Archive for February 7th, 2008

Graham-Frey lawsuit refiled

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

The group of plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the Board of Governors’ constitutional authority refiled their lawsuit Monday in Tallahassee. The judge in the case had ruled early in January that the plaintiffs, including the Board of Governors, did not have standing to sue in state court.

This lawsuit is about tuition authority (a crucial question this year!) but more generally about who controls Florida’s universities. In 2002, the United Faculty of Florida supported the constitutional amendment that created the Board of Governors, as faculty were tired of seeing legislative politics deciding educational issues. If the Board of Governors wins this lawsuit, future decisions may have political overtunes, but we will see far less of the shenanigans of the past decade, where legislative influence and not educational need determined whether new schools were built, and on which campuses.

A decision is not going to happen for several months at the lower-court level, and any decision is likely to be appealed until the Florida Supreme Court decides the issue.


How budget cuts affect students

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

In talking with legislators, it’s crucial to explain how budget cuts at USF affect students and the general public: For students, cuts result in larger classes, fewer courses offered, larger problems in scheduling classes needed for graduation. And that’s for the students who are admitted; USF will have to turn away more students as a result of cuts. As the St Petersburg Times reported earlier this week, the universities will be shutting out more students as the peak of the baby boom echo reaches adulthood over the next few years.

Editorial boards around the state have commented recently on higher-education budget, including the Tampa Tribune, the St. Petersburg Times, and the Florida Sun-Sentinel, and reporting on the consequences of budget cuts continues in the Times, Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, and elsewhere.

When you talk with legislators, always explain the real-life consequences of budget cuts for students and those who will not become students because of the cuts.


February 8 draft agenda

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

UFF-USF chapter meeting
February 8, 12 pm
EDU 413 (Tampa campus)

  1. Agenda amendment/approval
  2. Envelope stuffing!
  3. Reports
  4. Other business
  5. For the good of the order

Administrative kudos

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Some recognition is due several administrators at the University of South Florida for recent actions or consistency:

  • A dean who worked to help faculty protect the tenure process in a college
  • A dean and associate dean who helped find a grant-funded position for a professional employee who otherwise would have been laid off
  • An administrator who took time to address the personal needs of individual faculty in a unique crisis
  • A chair/director who protected tenure-track faculty research time in an emergency schedule shuffle
  • Lakeland-campus academic administrators, who have continued to teach regularly-scheduled courses in their home departments.

The individuals in the first four cases are not named in part to protect confidentiality and in part to recognize that there are plenty of correct decisions made quietly by faculty committees and administrators. A faculty union’s job is to protect due process and faculty interests, and the chapter will point out where its perspective differs from that of the administration or BOT, but there are also plenty of correct decisions made.


The dangers of ad-hoc investigations

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Last spring, the UFF-USF chapter leadership discussed Youtube with the administration, concerned about the possibility of surreptitious recordings of classes, and both sides agreed that faculty could place reasonable restrictions on class recordings in a syllabus.

The concern from a union perspective was with the possibility of an anonymous video prompting an inappropriate investigation from the public nature of Youtube. The dangers of ad-hoc investigations of teaching have become clear in the last few years, most recently at Brandeis, where the faculty senate and the provost are at odds over the provost’s investigation of a faculty member’s conduct, including placing a member of the administration in the class to monitor the faculty’s conduct. This case has attracted the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the ACLU of Massachusetts, among others.

The case, very briefly: Donald Hindley was accused by a small number of students of using the term “wetback” in class in a derogatory fashion. Hindley claimed he was explaining the social context of the term, the provost assigned a monitor for the class without a hearing, and singled him out by requiring him to attend what the provost described as “anti-discrimination training.”*

The Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU explained the substantive and procedural issues clearly:

The ACLU of Massachusetts supports the right of all students to equal educational opportunity. Severe, pervasive, or targeted harassment of a student based on race, national origin, or ethnicity can interfere with the ability of students to obtain an education and would violate our state and federal civil rights laws. However, incidental comments by a professor in class, even if offensive to some, do not constitute illegal harassment under the law, and imposing punishment on a faculty member for occasional comments significantly jeopardizes freedom of thought and academic freedom which are so integral to a university and the quality of education that students will receive there.

Students plainly have the right to complain about a professor, to raise their complaints with a professor, organize with other students to discuss with the professor their objections, and debate what has gone on. However, faculty members also have the right to a fair process when they have been accused of wrongdoing, and Brandeis appears to have denied that process to Professor Hindley.

We are also troubled by this incident because it comes after several other recent incidents at Brandeis in which the University administration’s initial impulse has been to shut down unpopular expression rather than affirm the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are integral to a university community.

While the situation at Brandeis is different from the concerns about Youtube the UFF-USF chapter raised in consultation, the dangers of ad-hoc investigations are clear in this case and parallel: Brandeis’s provost made ad-hoc decisions that skirted serious concerns about procedural and substantive due process. The rush to judgment at Brandeis has been roundly criticized by the university’s faculty senate and civil-rights organizations.

* – Several years ago, the UFF-USF chapter filed a grievance when the administration wanted to require diversity training of all faculty without bargaining the change in assignments. Then-chapter president Mitch Silverman explained to the faculty senate that he attended one of the diversity seminars, he thought it was well done and recommended it to everyone, but that the university could not require it.  The grievance was settled when the administration withdrew the requirement.