Archive for the ‘Values’ Category

Members to discuss merit pay in 2009-10

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

One issue coming directly from a recent membership study commissioned by the UFF-USF Chapter is the set of concerns from participants about the structure of formulaic merit pay and administrative salary discretion. This time of economic hardship is probably the best year in which to talk about long-term structures in the contract, as there will probably not be a huge amount of money in play. During the fall, I will be setting up meetings on every campus and in multiple places on the Tampa campus to talk just about merit pay and other salary issues.

This will be a member-driven process: colleagues who are not dues-paying UFF members can vote on contract ratification, but the members set chapter policy. I want to be clear about my personal interests and intended role, before the discussions focused on merit pay begin: like my colleagues, I have my own opinions and ideas about merit pay, but the collective interests of the chapter membership will determine what the chapter’s approach on merit pay will be over the next few years. In 2007 I campaigned on the pledge to follow the faculty and professional employees of USF as we changed, and from a few places (not just the membership study), I am getting the message that merit pay and discretionary pay has to change. To be consistent with what I promised, my job is to start and protect a conversation about merit pay.

From what I know already, the issues involved in merit pay are a classic wicked problem, or a complex issue that isn’t going to be amenable to a direct “here’s the cause, and here’s the solution” process. I’ve had a number of conversations about merit pay over the years with both administrators and faculty, and the tendency of many comments is to fall into a pattern: “Here’s the problem with merit pay at USF, and instead of doing it this way we should do it just like it was done at my last institution.” The reference to “my last institution” is a heuristic short-cut: well-intended but an elision nonetheless, and I will view one of my jobs in these conversations to get behind such short-cuts.

As I wrote above, I have some preconceptions about the issues and potential solutions, but I know that they are preconceptions, and it is more important that the membership determine policy than that I agree with that policy. To guarantee that the decision is membership-driven, I will argue against any unilateral setting of long-term merit-pay bargaining guidance without a membership vote.


Text of constitution and by-laws amendment proposals, to be voted on August 28

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

At the July 17, 2009, chapter meeting, the membership present approved language of proposed amendments for the chapter constitution and by-laws. To put it simply, the proposals would change the process of amendment from a chapter meeting (which generally is attended by less than 10% of the total membership) and to a formal paper or electronic balloting process, so everyone can participate.

The proposals will be voted on at the August 28 meeting–using the process that would be obsolete if the amendments were approved.

UFF-USF Constitution Proposed Amendment

Article VI. Amendment.

This constitution may be amended as follows: A proposed amendment shall be distributed to all members at least thirty days prior to a vote. A constitutional amendment shall be adopted by a two-thirds vote of all those present at the time of the vote.  The Chapter Executive Committee, Chapter Council, 20% of the chapter membership (by petition), or the attending members at any membership meeting may propose an amendment to the constitution, whose proposed changes shall then be sent to the membership thirty days before a paper-ballot or an electronic vote. Ratification requires approval A vote of two-thirds of those present and voting.

UFF-USF Bylaws Proposed Amendment

Article VI. Amendments.

The Chapter Executive Committee, Chapter Council, 20% of the chapter membership (by petition), or the attending members at any membership meeting may propose an amendment to the by-laws, whose proposed changes shall then be sent to the membership two weeks before a paper-ballot or an electronic vote. Ratification of the proposed change(s) requires approval vote of two-thirds of those present and voting. at a membership meeting if the members have been notified at least two weeks in advance may amend the Bylaws.


Everyone at USF benefits from faculty union’s arbitration victory

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Late today, USF sent staff and faculty the following memo from Provost Ralph Wilcox:

As you may recall, the University of South Florida implemented a mandatory Winter Break in 2008 during a time of fiscal uncertainty and following the loss of more than 500 vacant faculty and staff positions. Given the necessity to reduce financial obligations and balance the budget, the mandatory annual leave was considered a far better option for employees than the use of furloughs and/or layoffs imposed by other universities.

USF has decided to re-credit 3 days of annual leave that were taken during the Winter Break in 2008. Any faculty member or employee, who was charged those 3 days of annual leave during the university’s mandated closing, will have the days credited back to their current leave account. This is a fair and equitable action consistent with a recent arbitration decision between USF and the United Faculty of Florida. That decision applied to in-unit faculty under 12-month contracts. However, USF’s leadership has decided that the only fair action is to extend the restoration to ALL eligible employees.

The University has engaged in communications on such challenging matters in the past. Going forward, it will be important to maintain our communication since we will not have the flexibility that we have enjoyed in the past given the difficult budget realities of today. This decision will prompt us to explore alternative strategies to balance USF’s budget in the future.

The good news, however, bears repeating. Because of the many measures USF took in 2008 to reduce costs, our budget is relatively stable today as we enter the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Our actions last year, together with the infusion of federal budget stabilization funds, have made it possible for USF to enter the next academic year without the kind of programmatic and personnel cuts that others have endured. Let us all hope that this remains the case. Both the president and I will be writing shortly to describe the strategic planning and budgeting actions that will support USF’s continued and remarkable progress.

A few personal remarks, if I may. First, the university made the right choice today, to broaden the impact of the arbitration decision so that everyone benefits. As has happened often in the past, the faculty at USF can help set a floor for other employees, and that’s a good thing both for employees and for the university’s long-term interest.

Second, I am not surprised by how the administration’s language tries to paper over the fundamental mistake it made, to try to dismiss the bargaining authority of UFF and other employee unions. This is a continuing pattern at USF, and it is not in the university’s long-term interest for upper-level administrators or the trustees to try to circumvent bargaining. For the past decade, communication between the administration and all its employees (faculty and staff) has been a consistent weakness. As I told the Tribune’s reporter, Lindsay Peterson, President Genshaft could have picked up the phone and called me any time in the past two years to discuss the financial troubles of USF and the future, and she hasn’t.


No faculty layoffs expected at USF in 2009-10

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

A letter from Sherman Dorn, chapter president, to members of the USF chapter of UFF:

Dear friends and colleagues,

After news of layoff notices and threats at several other state universities in Florida, I wanted to write all of the chapter members to explain where USF is right now and why I do not expect faculty layoffs here. There are threats of layoffs (or have been layoff notices or layoffs) for those employees whom UFF represents at UF, UCF, FAU, FIU, FAMU, and FSU, but with one exception, there have been no instructional-faculty layoffs at USF, and I do not expect any wave of layoffs for at least the next year.

Two years ago, with the start of the state’s budget collapse, the chapter’s biweekly e-mail newsletter proclaimed that the sky is not falling, and the sky has NOT fallen. It may be a little closer to the ground, but it hasn’t fallen. We’ve come through the past few few years of crisis with a single layoff of an instructional faculty member; we filed (and resolved) a grievance related to that layoff, and the person was recalled into another position this spring. We settled a contract that gave us a 2.4% raise pool, USF has established a parental leave program, there have been no furloughs, and USF continues to give promotion raises.


There are several reasons why I do not expect faculty layoffs. Most importantly, DOZENS OF YOU contacted legislators to help make sure that next year’s budget is not catastrophic. Together with the efforts of other university faculty and other employees around the state, students, BOT and BOG members, administrators, business organizations, and newspapers, we succeeded in staving off what could have been an absolute disaster at USF. This is a victory in hard times, and you should take pride in it.

But there are other reasons, since the better-than-disastrous budget hasn’t stopped the threat of faculty layoffs at other universities. In the past year, the chapter has made clear that layoffs are not in the administration’s interest. Layoffs and other precipitous moves typically lead to contentious grievances, such as one the UFF won at UF or the grievance that we settled with the administration at USF. To its credit, the USF administration has recognized its interest in avoiding faculty layoffs. In addition, the provost declared last August that USF would be drawing on its reserve funds to protect programs — a move that UFF had called for since last spring, and one that is absolutely appropriate. It is in all of our interest that there be competent financial administrators at USF, and right now, USF appears to be in better shape than the other large public universities in Florida. Faculty Senate President Larry Branch sits on the university’s budget council, and I trust him to represent faculty interests on that council.

These facts do not mean that USF is in great financial shape, or that there won’t be the ordinary disagreements that a union will have with management. We will have to fight for higher-education budgets again next spring. We are waiting on arbitrator decisions in two grievances, including last December’s taking of three days of annual leave from 12-month employees. We still do not have a domestic partnership health insurance stipend, the wave of staff layoffs last summer upset many of us with how the university treated valuable staff members, and others of us have had fewer summer teaching opportunities or larger class sizes. But in comparison with the other large public universities in Florida, and in contrast to universities in many other states, we’re holding our own. We continue to grow in membership, we will hold the administration to its promises on establishing an instructor promotion track, and we will bargain a contract that continues to advance our interests and shared values.


There are several steps each of us can take now and in the next year to reduce the chances of faculty layoffs ever at USF:

1) Contact your state legislators twice in the next year. If each of us writes a letter this summer explaining the work we do and the students and communities we help, legislators will be more likely to want to protect USF and higher education in the 2010-11 budget. We also should expect to have to contact legislators during the next legislative session in March and April. You can do this in less than 30 minutes in the next year.

2) Talk to colleagues regularly about UFF and either joining or becoming more active members — including contacting state legislators. The more success that we have in mobilizing faculty to contact legislators, the easier it will be to protect higher education in the 2010-11 budget. And my e-mail today may motivate you, but you’re going to do a better job of motivating the colleague whose office is next to yours. You can do this in less than two minutes each week.

3) Help make UFF more effective in the next year. The chapter has been working with two USF graduate assistants this spring to discover what we need to do to be more effective and more active as a union chapter. A vote of a chapter meeting in the spring asked their help in looking at perceptions of the union in two departments, to hold up a mirror to the chapter’s leadership, and I asked for a frank assessment of what we need to do better. If you are in one of those departments and participated in an interview, THANK YOU. I won’t ever know who was interviewed or who said specific comments, but the chapter’s membership today and in the future needed and appreciates your honesty. I expect the draft report of the graduate students in the next few weeks, I will circulate the final report to all of the chapter’s officers and elected senators, and then each of you will receive a copy by the beginning of the fall. I will probably ask EVERY member of the chapter for help in following up on the report, in ways that will take no more than 5 minutes of your time during the summer or early fall. Where appropriate, I will appoint small committees to tackle the recommendations in the report.

Finally, beyond the written parts of our job and taking some time for union activism, it’s important to help our neighbors and coworkers who are losing their jobs. The fact that there are no layoffs does not mean that everyone at USF is keeping their jobs. Every year at USF, there are staff and faculty who are not reappointed, do not earn tenure, or otherwise leave USF without another job to go to. Every year at USF, either the chapter’s grievance officer or chapter president hears from half or more of faculty who were denied tenure to see if grievances are warranted. This year and last year have been no different in that respect, but the economy is the worst it has been in more than 50 years. If you have received a letter of nonreappointment or have been denied tenure, I know that looking for other jobs is harder than at any other time since the Great Depression. The federal stimulus package is supposed to boost and extend unemployment benefits, and it will cover part of COBRA health-care extensions for several months, but that is cold comfort when you’re looking for a job. If you just need a friendly ear, even if it’s not about union stuff, e-mail me at any time and we can talk. If you know someone who is leaving USF without another job, please do not avoid the person down the hall who is leaving in two, six, or twelve months. Say hello, encourage them to keep looking for a job, and remind them to apply for unemployment benefits and ask the unemployment office about COBRA subsidies.

I hope that in a few years, the economy will be strong, and we can talk about a range of accomplishments through these hard times and into the future. But for now, you should be confident that we are not facing a massive wave of layoffs and I do not expect one in the next year.



Sherman Dorn
USF Chapter President
United Faculty of Florida


Sherman Dorn’s response to provost task force preliminary recommendations

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

In late April, the provost’s task force on faculty roles, responsibilities, and rewards issued preliminary recommendations. Sherman Dorn has written a response to the preliminary recommendations.


The value of probity

Friday, October 17th, 2008

An anonymous community-college dean describes an all-too-common administrative response to an eroding environment, as well as the alternative:

The usual administrator’s playbook says that when things get bad, you get evasive. Change the subject, or find something to praise, or if you’re really stuck, trot out the vague cliches. This is actually better than having a meltdown, but it doesn’t really inspire confidence, either. At best, it’s a holding action. Sometimes that’s the best you can do, of course, but it rarely has the desired effect.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a new approach. On a few recent occasions, as things have become particularly scary, I’ve gone into public discussions with my guard down and plenty of facts at hand. Instead of bracing for confrontation, I’ve simply admitted the limits of what I know, put the facts out there, acknowledged my own biases, and asked for input. And I have to admit being embarrassed at how badly I’ve underestimated some of my colleagues.

Since most of his readers don’t have any way to check his claims, we have to take this epiphany on faith, but the principles are right.

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Why layoffs are bad for business

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Stanford business and engineering professor Bob Sutton writes today on why massive layoffs are bad business decisions:

One big lesson from research on downsizing is that when organizations hold-off on layoffs as long as possible and do less deep cuts, they tend to bounce back faster (compared to similar organizations that rely more heavily on layoffs) when the upturn hits (especially organizations with skilled workers). This happens, in part, because they save recruiting and training costs when the demand for their people returns, and by keeping their experienced workforce around, they can move more effectively than competitors who are scrambling to hire and train new employees with the right skills.


Bargaining message to unit

Monday, September 15th, 2008

The UFF-USF Bargaining Team sent the following to the bargaining unit as USF on Wednesday, September 10:

A message from the UFF-USF Bargaining Team

Last Thursday, the Trustees’ bargaining team made what appeared to us from the remarks of the Trustees’ representatives as its best salary offer. Since we represent you at the bargaining table, we think you should know about this offer.


When deans go bad and everyone knows but the administration

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Robert Felner stayed too long as a dean of the University of Louisville because administrators ignored multiple complaints about him. As one of those who wrote comments on the IHE article noted, “Fish rot from the head down.” So it is with the University of Louisville.


Sabbaticals as retention

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

the provost’s presentation to the Florida Board of Governors earlier this month, retention has been on my brain (or maybe my brain drain). The UFF-USF bargaining team has wanted to change and improve the sabbatical program at USF and has put several proposals on the table. I have usually thought of sabbatical programs as a way to boost research programs. Sabbaticals are not crucial to disciplines where large grants are accessible and in years when the hit rate is above "miniscule" — those who can earn grants from NIH, NSF, or other agencies can reduce their teaching through the grants, when well-written grants are likely to be funded.

But not all well-written grants are funded, especially in years when federal research funding is cut (as it has been recently), and there are many disciplines outside the main federal funding routes (or at least those that can reduce teaching). USF faculty are beginning to win those types of awards, which is always good news: Anthropologist Kevin Yelvington recently won a Guggenheim, and Riccardo Marchi won a fellowship from the Getty last year.

But those awards are and always will be rare. Sabbatical programs are crucial for the disciplines outside large funding opportunities: faculty in English, history, linguistics, sociology, fine arts, and other fields need sabbatical opportunities to push their research forward. For decades, USF has languished with an anemic sabbatical program. With a tenured and tenure-track faculty group of around 1000, the UFF-USF bargaining unit usually has around 15 full-pay, one-semester sabbatical slots each year. That’s shameful, if we pretend to be a Carnegie Research-Extensive university.

It is also a missed opportunity. The structure of the sabbatical program makes it a retention program as well: if you take a sabbatical, you must stay at USF for the following year (or repay the entire salary for the sabbatical). It’s one of those programs that not only is a real benefit for faculty, but one that boosts the morale of anyone receiving a sabbatical. After all, faculty members who are on sabbatical have a period of time in which they are released from all other duties to focus on the scholarship they love. I have <em>never</em> heard a colleague coming back from sabbatical say, "Gee, I never should have taken this. I felt worse at the end than at the beginning."

In essence, a one-term, full-pay sabbatical is a 25% bonus that requires the recipient to stay at USF for two years (the year of the sabbatical and the following year). And a full-year, half-pay sabbatical in essence costs nothing to either USF or departments. If I were an administrator worried about retention, I’d want to give out sabbaticals like candy to productive faculty. Well, not like candy: you can’t give a sabbatical to everyone in a department in a single year. But sabbaticals are still the least expensive option for retention.

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