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United Faculty of Florida, Spring 2004

January 8, 2004

In Memoriam: Mitch Silverman

Mitchell Silverman, founder of the USF Department of Criminology and past president of the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, died on Friday, Dec. 19, after a long illness.

Professor Silverman came to USF in the late 1960s with a degree in clinical psychology from Ohio State University. During his years here he served as Department Graduate Director and as Chair. His research areas were juvenile delinquency, the neurobiology of violence, and ethics.

He was long active in the United Faculty of Florida, and served as USF Chapter President from 1999 to 2001, during the first stages of the reorganization of the State University System. His leadership prepared the Chapter for the effects of the university system reorganization.

Current chapter president Roy Weatherford said “Mitch worked very hard to try to smooth the transition to university-based bargaining. He was always dedicated to improving faculty life and tireless in his defense of our rights.” CAS Dean Kathleen Heide wrote that “He had a very strong sense of justice and was committed to doing his part to ensure that people from various stations in life and diverse backgrounds were dealt with fairly.”

He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Henrietta "Cyndi" Silverman, two sons Adam and Noah, and daughter-in-law Beth. Funeral services were held December 22nd at Rodeph Sholom. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society or the American Association of Kidney Patients.

Percs of Membership: American Educator

Among the percs of UFF membership are automatic subscriptions to the journals of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. And at this time of year, an article in the Winter 2003/2004 issue reminds us of a perennial problem:

Why students think they understand ... when they don't.

In this article, Daniel Willingham, an associate professor of cognitive psychology and neuroscience at the University of Virginia, writes that students (and, let's be honest, ourselves) confuse familiarity with recollection. Almost all of us are familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, in the sense that we've seen reproductions of the Mona Lisa and we've heard of his notebooks, but few of us could actually produce details of his life and work if asked.

Willingham describes several experiments that suggest people think they know something about a subject when all they are is familiar with it. For example, in one study, people were given a question after completing short task. For the question, the subjects were first asked if they knew what the answer was, and then they were asked to tell the answer. It turned out that people who were asked a question involving words from the preceding task were more likely to claim to know the answer, irrespective of whether they actually did.

Willingham describes several ways that students become merely familiar with the material: repeatedly rereading the text and notes, paying as much attention to teacher as they do to TV, etc. Moreover, when studying, if a student's familiarity with the material induces her/him to decide (s)he already knows it, (s)he will turn to something else. But then, since the student felt (s)he knew the material, when (s)he bombs the upcoming exam, (s)he feels that the exam must have been unfair.

Willingham suggests several methods for dealing with this problem, including: explaining the difference between familiarity and knowing to the students, having students (in pairs) explain recent material to eachother to figure out if they "know" the material (and hence if they need to ask questions -- which they usually don't because, after all, they are familiar with the material), and giving students practice tests.

And that is just one article from one issue of the American Educator. Past issues are on-line.

January 22, 2004

The Faculty Senate on Salaries

Yesterday, the Faculty Senate passed the following resolution:

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WHEREAS faculty compensation at USF is unacceptably low, placing us well below peers nationally and regionally, and ranking lowest among doctoral granting institutions in Florida,

BE IT RESOLVED that the USF Faculty Senate urgently requests action on the part of the USF administration and Board of Trustees. This action should take the form of a plan to begin addressing the issue of faculty compensation, to be acted upon by the end of this academic year. The goal of this plan should be, at minimum, to meet the 2002-2007 USF Strategic Plan benchmark of raising the weighted mean salary by approximately one-third. Any such plan and action must involve full consultation with faculty representatives, selected under the auspices of the Faculty Senate.

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The impulse came from the latest missive from Oklahoma State University, which surveys faculty salaries each year. (The 2000-2001 results are
on-line.) The 2001-2002 results are not out yet, but we are already getting preliminary results, specifically the posted at the USF Faculty Senate site table (in .pdf) posted at the USF Faculty Senate site. It seems that USF faculty are paid less on average than the faculty at any other Florida public doctoral institution: 6.49 % less than UCF-Orlando, 16.23 % less than UF-Gainesville, 27.68 % less then the national average.

This is not a new observation. The Board of Trustees adopted a 2002-2007 long-range plan calling for raising faculty salaries by one-third by 2007. But little progress has been made. This may have something to do with the fact that legislative appropriations are unusually low for USF (in fact, the January 16 Chronicle of Higher Education reported that USF was the only Florida public institution of higher education whose 2003-2004 appropriation was LOWER than the 2002-2003 appropriation).

But there is more to it than that.

In the December 12, 2003 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Cahn, a new professor at the University of Oklahoma, got concerned when faculty there went without any raises in two years. Impelled by a recent news report that average UO faculty member earned $ 91,000 per year in salary and benefits, he looked up salaries and discovered that the salaries actually tended to be much lower. Salaries were higher for engineering and science professors (and presumably for research stars), but the highest in many departments went to current and previous chairs. In general, "Despite the university's emphasis on research and publication, it seemed that the largest financial rewards lay in administration." He also noticed "compression": even though he was almost brand new, he earned as much as some senior faculty.

Similar phenomena can be observed at other universities, even at USF.

Meanwhile, the faculty union, which represents some but not all faculty, is negotiating a new contract.

February 5, 2004

Testing Students

One of the perks of union membership is automatic subscriptions to periodicals covering the issues in education today. One of these is the AFT On Campus, which just ran a two-part series on standardized tests.

Standardized tests are apparently as old as bureaucracy. The great stylized essay tests of medieval China served as the golden door that opened to -- or shut on -- opportunity. The more ferocious tests of ancient Sparta separated the men from ... those who did not survive basic training. More recently, civil service exams replaced the old spoils system (in which the politicians appointed everybody), while the IQ test and its descendents provided an apparently objective method of measuring an applicant's promise in higher education.

The wonderful thing about modern standardized tests is that they produce numbers, which makes them scientific. Or at least look scientific. But they were inevitable. The old apprentice system had required no standardized tests: a young journeyman relied on the reputation of his master to get employment (sound familiar?). But mass education meant that there was no master overseeing years of preparation: there were a sequence of teachers, and in the end, to find out how well the student mastered the material and the skills, there were exams.

Exams, like lectures, are an inevitable consequence of large classes. And large classes are what makes mass education possible.

But a funny thing has happened. Where schools have used exams to classify students, businessmen propose to use exams to classify schools. There may be a certain poetic justice in this. And besides, from a Consumers' Union point of view, it may be a good thing to collect data on the performance of schools in order to evaluate their teaching technique, their management skills, the competence of their faculty. Following Twentieth Century business doctrine --- quantify, quantify, quantify! --- one generates numbers for schools, numbers for teachers, numbers for students ...

But what are we going to do with all these numbers?

We can look at a very small model of this situation: common course finals. Several departments have many identical sections of entry (or remedial) classes, and as a form of quality control, they have students take exams created and graded by the department. All these courses have syllabi controlled by and texts selected by committees that want all students to have a predictable preparation for the next level. While some of our best faculty are teaching these courses, they are teaching to huge classes of students of widely varied backrounds: inevitably, many of these courses have high withdrawal/ failure rates. Put baldly: these courses are set up to meet minimal expectations --- with a rigid organization to make up for lack of per student resources --- while higher level courses are run by individual professors who have freedom and resources to have higher aspirations.

That should be a warning to us: that our most familiar model of standardized testing at universities is a form of making the best of a ... mixed ... situation. What is being proposed is that the entire curriculum be treated this way. This sentence may not be hyperbole: this interest in testing coincides with a general decline in education funding (a decline pushed by many test enthusiasts). Politically, it provides a method for foisting responsibility for any educational deficiency onto the schools.

The proposal comes with a financial kicker: schools and universities would have their funding tied to mean test scores. This is an odd suggestion. One would imagine that a school or university would propose a budget, with rationales for the budget items, and then (after some negotiating, based on track record, availability of funds, etc.), the institution would get funding. This new system would punish institutions (like USF) with large and varied student bodies; and because mean scores of small institutions vary from year to year, it would make funding for smaller institutions (like New College) unpredictable.

Also ominous is the example of SUNY, where the Board of Trustees is exploring using exams to impose their ideology on the curriculum. The initial proposal, to have a "general education curriculum" that excluded African American Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc., was withdrawn under fire, but there is continued work to have a system to identify "failing" departments. The use of tests to impose ideology should not be underestimated: consider one of the Jim Crow literacy tests, where registrants were asked to "interpret" sections of the Constitution, and were disqualified from voting if their interpretation was unacceptable.

Putting all this together, the faculty unions are concerned about the effect of standardized testing on the university community in general, and on faculty in particular. By requiring that students take these tests, faculty are pressured to teach to these tests. And these are not like the common course finals that faculty can influence: these tests come from the state, or some private company.

And the union is especially concerned about using the mean or median test scores to evaluate faculty.

James Hilton fans may recall that Mr Chips was called in by the new businesslike Headmaster and chewed out because his students had low scores. Mr Chips did not teach to the exam; he taught "perspective." Goodbye Mr Chips was indeed written during one of the many squabbles over What If Anything Do Grades Mean, and his example is a warning of what can happen if you fall behind the latest in academic fashion.

This IS about academic freedom. Not just whether the test is ideologically slanted, but what the test is *about*, and indeed what can be tested by a mass-produced numerical exam (probably not "perspective"). No one is immune to this problem. Consider the controversy over "conceptual" versus "quantitative" calculus exams. Any state-authorized calculus exam will reflect a pedagogical position that a calculus teacher could not ignore. The union is very concerned that these tests will be used to micromanage faculty in the classroom.

The union's position is that faculty are evaluated based on materials that are described in the contract. If the administration wishes to evaluate professors based on test scores, let the administration propose this in collective bargaining. But it may come to this: if the state ties funding to test scores, the administration will be under enormous pressure to make this proposal. Indeed, one might suspect that this is one of the motivations for making university funding dependent on test scores.

There is a model we are all familiar with: course evaluations. Our state-mandated evaluations contain eight questions, all on the teacher: none on the text, none on the material, none on the course as a whole, etc. (The webmaster recalls being in a workshop on evaluating evaluation results, and the workshop leader began with a brief commentary on the weak design of the form.) Departmental evaluation committees are all too prone to just look at the answer to Question # 8 (they didn't take the workshop!), and a few have been caught literally computing the mean score for Question # 8, and using that as the Teaching Evaluation number in the annual evaluation. There is no reason to believe that mean test scores would be treated any better.

While standardized testing sounds interesting and useful in principle, it would be wise to watch it carefully, even warily.

For more on the testing biz, the two AFT On Campus articles are on line: see Part I and Part II.

February 19, 2004

Academic Freedom Wars, Part XLVIII

One familiar feature of the modern academic landscape is the movement against “political correctness” and for the academic freedom of students to speak and express themselves on campus but outside of the classroom with terms and ideas that others may find offensive or alarming. This movement includes a range of activists from civil libertarians to right wing organizers.

During the past few years, some of these activists have started to get interested in what happens inside classrooms. Some students and parents allege that professors show bias in their lectures, in their reading assignments, and their grading. In the February 13 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education (accessible only to subscribers, alas), there are three articles on this:

  • A news article on “Patrolling Professors’ Politics: Conservative activists and students press campaigns against perceived bias on campuses,” about students unhappy with professors who show left-wing bias, and activists who are encouraging Congress and state legislatures to take action, with an “Academic Bill of Rights” (on-line at http://studentsforacademicfreedom.org/abor.html) as a model.
  • An opinion piece by Center for the Study of Popular Culture President David Horowitz, author of the Academic Bill of Rights, to “emphasize the value of ‘intellectual diversity,’ already implicit in the concept of academic freedom,” and protect students from being “indoctrinated or ... assaulted by political propagandists in the classroom.”
  • An opinion piece by University of Illinois -- Chicago Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Stanley Fish, in which he contends that “Intellectual Diversity” is not an academic value, and if imposed by the government, will lead to disaster.
The issue seems to be whether syllabi and grading systems should be targets of legislation. This issue has gotten the attention of major players. There are three aspects of this situation we should consider.

First of all, it is true that some professors lean on students. The gentle webmaster vividly remembers, when an undergraduate, a collision with a monetarist economics professor on the subject of nuclear power. But these collisions rarely have the effect that the leaning professor desires (certainly not in my case); indeed, the webmaster also remembers a self-pitying article by an academic leaner who whined that her students had the audacity to disagree with her in class. The system seems self-correcting in that academic leaning produces rebellion.

This suggests that the sensible thing for politicians to do is to let the pendulum swing where it may. But if they did that, what would they talk about during the next election cycle? This brings us to the second point.

Like all faculty unions, the United Faculty of Florida places a very high priority on academic freedom, especially in the classroom. UFF's position is that this is a contractual issue, to be bargained if the administration is ever in the mood to open Pandora’s box. The difficulty is that the proposal is being sent to Congress and the legislatures, and a disagreement between a contract and the legal code can have unpredictable effects. This is especially true when we have courts dominated by judges who regard academic freedom largely as a worthy sentiment. This is one issue in which the outcome of elections matters --- something to remember in November.

Finally, this may be a natural outgrowth of a view of higher education as a product. Current business doctrine is to present cafeterias of products, from which customers can pick and choose. There is even a legal impulse here: MicroSoft got in trouble because it was “bundling” many products. But that is what departments do: here are some major requirements, consisting of courses whose syllabi are not negotiable. Many students may wonder why, for example, future geneticists are required to learn ecology, or why abstract artists should learn anatomy. And why on earth should engineers take ethics courses? Departments are not unsympathetic --- witness the growing number of electives around a shrinking core. But up to now, such decisions were made internally. As legislatures push for getting more and more students through faster and faster with less and less fuss and bother, we may find ourselves facing politicians who want to make these decisions themselves.

March 4, 2004

Election: Call for Nominations

The United Faculty of Florida is conducting elections for USF Chapter officers during this coming month. Members of UFF may run for office, and vote in the election. In fact, members of UFF are strongly encouraged to run for office, and to vote in the election.

The elective offices are:

  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • The Secretary
  • The Treasurer
  • The Thirteen Senators (for the statewide UFF Senate)
  • The Seven Florida Education Association Delegates (UFF is a local of the FEA, and these Delegates go to the statewide FEA meeting)
Again, all members of UFF are encouraged to run.

The first step is collecting nominations. A form in MS Word is posted at the UFF webset, or nominators may use the form below. Send to the union's on-campus account: all nominations received electronically will be acknowledged: IF YOUR NOMINATION IS NOT ACKNOWLEDGED WITHIN 24 HOURS, CONTACT THE WEBMASTER, GREGORY MCCOLM. All nominations are due by Monday, March 8 (nominations may be presented in person at the chapter meeting on March 5).

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UFF-USF 2004 Election Announcement & CALL FOR NOMINATIONS

TO: UFF-USF Members
From: UFF-USF Chapter
Subject: 2004 Chapter Election

UFF-USF Chapter is seeking nominations for the following positions. Each UFF-USF member is entitled to make nominations, vote and serve. Please send your nominations by email to the UFF account on or before March 8, 2004. All nominations submitted to the UFF account will be acknowledged: if your nomination is not acknowledged within 24 hours, contact the webmaster, Greg McColm. Self nominations are allowed. The candidates are required to submit a brief candidacy statement not to exceed one half page (200 words). Ballots for contested offices, will be sent out to union member's homes by first class mail, and be due on Mar. 26.

Please nominate for the following positions:

President: President is the chief operating officer of UFF-USF Chapter. The President also serves as a UFF Senator and as a Delegate to the Florida Education Representative Assembly. In accordance with UFF-USF constitution president shall preside at all meetings of the Chapter and of the Chapter Council. She or he shall be an ex-officio member of all committee, shall sign all necessary documents and papers, and represent the organization. The President shall make an annual report at the last chapter meeting held during the academic year. The President shall serve a term of one year.

Nomination (Self or Other)_______________________________________

Vice-President: Vice-President shall represent the chapter, when the President can not be present and shall perform those duties that are prescribed by the President or the Chapter Council. In the event of any vacancy in the office of the President, the Vice-President shall serve as President for the period remaining in the existing term. The Vice-President shall serve a term of one year.

Nomination (Self or Other)_________________________________________

Secretary: Secretary shall maintain records for the chapter proceedings and perform other functions as specified by the Chapter Council. The Secretary shall serve a term of one year.

Nomination (Self or Other)__________________________________________

Treasurer: Treasurer shall be the chief financial officer of the chapter, shall exercise supervision over the receipt and disbursement of all monies, properties, securities, and other evidence of financial worth of this organization. The Treasurer shall prepare an annual budget and make regular financial reports to the Chapter Council. The Treasurer shall serve a term of one year.

Nomination (Self or Other)______________________________________

13 Senators: Senators shall represent the Chapter at the Statewide UFF Senate meetings. The UFF Senate is the legislative and policy making body of the organization. Senators shall serve a term of one year.

Nominations (Self or Others)______________________________________

7 Florida Education Association (FEA) Delegates: The Florida Education Association Representative Assembly is the legislative body of the organization. Delegates serve a term of one year.

Nominations (Self or Others)_____________________________________

Please include a 200-word description of the nominee.

March 18, 2004

Gainesville Agonistes

Cambridge University, whose legislative authority is actually invested in its faculty (much to the disgust of academic autocrats), is now engaged in a very public debate over whether faculty actually should ... share ... some power with its administration, whose new president has expressed her admiration for Cambridge traditions.

Cambridge traditions are something to keep in mind for the following story.

The University of Florida is the only Floridian member of the Association of American Universities, and has often expressed a desire to be recognized as the “Berkeley of the South.” Former President Charles Young believed that this meant, among other things, no faculty union, a view he expressed in numerous missives directed at faculty. Like other SUS presidents, Young insisted that the expiration of the 2001-2003 Collective Bargaining Agreement meant the old contract was entirely dead.

Most of the other boards of trustees eventually recognized the United Faculty of Florida as the union representing faculty, but not UWF, FSU ... or UF. The union forced elections, and UWF and FSU held “accreditation elections” to determine whether faculty wanted to be represented by UFF. They did by 91 % and 96 %, respectively. And the union has collected enough cards to force an election at UF.

But there hasn't been an election. And there is no date set for the election. The official reason for the delay is a technical question: who could the union represent?

This question was addressed when the union was organized, and after a great deal of wrangling, the union and the Board of Regents made a campus-by-campus definition of the “bargaining unit” -- the faculty represented by the union. For example, at USF, School of Medicine faculty are out (but Public Health and Nursing faculty are in), while CAS, Business, Engineering, and Fine Arts faculty are in (but while CAS chairs are in, other chairs are out). Librarians, counselors, some IT staff, and some other university professionals were in, while adjuncts were out. If you are guessing that this is more the result of political compromise than logic, you are at least partly right. The point is that over the decades, the faculty and the union got used to this division.

Since the precise definition of the bargaining unit is technically complicated and politically messy, some administrations proposed reopening the issue as a delay tactic. But Gainesville is where the definition of the bargaining unit became the obsessive issue. The administration said that it felt that faculty who had not been within the bargaining unit before should be within it now. The law school, the medical school, and other operations would be included, while a few divisions that had been within the bargaining unit would be removed.

The majority of the faculty voting in such an accreditation election would never have been represented by the union.

The administration argued that it was only fair that all faculty be permitted to vote. But there seems to be another motive: in January, the Independent Alligator reported that it had obtained an e-mail from the previous November from Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences director Mike Martin explaining why the administration wanted IFAS faculty included in the bargaining unit: “President Young wants IFAS faculty to vote because he does not want us or anyone else in the union.”

The union has been pushing for the same definition of the bargaining unit as the old contract: the faculty represented in the past should be the ones to decide if they want continued representation. If new divisions also want to be represented, then they can push for elections of their own.

Nevertheless, the administration's argument won the support of Public Employees Relations Commission hearing officer Jerry Chatham, who took the argument to extremes that discomfited the administration. It also won over the Gainesville Sun, whose Feb. 21 editorial seemed to suggest that UFF's victory margins in UWF and FSU being what they were, UFF might well win anyway, even though Chatham's proposal is to inflate the bargaining unit from 1,800 to 4,500.

UFF has additional concerns. Unions typically represent employees who have themselves worked to get representation, not employees who have wound up with a union as a result of legerdemain. A union does not have any interest in representing anyone who is not willing to join or participate: a union is not a charitable organization. What UFF would like to know: of these 2,700 faculty suddenly being dumped into the bargaining unit, how many would participate? how many would join? how many even are comfortable with the idea?

In January, former University of Utah President Bernie Machen became the new President of UF. He was more conciliatory than Young, leaving the anti-union rhetoric to Vice Provost Joe Glover. Glover continued an argument Young had begun long ago: unions are not compatible with faculty governance.

Although there is a natural division of labor between a typical senate and a typical union (the senate deals with academic issues while the union deals with conditions of employment), this argument has swayed the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1980 ruled (NLRB v. Yeshiva University) that since faculty have a natural managerial role at a private institution like Yeshiva, they have no right to organize. The retort was as immediate as a pie in the Supreme Court's face: in 1982, the AAUP censured Yeshiva for inappropriately dismissing three tenured faculty. Despite the natural managerial role of Yeshiva faculty, the censure still stands now. In the real world (as opposed to the imaginary one the Supreme Court lives in), stability and security is assured by a matrix of interacting organizations, which in academia typically includes both a faculty union and a faculty senate.

And so the public debate continues, much of it over whether it would be appropriate for UF to have a faculty union. Much of the debate concerns the tackiness of unions versus the untrustworthiness of administrations. The administration has encouraged the senate to design a new system of faculty governance (with the result that the senate is facing a new problem of: who is represented by the senate?), but how long this encouragement would last after the certification election is unclear. The legal moves over the bargaining unit continue. It is not clear whether there will be a certification election anytime soon.

April 1, 2004

Election Returns

Ballots for the annual Chapter elections were due in the morning of March 26, and have been counted. (Only union members may vote.) The four candidates for chapter offices ran unopposed. Here are the results:

  • For President: Roy Weatherford
  • For Vice President: Mark Klisch
  • For Treasurer: Sherman Dorn
  • For Secretary: Maggie Doherty
  • For the UFF Senate: Sherman Dorn, Lilyan Kay, Mark Klisch, Jana Martin, Greg McColm, Steve Permuth, Arthur Shapiro, Tomaro Taylor, Nancy Jane Tyson, Harry Vanden, Robert F. Welker, and Keith D. White. As there were 12 seats, all candidates are now UFF senators.
  • For the FEA Delegation: Sherman Dorn, Mary Kaplan, Lilyan Kay, Nancy Jane Tyson, Roy Weatherford, Keith D. White, and Sonia Ramirez Wohlmuth. And Mel Pace is an Alternate Delegate.
Note: other offices, like the Bargaining Team (under a Chief Negotiator), the Elections Committee, the Grievance Chair, the Membership Chair, and the Publicity Chair are either appointed by the President or by the Chapter.

A Volunteer Organization

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida relies on faculty to volunteer their time and energy to do the chapter's business. This can add up to a lot of work, and the chapter can use all the help it can get.

America has long relied on volunteer organizations to do the work that might be done officially in other countries. And Americans have long found it rewarding to distribute charity, spread the faith, lobby the government, plant trees, and organize mutual support organizations. Opinions vary about some of these missions, but collectively volunteer organizations do a lot of the work that America needs done.

The Chapter requires a lot of work. The primary duties of the union are to bargain and enforce the contract. This means that we need a bargaining team to plan the bargaining (and MOST of the work of bargaining is planning) and then meet repeatedly over several months with representatives of the administration (who are bargaining as part of their assignments) to work out a contract. This also means that we need a team of "grievance representatives" to help faculty whose contractual rights are violated: a contract is merely a piece of paper, and if the union does not vigilantly defend it, it will crumble into dust.

There is a lot of other work, from paperwork (and there is a lot of this) to politicking (alas, this being the real world, there is a lot of this, too). The most important work is the one that requires the most volunteers: the union always needs people to be around if a faculty member wants information, or is in trouble, or is just curious. (Union members interested in being such an "available person" should contact Sherman Dorn, at ). The union also needs volunteers to serve in the next level for faculty in trouble: "grievance representatives." If a faculty member believes that her/his contractual rights have been violated, they have thirty days to file a "grievance" (if no grievance is filed, then nothing can be done: the contract, being a piece of paper, does not enforce itself). A grievance representative is familiar with the grievance process, and assists the grieving faculty member in composing the complaint, and going through the process.

This brings up a critical point. Faculty members do not have vast amounts of free time. Most unions could not function if they didn't have some way to free up the time for some of its volunteers. So most unions have written in the contract some arrangement for having some "release time" for some volunteers: under our old contract, the union had 34 course releases (for the entire state), and typically the USF chapter would get about four: two for the president (which is, according to past and present presidents, nearly a full-time job), one for the Grievance chair (who often handled many grievances personally), one for someone else doing a lot of work. Some releases went to state officers: for example, when the state union bargained with the Board of Regents in Tallahassee, the state union's bargaining team got some course releases.

The USF administration, almost alone among the state university administrations, has refused to honor the chapter course releases as stipulated by the contract. The reason for the refusal is unclear. UFF insists that the terms and conditions of the old contract are still in force (which includes those 34 course releases) while the administration asserts that the contract is not in force and therefore it will not (or can not) honor the course releases. The result is that the bargaining team and union officials have been putting in many long hours on top of their job duties.

For faculty, the fairness issue may or may not resonate. But the consequences of fatigue can be imagined. This could, in the long run, undermine union effectiveness. It is hard enough to get volunteers for labor-intensive positions; it is even harder without course releases.

Of course, most volunteer positions involve a lot less work. Being an available person involves perhaps an hour or so a week, most talking with fellow faculty. One advantage is: you can meet people from a variety of departments, and talk about mutual issues (even collaboration). You can start by visiting one of the chapter meetings ...

April 15, 2004

How Ready Are They?

Anyone who has taught a freshman course has seen the phenomenon. The algebra student who can't add fractions, the composition student who can't write a sentence, the history student who doesn't know what century the Civil War occurred in. However sympathetic we may be with the plight of our colleagues in secondary education, we sometimes wonder ... what is going on in high schools? In this issue, the Educator ran two articles on college preparation. The entire issue is on-line; here are two brief descriptions.

It's Time To Tell the Kids: If You Don't Do Well in High School, You Won't Do Well in College (or on the Job), by James E. Rosenbaum, Professor of Sociology, Education, and Social Policy at Northwestern University. Professor Rosenbaum says that high school students believe (correctly) that bad grades won't keep them out of college, but do not realize that students with bad high school grades tend to wash out of college.
spacer In one 1982 study, 63.9 % of the students with A-averages in high school ultimately earned at least an associate's degree, while only 13.9 % of the students with at most a C-average did so.
spacer Nevertheless, many students do not make the connection between high school performance and college success. For example, one study conducted in the late 1990s showed almost 40 % of college-bound students believing that school effort had little effect on their future careers.
spacer One reason for this ignorance is that high school counselors are not as blunt as they used to be. Counselors feel they lack the authority, or the support from the administration.
spacer Complicating the situation is the problem that many high schools brag about the percentage of their students who go on to college --- without worrying about the percentage of students who actually succeed there.
spacer In a sidebar, the editors note that the single best predictor of college graduation is ... what courses the student enrolled in during high school.

What Does It Mean To Be Prepared for College? (or for Jobs in the High-Growth, High-Performance Workplace), a collection of excerpts of a report by the American Diploma Project; the 128-page report is on-line. The report states that high college dropout rates suggest that many students are not prepared for college. With that in mind, the authors of the report seek to determine what college readiness (or readiness for serious jobs not requiring academic college education) would consist of. The result is a set of English and Mathematics benchmarks.
spacer The authors take communication seriously, and stress not only the need for reading comprehension and writing clarity, but also the ability to evaluate and compose arguments, the ability to conduct and understand research, the need for good grammar (!), and the reasonable understanding of the human condition that follows from reading great literature: “Employers report that employees who have considered the moral dilemmas encountered by literary characters are better able to tolerate ambiguity and nurture problem-solving skills in the workplace.”
spacer As for mathematics, the authors are not only concerned about quantitative reasoning skills, but also critical reasoning skills. The AFT Educator only mentions algebra, but the report itself also goes into the need for high school students to learn statistics.

April 29, 2004

Senate Meeting Report

The United Faculty of Florida Senate met in Orlando over the weekend of April 17 and 18. USF was represented by the senators elected last month.

This was the first meeting for UFF's new executive director, Steve Weinberger, who started on Tuesday, April 13. It was also the first meeting for our newest USF senator, Lilyan Kay.

The two top issues were: organizing and bargaining. UFF President Tom Auxter also discussed accountability measures.


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