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Faculty concerned with financial conduct code

In its monthly meeting Wednesday, the faculty senate debated the terms of an agreement many feel could limit tenured faculty’s right to peer review and expand the University’s power to dismiss any faculty member without the safeguards built into the collective bargaining agreement.

In the wake of financial scandals including the case of engineering professor Geoffrey Okogbaa – who stands accused of mismanaging $175,000 – the USF Board of Trustees (BOT) approved the USF Code of Conduct for Financial Functions (CCFF) in September.

The CCFF states, “This USF Code of Conduct for Financial Functions demonstrates the University’s commitment to the highest standards of conduct.”

However, many faculty members – and the faculty union – don’t see it this way. According to education professorSteve Permuth, the CCFF – which every faculty member was asked to sign – would conflict with the standing contract between United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and the University.

Accordingly, UFF has filed a grievance as a result of the BOT’s approval of, and the subsequent debate, concerning the CCFF.The Code sets forth a number of regulations and policies concerning the faculty’s financial responsibilities.

One major point of contention is the last sentence in the agreement, which states, “I understand that violation of this Code may result in disciplinary action up to and including dismissal from this position and/or dismissal from employment.”

According to Vice Provost Dwayne Smith, the debate over whether financial irresponsibility is grounds for termination has surprisingly continued. This new code, he said, should not affect the ability of faculty members to do their job.

But political science professor Steven Tauber disagrees.

“What this does is takes the lowest paid employees and, more or less, holds their jobs over their heads,” Tauber said.

According to mathematics professor Gregory McColm, concerns over heightened accountability coupled with the threat of imminent termination may decrease productivity.

McColm said that an ongoing research effort is underway in the United Kingdom into what some call “financial phobia,” a fear that prompts those who suffer from it to avoid all matter of financial matters. The added stress coupled with phobias such as this may lead to an increase in mistakes.

“The theory is that they are going to scare the crooks into not stealing, but the practical question is, ‘What is the effectiveness of it?'” McColm said. “Does it actually increase or decrease the number of mistakes? Does this increase or decrease the severity of the mistakes? What effect does this have on the number of grants that are actually submitted?”

Another clause that caused controversy limits the size of gifts faculty members can accept from vendors. It limits any gifts to a value of no more than $100 from a vendor, lobbyist or political group.

For many faculty members, this raised concerns because it runs contrary to the common practice of accepting free textbooks from vendors, many of which – especially in upper-level science or engineering courses – cost more than $100.