Absent-minded of Professors

USF's faculty union is uneasy about rule changes.

In the long run, recently passed Amendment 11 may create one board to run Florida's higher education system more efficiently. In the short run, the amendment has caused confusion about who is the boss at state universities.On Nov. 21, the University of South Florida Board of Trustees passed a controversial set of "emergency" personnel rules. USF officials claimed the new rules would allow them to run the campus while Amendment 11 is implemented.

But some professors, staff and the United Faculty of Florida, a labor union for instructional personnel, say the temporary rules are just one more rip in the tattered relationship between the administration and its workers.

The rules, which take effect on Jan. 7 for 90 days, were not just benign changes to help the university run smoothly, faculty claim. The rules contain swipes at academic freedom, according to faculty.

"I found some of these proposals to be some of the most conservative I've ever seen," said Greg Paveza, president of the Faculty Senate. But more importantly, Paveza stated, the faculty was shut out of the process of creating the new rules.

"It unfortunately sends the message, once again, to faculty that when it comes to certain important decisions, faculty are not going to be asked to participate," said Paveza.

Paveza laid out his concerns to the trustees. However, he didn't object as strongly as Professor Sherman Dorn, who addressed the board on behalf of the faculty union. Dorn promised increasingly "hostile" attitudes from union members if the temporary rules were adopted.

The new rules erode academic freedom by not allowing freedom in governance, advising, counseling, supervision of interns or academic administration, said Dorn. "And it requires faculty to constantly warn everyone in public that they are not representing USF," he said.

Although Dorn does not believe the new rules resulted from USF's controversial quest to fire Sami Al-Arian, the tenured professor's failure to state that he was not speaking for the university in public did come up in his case.

Dorn also contends that the university is setting itself up with the power to fire any tenured professors for just about anything, including activities that fall outside the scope of their employment.

The union also shares Peveza's concern that they were left out of the rule-making process.

The United Faculty of Florida was not notified of the rule changes, said Dorn, which is a violation of the current collective bargaining agreement. Dorn said union officials found out about the changes from an Internet list-serve and requested a copy from a board member, who provided it.

R.B. Friedlander, USF's interim general counsel, disagrees that the contract was violated.

A notice of the rule changes was placed in a local legal-advertising newspaper called the Free Press and on 98 fliers posted where faculty could see them, said Friedlander. Anyone with concerns had an opportunity to request a public hearing on the matter but no one did, she said.

The university is obligated to notify the union directly of statute changes, Friedlander said, but it doesn't have that same obligation with regard to rule changes.

The union could have asked to be included on the list that notifies groups of rule changes, she said. But the union never has and it is not her responsibility to be sure that professors are getting every notification that they want outside of their contract, said Friedlander.

Dorn doesn't dispute that Friedlander might have followed the process of notification according to the letter of the law. But common sense should have led her to notify the union of rule changes that violate the contract, he said.

The Free Press is not widely read and there are so many competing notices posted on campus that the important ones don't always stand out, Dorn said.

Dorn is careful to say he's not an attorney. However, he contends that the board could have set new rules but exempted all employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. The board also could have agreed to extend the current contract for six months until the official employer is determined.

"If you can make personnel rules today, you can recognize the UFF as the bargaining agent today," he told the board.

Friedlander disagrees. "We don't have the legal authority to do that," she said. The contract ends in January.

Since it was the old state board of regents, not USF's newer board of trustees, that negotiated the union contract to begin with, the local board has no obligation to bargain with the union once the contract expires, she said.

According to Friedlander, the university has no proof that the faculty union has the support of the majority of the faculty, which it needs in order to bargain with the board or any other employer. The fact that the union has represented faculty at USF since the 1970s isn't enough, she said.

"They say they have majority support, but they have to prove it," she said.

Dorn says the union has collected enough signature cards from professors to verify that United Faculty of Florida is their designated bargaining agent.

But the union has not yet submitted the signatures to the state Public Employees Relations Commission for review. There are legal ramifications to that move that the union is considering, said Dorn.

Both sides are waiting for direction from PERC as to exactly who the public employer will ultimately be, the local boards or the yet-to-be-created state board of governors. In the meantime, PERC is not offering direction as to what state institutions should do in the interim.

"They've told us we're not the successor employer," said Friedlander. "They've told us that they think the board of governors may be."

Friedlander predicts that the decision will likely be made in the courts as the process of implementing the new governance structure is debated.

In the meantime, the USF board has promised to work closely with faculty before any permanent rules are set.

Contact Staff Writer Rochelle Renford at 813-248-8888, ext. 163, or [email protected].