets in this much trouble. We are all affected in many ways, from our concern for our colleagues and the embarrassment of the university to the programmatic personnel changes and the precedents set. This is a serious if not dangerous situation, and we all must hope for an effective and equitable resolution of the problem.”

The statement continues, noting three reasons for the faculty union’s concern regarding the situation. First, the union is concerned about university regulations. It states that several rules and regulations are not clear and that it is sometimes hard to recognize if a rule has been broken. In addition, the rules and regulations should be written with care. Another problem with the rules, the statement states, is that a rule can always be vetoed. “Such a rule allows the administration the discretion to proceed against almost anyone they dislike … such rules are selectively enforced.”

Weatherford said he thinks that training between department staff and the administration needs to take place so that everyone is clear on what the rules are.

“While it is true that most of the faculty are not going to take the time to read the rules and procedures, in order to serve the department, the administration should show people who process certain forms the correct way so they can give the right advice,” Weatherford said.

The second point made in the union’s statement deals with the reliability of official advice. “Some of the accusations are against faculty who thought that their actions were legitimate because … they were told it was OK. Faculty rely on administrators to administrate, and administration includes keeping track of the complex detail work that administrators — not faculty — have expertise in,” the statement said.

The third and final point the statement makes is that the administration should hold better investigations and then take action instead of repeating several. The statement reads: “Conducting an investigation of a department is to have auditors go through the books — quietly — talk to people — discretely — and then present a report to the administration, which only then takes action. This drop-drop-drop approach demoralizes the department, alarms students, and increases the risk of litigation.”

Weatherford said it is hard to determine the reason for the chaos in the English department or why the administration is conducting numerous investigations.

“The administration could be conducting investigations to get things right,” he said. “Or, along the chain of command, they wanted to ‘get these individuals,’ and if they want to do (that), they can selectively pick a rule to do that. But it would be too difficult to determine why these things are going on right now.”

Michelle Carlyon, USF spokeswoman, said she hasn’t seen the statement made by the union and would not offer a comment on it. However, she did say the administration has recognized that there is a problem.

“We have identified that things are not right in that department,” Carlyon said. “We are trying to make the effort to make things better.”

Weatherford said he thinks that some of the individuals involved in the English department frenzy may file a grievance in the future, but as of present, Weatherford is more concerned that the administration knows the union is concerned and that the rules are administrated fairly. He added that Provost Renu Khator meeting with department chairs on June 25 was a step in the right direction.

“While they may do it in part of show, they are making an effort, which is a good step, because communication of any type is always a good step,” Weatherford said. “However, the current administration has systematically refused to talk before things like this take place. For the past two years President Genshaft has refused to consult with the faculty union on matters we are concerned with.”