Branch: I dont like to be blindsided

When gold fliers emblazed with the words “notice to employees” and “trustees violate law” were stuffed into University employees’ and staff members’ mailboxes by United Faculty of Florida (UFF) union workers in May, many were surprised to learn that USF had broken the law.

Among them was Larry Branch, who serves as the faculty senate president on the Board of Trustees (BOT). The flier contained a signature that signified approval by all BOT members, he said – a decision he claims to have known nothing about.

“I don’t like to be blindsided. If something’s out there that says ‘you violated the law,’ I’d like to be able to explain what it is,” Branch said.

He said that out of the 13 board members, he knows of only three informed of the decision – the same three who serve on the compensation committee, which discusses legal and procedural issues: Rhea Law, chair of the board, John Ramil, vice chair of the board, and Hal Mullis.

The flier addresses a grievance that was filed against the University by professor Paul Terry in March 2008 that said Terry was being denied his right to vote in university elections. The grievance was resolved in April of that year and, according to the settlement and general release agreement, Terry was to be “included in all Department of Educational Leadership and Program Studies (DELPS) faculty correspondence, both e-mail and written.”

However, in October 2008 DELPS failed to place Terry on the department e-mailing list, thus breaching the terms of the settlement agreement.

Kofi Glover, associate provost of USF, said in an e-mail to USF President Judy Genshaft on May 11 that the University tried to “review the issues and seek to correct discrepancies.”

That was when he said the state UFF office decided to take the case to arbitration, an informal hearing, and charged the University with an “unfair labor practice because of the violation of that one section of the agreement.”

Glover, on behalf of the University, said in the same e-mail that they had responded to any discrepancies in the agreement and had “acted in good faith to uphold the agreement.”

In March, the Public Employees Relations Committee (PERC) ruled that the University had ultimately committed an unfair labor practice, and would need to post fliers to employees stating that they had done so. They were posted online by the end of that month with a disclaimer that they must remain up for 60 days.

Terry has since been added to the e-mail list, and the only legal repercussions USF has faced is the posting of the notice.

However, Branch said that the lack of communication between the board members and how administrators handled the grievance shows a lack of accountability.

“If USF is going to realize its full potential, it needs to implement this value of transparency,” Branch said.

Branch said the current procedures of the BOT do not permit open communication between members, hindering “efficient and effective functioning of the University.”

Branch said he has spoken with Genshaft on multiple occasions and has asked her to raise her expectations – “to stop meeting the letter of the law and to start meeting the spirit of an open university.”

Until that is achieved, he said he does not intend to let the matter rest.