For the past year and a half, a conflict has been brewing at USF.
The conflict, pitting USF faculty against the university’s administration in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement, may lead to faculty protests.
Since Jan. 2003, when the last faculty contract expired, the United Faculty of Florida has been pushing the Board of Trustees to come to an agreement on a new contract. While a majority of the contract provisions will remain the same, there are still areas of conflict, including summer pay, low salary increases and merit-based raises, faculty union President Roy Weatherford said.
Weatherford, a philosophy professor at USF, said before Thursday’s BOT meeting there will be “trouble if (the contract) is not in place” by the beginning of the semester. While he also said a strike is unlikely, he added that the faculty will demonstrate their unhappiness if the matter goes unresolved.
“We had our union meeting on Friday, but most faculty had not returned to campus yet,” Weatherford said. “We voted to see how bargaining goes this Friday (before any protests start).”
The first 10 minutes of the meeting seemed to bring about a positive atmosphere with BOT chairman Dick Beard promising the “board is very confident that we will get to an amicable agreement with the union and (we) look forward to that.”
Beard did not return calls to his cell phone Monday afternoon.
Later in the meeting, USF President Judy Genshaft mentioned the proposed 12 percent raise for the faculty to which the union does not agree.
“That proposal was a blatant deception for public relations,” Weatherford said Monday. “More than half was not going to be guaranteed. After (the UFF) eliminated all the hypocrisy and falsehoods, there is about 5 percent real money (involved in the raises).”
Weatherford was the last item on the four-hour meeting’s agenda. After his speech, he did not meet with understanding.
“The chairman said ‘we’re working on the problem and we think we’re pretty close to getting to an agreement’ and president (Judy Genshaft) said ‘I was in Time Magazine.’ And then they adjourned,” said Weatherford.
To back the union, approximately 50 faculty members who attended the meeting wore stickers saying “UFF: No more excuses at USF.” To Weatherford, this meant only one thing.
“(This turnout means that) the faculty are willing to take more dramatic action, and possibly even militant action,” Weatherford said.
Although the faculty will not strike, as it’s against Florida law, picket lines and sit-ins at the President’s office are not out of the question.
“There are many things we can do to call attention to faculty problems,” Weatherford said. “If the faculty who attend Friday’s meeting tell their colleagues how they were treated that will go a long way to mobilize faculty anger and future action.”
But students’ education would not be jeopardized.
“The faculty are very professional and they put their obligations to students very high,” Weatherford said.
The BOT meeting also served as a sounding board for USF’s student body president, Bijal Chhadva, who voiced his dissatisfaction with the leaders of the university after the president’s positive evaluation from the board.
Chhadva, who was speaking via speakerphone because he was out of the state, accused Genshaft of misleading the public in publicizing the university.
One example Chhadva gave was in rebuttal to Genshaft’s claim that USF’s incoming freshman class was comprised of mostly students near the top of their high school classes. What the president was not announcing, Chhadva said, was the decreasing of the median SAT score of USF students.
Another complaint from students, Chhadva said, was that Genshaft and other university leaders are “inaccessible.”
Chhadva said the USF administration keeps students in the dark about too many issues on campus.
One instance of this, Chhadva said, was in the funding of the recently-opened athletic facility on campus.
University officials say the facility was paid for entirely by athletic funds, but Chhadva said many students were still skeptical, uncertain whether any of their tuition money had gone to the project.
Genshaft’s only respose to Chhadva had was that she “would be happy to meet with you, Bijal.”
Adam Becker contributed to this report.