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United Faculty of Florida, Summer 2011

May 19, 2011

A LETTER FROM UFF (STATEWIDE) PRESIDENT TOM AUXTER

The 2011 Florida Legislative Session was one of the more dramatic and tumultuous in recent memory, and a lot happened that directly affects you.

Most conspicuous is a new law mandating that most employees contribute 3 percent to their retirement plans, in the name of balancing the state's budget and keeping the Florida Retirement System solvent (although it is in fact financially healthy). Couple that with other reductions in retirement benefits, and the story that our "total compensation" makes up for salaries that lag those of our peers is wearing ever thinner. UF President Machen seems to understand this: early in the semester he suggested that should such legislation pass, the university would consider mitigating its effect on faculty. Other University Presidents have made similar statements.

Two proposals designed to deprive faculty, directly or indirectly, of the right to collective bargaining failed to pass: SB830 (which would have unfairly singled out unions to prevent them from taking payroll deductions and from participating in the political process) and HB1023 (which would have posed a serious threat of decertification for UFF and other unions). Thanks to the efforts of our union, its allies, and concerned citizens all over the state, both bills died despite intense pressure from the leadership and the governor.

What this means is that your current Collective Bargaining Agreement remains in effect, and UFF continues to be recognized as your representative, at least for now. But past experience tells us that, with the same legislative leadership still in place next year, we will likely be re-fighting some of these anti-union battles, addressing new proposed cuts to our benefits, and facing new assaults on education funding in the state.

Senator John Thrasher has promised to bring back SB830 (which would stop payroll dues deductions and prevent UFF from participating in the political process) and HB1023 (which would decertify any union with less than 50% membership). How do we know Senator Thrasher is serious? When Governor Crist vetoed SB6 last year, Thrasher promised he would bring it back. He brought it back as SB736 and now K-12 teachers no longer have continuing contracts and can be non-reappointed without due process rights. The only way to fight these threats is to build our membership.

The 2012 Legislative Session will begin in January to take up redistricting, and we must be ready.

This past semester, faculty have shown their support for UFF and in unprecedented numbers, and we have almost achieved our goal of majority membership. We are a stronger union for it, and we have sent a clear message to state leadership that faculty are committed to having a strong voice and effective representation. If you are not yet a member, I urge you to seriously consider what is at stake for you and your colleagues, with powerful and determined political interests lined up against us, and to join UFF today: see the form.

The only way to fight these threats is to build our membership.

Tom Auxter
UFF President

ASSIGNMENTS

With USF under considerable pressure to cut expenses, one temptation is to "do more with less" by increasing assignments, so that faculty and professionals will do more work and for the same amount of money. As noted in the previous Biweekly, this form of doing more with less is improper (see the article). Furthermore, if an employee has been the victim of an arbitrary and unreasonably imposed assignment, that employee may use the contract's Assignment Dispute procedure defined by Article 9 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. However, an employee must be a UFF member at the time of an arbitrary or unreasonably imposed assignment if the union is to represent them. Contact UFF USF President Paul Terry or UFF USF Vice President & Grievance Chair Sonia Wohlmuth at the UFF email address uff@ourusf.org.

There are several issues, including the following.

First of all, there are two problems with simply increasing assignments. First, it is exploitative. Secondly, as a practical matter, it increases stress and fatigue and thus reduces the quality of work while increasing the propagation of errors. A simple increase of assignment is a symptom of the inability or unwillingness of supervisors to make hard decisions.

We should digress here to observe that many of these hard decisions should more sections of course X be taught or should resources (like faculty time) be devoted into developing an innovative program to enhance student success? are inherently academic, and therefore it is a violation of the principles of shared governance that such decisions be made unilaterally. This is part of a fundamental point about leadership: when an institution faces hard times, employees will respond more positively to a participatory decision-making process rather than a hierarchical one. Although shared governance consumes more time than hierarchical governance, in the long run it reduces the waste that haste invariably produces.

Second of all, the assignment issues that have come to the union's attention bring up a problem with course assignments. Florida State Statute 1012.945 says that each full-time faculty member should teach at least 12 contact hours or "equivalent". And "equivalent" is supposed to be developed by a formula: according to 1012.945, "...the universities shall develop and apply a formula designed to equate the time required for nonclassroom duties with classroom contact hour..."

This leads to several issues that will be reviewed in subsequent issues of the Biweekly. Further discussion of these issues is a piece of New Business in the agenda for tomorrow's (Friday'S) UFF USF Chapter Meeting: all interested USF faculty and professionals (members and non-members) are invited to the meeting at CDB restaurant in Tampa, at 5104 E. Fowler Ave., at the intersection of Fowler and 51st, starting at noon.

FSU LETS DONOR ENDOW AND APPROVE CHAIR

It is not unusual for billionaires to endow programs at universities. It is not unusual for said billionaires to want to micromanage the new programs. But any university that hopes to protect its integrity and reputation will find a way to gently dissuade said billionaire from interfering in faculty hiring in said institution.

The Charles Koch Charitable Foundation donated several million dollars towards two new programs in the Florida State University Economics Department, one for the Study of Political Economy and Free Enterprise and one on Excellence in Economic Education; additional funds would be available for the development of educational programs for undergraduate students. What is disconcerting are strings attached to the gift: apparently, the Foundation will have considerable influence on the selection of faculty for the programs.

FSU faculty members Ray Bellamy and Kent Miller raised the issue in a My View op-ed piece in the Tallahassee Democrat (see the op-ed and the FSView & Florida Flambeau story and FSU President Eric Barron's Letter to the Faculty). The AAUP criticized the deal, and there was a thread in the St. Petersburg Times (see the story and the editorial and FSU President Barron's response). And UFF USF Services Committee member David McMullen wrote an open letter to President Barron.

This affair is an item of New Business on the agenda for tomorrow's (Friday's) Chapter Meeting, and we invite everyone with an interest in these issues to join us at CDB restaurant in Tampa, at 5104 E. Fowler Ave., at the intersection of Fowler and 51st, starting at noon.

June 2, 2011

THE ACADEMIC SANDWICH

Major public debates often conflate distinct positions, with confusing and irritating results. On occasion, conflation creates melodrama. A prospect for melodrama accompanies the appearance of what merely looks like the umpteenth assessment-based appeal for "accountability" in education.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa are sociologists who have published a little book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. On the surface, this is about a study tracking several cohorts of students through college, and looking at their performance on a College Learning Assessment instrument (the CLA) at the beginning, middle, and conclusion of their undergraduate years. The Council for Aid to Education (CAE) produced the instrument and says that it "presents realistic problems that require students to analyze complex materials and determine the relevance to the task and credibility. Students' written responses to the tasks are evaluated to assess their abilities to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly and cogently. Scores are aggregated to the institutional level to provide a signal to the institution about how their students as a whole are performing." It is a "value-added" instrument designed to measure improvement while controlling for student's backgrounds.

Arum and Roksa's primary conclusions are that most students do not develop additional abilities to "think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly and cogently" during their first two years in college, and many do not improve noticeably over their entire four-year experience. Arum and Roksa observe that different majors perform differently, with the greatest improvement among students majoring in the natural sciences and mathematics, followed by the humanities and social sciences; the least improvement occurred in business, with slightly more in education. They also compared improvement with the number of reading- and writing-intensive courses, and found greater improvement among students who read and wrote a lot.

Arum and Roksa conclude that students learn to read, write, and think by reading, writing, and thinking, and therefore students in a curriculum dense with reading, writing and thinking assignments develop their intellectual capabilities more than in a less dense curriculum. They then conclude (as higher education reformers have been prone to do repeatedly during the last millennium) that students are not being challenged enough. Predictably, they presented evidence of a dramatic decline in student performance over the last few decades.

Academically Adrift has gotten a lot of attention. Salon and NPR interviewed Arum. Richard Vedder of the American Enterprise Institute blamed some recent pedagogical practices (particularly group learning) and what he regards as America's over-generous access to higher education; New York Times pundit Jacques Steinberg agreed with Arum and Roksa that the problem was "lack of rigor" in higher education.

Arum and Roksa have also received some sharp criticism. Some of it was aimed at the CLA instrument itself. Some of it was on their methodology (and complaints about the data they reported), e.g. Alexander Astin's "In 'Academically Adrift,' Data Don't Back Up Claim" (Chronicle of Higher Education, 14 Feb. 2011, available via USF library). And some of it was Arum and Roksa's incomplete list of people to blame.

This leads to the question of what might happen if the powers that be take Arum and Roksa seriously enough to use as a basis for discussing reforms.

The current accountability movement, now sweeping over K-12 education and showing signs of gushing into higher education, involves re-engineering courses to enable students to master vast arrays of factoids on which they would be tested via standardized exams. Efficiency and productivity being the rage these days, the goal is to achieve maximum exam and course passage rates with the minimum financial outlay. Hence the interest in reforming mass lecture classes without transforming them into more expensive arrays of smaller classes.

While mass lecture courses have been around for centuries, their recent proliferation is roughly concurrent with Arum and Roksa's alleged decline in student performance. And notice one major difference between the CLA and other assessment instruments: it is not meant to test skills that could be readily developed in mass lecture courses. It may be difficult to accommodate accountability, inexpensive productivity, and Arum & Roksa's concerns all at once.

If Academically Adrift is taken seriously enough to generate activists and imitators, there may be a clash in reform paradigms. After all, when Vedder attacks group learning, he is attacking an innovation designed to make mass lectures function. And complaints about easy access to higher education run directly counter to the business community's appeals for more STEM education in an era of globalization.

Outside of the entertainment prospects of a dogfight in the corporate wing of higher ed criticism, there is a distinct chance that we are approaching one of those critical moments when we can affect policy by paying attention to the debate and speaking out.

June 16, 2011

RETIREMENT IN THE SAUSAGE FACTORY

Floridians are still sorting through the wreckage resulting from spring's legislative session, but it is already clear that education took a hit not because of the economy, but because the governor and the legislative leadership had an agenda. We can see this in how the retirement system was "reformed".

Governor Scott and said that the Florida Retirement System was underfunded, and to fix it the FRS needed to be changed from a "defined benefits program" to a "defined contribution program" (see the 10 February 2011 Biweekly article) and public employees should be required to contribute 5 % of their salaries towards their retirement. The FRS is one of the soundest pension plans in the nation, and the rationale for the changes kept changing. But the initial disinformation is still out there, and for whatever (political?) reason, the FRS itself posted at its FAQ site) the statement that "...the FRS is now underfunded and the 2011 Florida Legislature took steps to reduce the FRS Pension Plan's costs". Then the FAQ states that the total contribution (involuntary employee contribution plus employer contribution) to FRS plans are being cut from 10.42 % of employee salary to 7.91 %, so the FRS can't be all that underfunded.

Incidentally, the total contribution to ORP plans remains at 10.42 % of employee salary. More on that below.

The fix was in and the Florida Education Association and other unions were not able to persuade the legislature that the whole bill was a bad idea. But at least the FEA and fellow unions saved the defined benefits plan, although some benefits were downgraded perhaps unsurprising, since the total contributions to the FRS were cut. Further, the FEA and fellow unions got the involuntary employee contribution reduced from 5 % to 3 % of employee salary (in other words, THE AMOUNT YOU *SAVE* THIS COMING YEAR BECAUSE OF UNION ACTION IS *TWICE* UNION DUES). But we are unhappy because we public employees are being singled out to pay an income tax.

Here is how this income tax works.

At the beginning of this year, Florida faced a $ 3.5 billion hole in its budget. By mid-March, state economists recomputed the hole at $ 3.8 billion. During the session, estimates for the hole reached $ 4 billion, while Wall Street sources warned that Florida's bond rating might be affected if Florida issued more debt. Meanwhile, the governor and the legislative leadership had promised tax cuts, and they were not interested in tax reform to fix the state's budgetary problems.

So the legislature cut appropriations to public employers while cutting the amount public employers pay to the pension funds. For example, this year, USF contributed an amount equaling 10.42 % of the salary of a typical employee to that employee's pension fund + health insurance subsidy; next year, USF's contribution will be 4.91 % of the employee's salary (if the employee is in FRS) or 7.42 % of the employee's salary (if the employee is in the Optional Retirement Program) at least, according to current computations. Then the employee tops off the contribution with 3 % of salary to make a total contribution of 7.91 % (if the employee is on FRS) or 10.42 % (if the employee is on ORP). Thus USF's contribution towards FRS pensions is cut 53 % while the contribution to ORP pensions is cut 29 % (this does not count administrative costs and does not include employees in special categories).

USF's payroll for the UFF USF Bargaining Unit alone is a bit over $ 125 million, so during the last academic year, USF contributed more than ten million dollars towards pensions of UFF USF Bargaining Unit employees. USF will save several million dollars on pension contributions. Meanwhile, USF's appropriation from the state's General Revenues is being cut.

So while there is no direct transfer of funds from our pockets to the state, the effect is that we pay money and so money becomes available in the state's General Revenues. A tax; and being prorated on salary, a tax on income. Since the per-employee total contribution to the FRS is being cut by nearly the same amount employees are now required to contribute, this has nothing to do with the FRS being underfunded which it is not, no matter what the FRS said (or was compelled to say) in its FAQ sheet.

Last April, speaking of the legislature's changes to FRS, Governor Scott told the News Journal that "I don't think that they go far enough," and the sponsor of one of the retirement bill's predecessors, Representative Ritch Workman, R Melbourne, said that FRS finances were such that simply shutting it down would be an option within three years. The fight over the FRS will continue.

LESSONS FROM THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Most of us at USF teach, conduct research, and provide services. If politics must invade our working lives, we would hope that it would be rational and honorable. When the invasion is irrational and dishonest, we are disgusted and the disgust discourages us from directly engaging the problem. And the problem, unchallenged, gets worse.

One of the great pseudo-quotes sailing the www is Edmund Burke's line that "All that is needed for the forces of evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." What Burke actually wrote in his Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents is more helpful: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."

We cannot deal with Tallahassee one by one: we must have an organization that can support research into our issues and educate the public and politicians about those issues. An organization that can track politicians' actual behavior (as opposed to the periodic election-time rhetoric) and keep us informed. An organization capable of persistence, building relationships, and navigating the political sausage factory. This is expensive; an organization cannot effectively advance the ideals and interests of their constituents without support. But one get's what one pays for: in the last legislative session, the FEA (with eight staff members in Tallahassee) was able to reduce the involuntary employee pension contribution from 5 % of salary to 3 % of salary, double UFF dues. Imagine what the FEA could have accomplished if a majority of the employees it represents were dues-paying members.

If you would rather do something instead of just complain about it, join the union today. It's as easy as sending in the form.

June 25, 2011

FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION SUES OVER PENSION LAW

The Florida Education Association the state affiliate of the United Faculty of Florida has filed a lawsuit for a permanent injunction against some components of Senate Bill 2100, the bill passed last spring on the pension plans for state employees. The lawsuit challenges:

  • The involuntary 3 % contribution public employees (like us) will be required to make towards their pensions effective July 1.
  • The reduction of the cost-of-living adjustment for public employees retiring after July 1.
Both challenges are based on the claim that these components impair outstanding contracts, impair our constitutional right to collectively bargain (protected by the Florida state constitution), and constitutes a "taking of private property without full compensation". The idea is that the state may not simply seize compensation (in this case, public employer contributions for benefits) already won in bargaining. The documents for the lawsuit George Williams et al versus Rick Scott et al are posted at the
Meyer/ Brooks/ Demma/ Blohm website (George Williams and the ten other named plaintiffs are leaders and activists of the FEA as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, the Service Employees International Union, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the named defendants are the governor and various state officials), and the 20 June 2011 press release is posted on-line.

The lawsuit is accompanied by a suit for a temporary injunction to retain the involuntary contributions in interest bearing accounts pending the resolution of the case; if the FEA wins the case, the contributions would be returned to the employees.

And the lawsuit is supported by the Florida Nurses Association, the Government Supervisors Association of Florida (of the Office and Professional Employees International Union), and the Police Benevolent Association.

This lawsuit is only one of many being filed this year nationwide in response to the flood of toxic legislation hitting public employees across the country. Lawsuits are very expensive gambles, which is why unions, activists, and members devoted a lot of time and energy to fighting or modifying bad legislation. However, once bad legislation has passed, one of the most effective places to fight it is in court especially since many legislatures (including Florida's) are somewhat indifferent to constitutional niceties. In particular, as one wag put it, Florida's pension legislation was indeed a jobs bill for lawyers.

All this lobbying and litigation is expensive, and all UFF USF bargaining unit employees should be grateful to UFF USF members, whose dues are helping FEA fight for everyone's pension rights. We can use all the help we can get, and those who wish to support the movement are encouraged to join UFF by sending in a membership form.

And this spring was just round one. A lot of bad legislation did get passed, but the FEA and its allies did succeed in:

  • Cutting the pension's involuntary contribution from 5 % of salary to 3 % and defending the defined benefit program, and
  • Killing the bill that would have abolished tenure in community colleges, and
  • Killing the bill that would have required majority membership in a union in order for it to represent a bargaining unit, and other bad ideas.
But the bad ideas will be back: after one hearing did not go the way the legislative leadership wanted, Senator John Thrasher told one of the FEA advocates that "this isn't over." FEA has got that signal from many sources, and we expect old bad ideas, and new bad ideas, at next spring's legislative session. In particular, the majority membership bill seems likely to come back and FEA is telling union locals like UFF to aim for majority membership by next spring...

June 30, 2011

GETTING IT DOWN ON PAPER

The UFF-USF Collective Bargaining Agreement the contract protects your rights, but not by itself. It's only a piece of paper, and real people have to enforce it. For UFF members, those real people are colleagues who serve as volunteers in the UFF USF Grievance Committee (see announcement above). These "grievance representatives" work with the grievant to prepare the case, and then present it through the sequence of hearings that make up the grievance process.

A grievance is not a complaint that a supervisor was stupid or unfair: the contract does not forbid stupidity or unfairness. A grievance is a complaint that the contract was violated, and that means that the grievance process goes to the specifics of the violation. So it is critical to be clear about what actually happened.

In many grievances, facts are disputed or unclear. Did the grievant's supervisor give the grievant notification X on date Y? When did the grievant hear about policy Z and how? When did the grievant call the dean's office and leave what message? Since the burden of proof is usually on the grievant, the facts of the case need to be clear and substantiated if the grievance is to succeed.

That often means documentation.

We've heard this before. When dealing with an insurance company, or the IRS, or litigious acquaintance, one must record phone and face-to-face conversations, save emails, and document events. There are two reasons for this:

  • Memory is not reliable. Neuroscientists now tell us that memory is protean, always subject to current demands and stresses, and prone to simplification, confusion, and worse. Well-organized documentation can organize data to remind people of the actual timeline and keep track of events.
  • A written record can decide a matter involving conflicting witnesses. Again, in most grievances, the burden of proof is on the grievant, so a my-word-against-yours situation will tend to be decided in favor of the Administration. It isn't that people deliberately lie (although that does happen on occasion); it's that he said she said situations in which two parties remember the same event differently is common enough to be a literary genre, and a recurrent theme in grievances.
So if trouble looms, what does one document?

First of all, invest in a journal. A central record tracking documented items is invaluable in organizing the case, especially if it is complicated and involves a squirrely sequence of events. Treat it as a journal, so whenever something noteworthy happens, make a note of it (remembering the journalistic who, what, when, where, why, and how).

This includes conversations. If an important conversation occurs, make note of it in the journal. If the conversation concerned a tricky or critical point, it helps to get additional documentation. Of course, there is a tendency (ahem!) of some administrators to rely on conversations either in person or over the phone when giving information or instructions on touchy subjects. To establish what conversing actually took place, a follow-up email can be quite useful, either in eliciting a written response that will confirm a journal entry, or even getting the administrator to adjust the communication (after thinking about how the original communication looks in print).

Secondly, save email sent and received. This is as good a place as any to remind everyone that email handled by state machines are subject to Florida state law, including the public records law: don't send anything you wouldn't want to see posted on the www by a hostile ideological think tank. And don't rely on the integrity of state equipment; save important emails on a USB or forward them to a personal computer of your own. If an email disappeared and wasn't backed up, it can't be used.

Third, save all written and printed documents. Just because you received a document does not mean that the Administration will have a readily accessible record of that document.

And don't be shy about calling for help. UFF membership comes with the right to union representation, so give us a buzz. (The UFF USF Grievance Chair is Sonia Wohlmuth, email swohlmut@tampabay.rr.com.) In particular, since a grievance must be filed within thirty days of the violation or within thirty days of when the employee knew or should have known of it don't wait to think about it: contact us at once. For more on the grievance process, see the 13 Jan. 2011 Biweekly article.

One important fact to remember: if you are summoned to a meeting with a supervisor or administrator that could lead to disciplinary action, federal law permits you to insist on having a union representative present. In fact, if you are in a meeting with a supervisor and the meeting takes a direction that could lead to disciplinary action, federal law permits you to insist that the meeting stop and that a union representative be present when the meeting resumes. For more information about this "Weingarten Rule", see the 17 May 2007 and 22 May 2005 Biweekly articles. And again, document all such meetings.

Know your contract. You can't insist on your rights if you don't know what they are. UFF has sent hardcopies of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to all employees in the UFF USF Bargaining Unit (UFF members and non-members alike); if you did not get one, contact UFF USF President Paul Terry at pterry4303@aol.com; there is also a searchable PDF copy of the contract posted on line.

Remember that UFF cannot represent non-members in grievances: in fact, UFF cannot represent a USF employee who was not a member of the union at the time of the violation. So join today: it's as easy as sending in the form.

July 14, 2011

ACADEMIC ASSIGNMENTS UNDER FIRE

Nationally, faculty assignments have become a major issue. Some pundits blame faculty assignments for current academic financial difficulties. A recent survey of academic chief financial officers conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education jointly with Moody's Investors Service included the question: what one strategy would CFOs pick to cut costs or raise revenue (ignoring political repercussions). The most popular, chosen by 38 % of respondents, was to increase teaching loads. (19 % said increase tuition, 17 % said eliminate tenure, and 11 % said hire more adjuncts.) Moody's Managing Director of Higher Education-Not-for-Profit ratings team, John Nelson, was quoted saying that faculty productivity "is the last big area where there are really material efficiencies" available.

This is not new: professors and their allegedly light duties in particular, their light teaching loads is as longstanding an article of popular faith as doctors playing golf, policemen taking donut breaks, and office managers playing solitaire. The politics of resentment frequently sells, especially when times are hard. And public employees (including university faculty and professionals) are favorite targets.

Part of this may be due to a misunderstanding. Several years ago, an unnamed community college put out an ad for instructors to teach six to eight courses per semester; the college said that this added up to less than thirty hours a week (five for office hours and 18 to 24 for the courses). The reality is somewhat different: college teachers have to prepare for class and grade papers as well as perform many "service" (often administrative) duties and often research, original research as well as keeping up in one's field as well as new teaching techniques. The 2004 survey of post-secondary faculty conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics of the U.S. Department of Education (see the report on post-secondary faculty) reported that faculty reported working an average 47.44 hours a week. The survey broke up duties into pieces and asked what percentage of respondents' time is devoted to specific tasks (the mean time spent emailing students was 3 hours a week).

This is the reality of academic life: lots of little things, adding up to a full-time job. But teaching duties are what concern politicians and pundits most. Every once and a while, academics make a great discovery or develop a great invention and there is a brief flurry of applause, but after the applause dies down the obsession returns to teaching loads. Florida Statute 1012.945 on "Required number of classroom teaching hours for university faculty members" states that "Each full-time equivalent teaching faculty member at a university who is paid wholly from state funds shall teach a minimum of 12 classroom contact hours per week at such university. However..." said faculty member may be assigned to do something else for some of those hours.

This is the terrain that the university must navigate as it works towards an empowering higher education for its students and leadership in research and scholarship. There are a lot of things that must be done, and many of them require a lot of labor at least if they are to be done well. Since high quality must be a priority for USF, assignments must be realistic.

ACADEMIC ASSIGNMENTS AT USF

Florida statute requires each university to have a formula to "equate the time required for nonclassroom duties with classroom contact hours"; the Administration informs us that USF's formula is the Teaching Assignments and Productivity Guidelines.

These are indeed guidelines, and they give considerable flexibility in making assignments. The first point made in the Guidelines is that, whatever noises politicians and pundits may make about internal administrative issues like teaching loads, the fundamental question for USF as a public agency is its service as opposed to its cost: the first principle of the Guidelines is to "manage the outcome, not the process"; the other three principles advise supervisors to exercise good judgment in composing assignments.

That said, state law requires a formula, and what the Guidelines offer is a two-step formula, both steps apparently subject to the discretion of the administration. The first step proposes recommended assigned course loads to faculty in three classes of programs:

  • Doctoral programs, faculty teach two 3-hour courses per semester.
  • Masters programs, faculty teach alternately teach three 3-hour courses, and two 3-hour courses, per semester.
  • Baccalaureate programs, faculty teach three 3-hour courses per semester.
There is nothing in the Guidelines about courses that are not assigned three credit hours.

The rationale may be motivated by the point that "Within a unit, faculty assignments to individual faculty members will vary based upon a faculty member's research productivity, contribution to graduate program and the overall mission of his/her unit." Following this principle, a doctoral program would have lower teaching loads than a baccalaureate program, although the Guidelines never state such a rationale.

Departments are advised to reduce teaching loads (i.e. provide course releases) for faculty on tenure track or having administrative duties.

Interestingly, the Guidelines remarks that "Adjuncts should not be used for budgetary reasons alone."

Two issues:

  • One that is addressed in the Guidelines is when a 3-hour course counts for less than a 3-hour course. Assignments are computed on 12 course hours = 100 % of a full-time assignment, so theoretically a 3-hour course would count for 25 % of the assignment. But the Guidelines simply set 25 % as a ceiling (and for a course requiring special preparations), but then advocates a "variable percentage assignment system" and presents examples, e.g., a 3-hour course being 20 % if the teacher has taught it repeatedly, or 15 % if it is a "video-based course", etc. In making assignments, the supervisor seems to have considerable flexibility here, at least in developing the variable percentage assignment system.
  • One that is not addressed in the Guidelines is: what is equivalent to a 3-hour course? Labs and tutorials consume varying amounts of time and have varying percentage assignments. This is also true of service what should the assignment be for membership on this committee or organizing that seminar? What about directing a thesis or participating in a task force? These technicalities float across the Assigned Faculty Duties and Faculty Activity Report forms, but these nitty-gritty are what we are assigned to do and how much time it is expected to take us.
We will go into the nitty-gritty and what the contract says about it (and what we can do about it) in the next Biweekly.

July 28, 2011

USF POLICIES & PROCEDURES: AFD, FAR, FAIR, AND ALL THAT

Taken literally, a faculty job at USF consists of receiving an assignment outlined in an Assignment of Faculty Duties (AFD) form, carrying out that assignment, and then following it up with a Faculty Activities Report (FAR) to confirm that one did one's job. How one did one's job is a matter for the Faculty Academic Information Reporting (FAIR) system, which produces the annual reports that evaluating committees use to generate recommendations for merit pay raises, discretionary raises (depending on whatever criteria the administration is using that week), tenure, promotion, and over time, decisions about future assignments. The stakes being high, one should not treat AFD forms as something icky that one signs periodically after (maybe) glancing at it.

One word of warning: USF policies, procedures, and paperwork are currently under review, so the apparatus used this fall may be slightly different.

Let's first observe that there are THREE sets of numbers running around.

  • First, from tradition and the contract comes the notion of the 40-hour week (recall that in the last Biweekly, faculty nationwide report working on average 47 hours a week). Estimates of hours actually spent working underlie many of the computations.
  • Second, sometimes there are percentages of a (1.00 or 100 %) Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) assignment.
  • Third, from Florida statute fixing twelve classroom hours or "equivalent" as a (minimum) full-time assignment comes the notion that a full-time assignment is the equivalent of teaching twelve hours of courses.
Notice that one course hour is 1/12 of a full-time assignment, or 8.33 % of a FTE, which is also one-twelfth of a 40-hour week, i.e. a workload of three hours and twenty minutes. Both percentages and course hours are used in AFD and FAR forms, but the instructions say that many of these percentages and course hours are generated by estimates of actual hours of work.

USF's policy is outlined in the Teaching Assignments and Productivity Guidelines, but since people filling out the AFD and FAR forms will consult the Detailed Online Training for the FAIR form, Stage 3: Completing the FAR Form (let's call this the "FAIR3 page"), we should look at this FAIR3 page to see what actually happens.

The AFD and FAR forms break the assignments into many categories whose percentages are supposed to add up to 100 %. These categories tend to be instructional (classroom instruction, thesis and dissertation supervision, directed individual studies, supervision of internships, altogether seven categories not counting categories restricted to graduate assistants) and non-instructional (departmental non-funded research, funded / sponsored research, clinical service, state mandated service, altogether eleven categories not counting leave of absence with pay and release time). In the interests of time and sanity, evaluation committees tend to condense these assignments into teaching, research, and service.

And now for the percentages. Since four 3-hour courses make up a minimal full-time assignment, it would seem that 3-hour course is 25 % of the assignment and a 4-hour course is 33.33 % of the assignment.

There are two complications:

  • The Teaching Assignments and Productivity Guidelines suggests that supervisors might try lowering these percentages, but the FAIR3 page does not go into how a supervisor might do that without getting into trouble. UFF regards lowering percentages of assignments as akin to cooking the books, and since book-cooking is likely to result in unrealistic assignments leading to unsatisfactory results, UFF regards lowering percentages as bad management practice.
  • The FAIR3 page uses the term "contact hour" for computing course hour equivalents, which raises the question of how to count activities not mentioned, e.g. a one-credit hour laboratory course meeting for three hours a week. That would appear to be three contact hours, i.e. 25 % of an assignment. This may be one of those issues requiring clarification.
The FAIR3 page assigns percentages to other instructional activities, e.g. direction of a thesis or dissertation is 8.33 % of an FTE (mere committee membership is 4.17 %), direction of independent study is also 4.17 %, and so on. (The observant reader may notice that this presumes that a teacher spends half an hour a week with each independent study student.)

For categories of research and service, supervisors are told to estimate the classroom hour equivalents for each activity, and divide by 40 and get a percentage (the algorithm in the FAIR3 form is more complicated but equivalent). The problem is that many of these assignments are taken up or assigned in a haphazard way, often leaving the employee in the position of deciding whether to accept just one more little thing. As Cathy Guisewite observed, looking at such little assignments one-by-one obscures the size of the entire service assignment ("It's the same way I eat a pie"). This leads to the managerial issue of how assignments relate to performance.

Frequently, the expectation is that the employee is rewarded by the gratitude of peers, or at least by a favorable evaluation next time around. The material reality is that the merit pay formula depends critically on the percentage of time assigned to an activity: performance on an activity with a small time assignment has a proportionately lower impact on merit pay raises than performance on assignments with greater time. Time is the most valuable resource a faculty member has, and if supervisors assign insufficient time to certain activities, those activities will be starved for resources.

Assignments are ultimately the things that the university an agency of the State of Florida is supposed to do. Good management practice would have supervisor and employee working together to develop a realistic and reasonable assignment for carrying out that employee's part in the mission of the university.

WHAT THE CONTRACT SAYS

The Collective Bargaining Agreement the contract signed by representatives of the faculty & professionals and the Board of Trustees, and enforceable by law addresses assignments in Article 9 on Assignment of Responsibilities (starting on page 15 (the 19th page) on the PDF file posted at http://uff.ourusf.org/bargaining/uff-agreement-2010-2013.pdf).

Contractual conditions on assignments tend to be abstract. For example, the assignment cannot be "imposed capriciously or unreasonably". They must provide opportunity to make progress towards tenure, promotion, successive multi-year appointments, and merit pay raises: clauses 9.3(D)(2) & (3) require that tenure packets contain the candidate's annual assignments, and if a candidate is denied tenure and an arbitrator finds that the candidate was denied an "equitable opportunity" because of assignments, the arbitrator may require the Administration to provide said "equitable opportunity".

There are specific restrictions: (if practicable) an employee should not have two scheduled duties on the same day if there are eight hours from the beginning of the first to the end of the last, a workweek of scheduled hours should not normally exceed forty hours, and an employee has a principal place of employment and must be given at least nine months notice of a change of principal place of employment (and, where possible, be given ninety days notice before receiving an assignment at a "secondary" place of employment).

But the important stuff in the contract concerns the procedures:

  • Employees receive written assignments for the year at the beginning of the year. Employees also are to be consulted before final written assignments are made for each semester, and these final written assignments must be made at least six weeks before the semester starts. Of course, things happen, and the Administration reserves the right to make last minute changes but changes, and their rationales, must be made in writing.
  • An employee has the right to consult with the person who made the assignment, and if that proves unsatisfactory, to consult with that person's superior. There is also an Assignment Dispute Procedure (Appendix F of the Collective Bargaining Agreement) for grieving an assignment. As with all grievances, this must be filed within thirty days of receipt of the written assignment.
UFF has received a growing number of complaints about assignments. If you have a problem with your assignment, you may contact our Grievance Chair, Sonia Wohlmuth. Remember, UFF cannot represent a UFF USF employee in a grievance (including an assignment dispute) who was not a UFF member at the time of the violation.


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