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United Faculty of Florida, Fall 2007

August 23, 2007

Welcome Back

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida consists of all USF employees – faculty and university professionals – who are members of the United Faculty of Florida. The Chapter and its Executive Committee (the elected and appointed officers, and representatives to our statewide affiliates, the statewide United Faculty of Florida and the Florida Education Association) meet every other week on Friday noon. It is at these meetings that the Chapter hears reports and makes policy decisions. All members of the United Faculty of Florida are encouraged to attend and participate; non-member employees of the bargaining unit (who we also represent – under law – in bargaining and grievances) are invited to visit and check us out.

This semester we will meet in EDU 413. The meetings are about an hour and a half long, and in a typical meeting we start with lunch (there are free sandwiches and soda pop), and go through an agenda that typically includes reports from the Chief Negotiator on bargaining the contract, from the Grievance Chair on grievances filed against the administration for violations of the contract (yes, it does happen: see the article on "When in Trouble..." below), from the Membership Chair on our campaign to persuade faculty to participate in the bargaining and enforcement of their own contracts, from the Political Action Chair on our efforts to persuade local shakers and movers to be kinder to unions and universities, from the Publicity Chair on our communications with the unit, and from the Treasurer on our resources for doing all this stuff. Also, there are usually several special items on upcoming and ongoing events, and there will be several important items on tomorrow's agenda.

So come and check us out.

Union Requests Impact Bargaining on Class Sizes

On July 20, the Chapter requested that the university bargain the effect of increased class sizes after Provost Khator distributed an e-mail requesting that class sizes be raised to whatever the room capacity was. Under Florida law, even when management has a unilateral right to make policy changes, a union has the right to bargain the effects of that change on employees. For example, when a class that typically has had a cap of 250 students suddenly has that cap raised to more than 400, that imposes a much greater workload on the faculty member. The administration has asked to put the issue on the agenda for a consultation next Wednesday.

Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Raises

For most of us, raises are supposed to be simple: they arrive in our paychecks in the beginning of the fall semester, preceded by or at least accompanied by a form entitled "Salary Increase Notification" (Appendix E in the contract: the 2004 – 2005 version is on page 95 of the on-line copy of the Collective Bargaining Agreement). Since it is an annual raise coming all at once, we often don't realize that it usually is a bundle of raises allocated using a variety of criteria.

Last year, the different raises appeared at different times, which led to some confusion. In addition, something seems to have happened to some of the Salary Increase Notifications, which hasn't helped. Anyway, raises came in two big blocks.

One was the usual set of raises, which was supposed to be bargained in spring and early summer of 2006 so it could come into effect just before the fall of 2006. Unfortunately, the Administration had difficulties getting started with bargaining, and then difficulties conducting bargaining, so bargaining went right through the spring of 2007, and these raises started appearing in paychecks in June. Complicating this was the fact while the union won back pay on these raises (with the back payments made as lump sums on July 27), the time covered by the back payments varied depending on the kind of raise: promotional raise pay went back to Aug. 7, 2006, merit raises to Oct. 1, 2006, and market adjustment raises to Jan. 2, 2007. As this was supposed to be our raise over the summer of 2006, only people who had been employed in spring of 2006 were eligible.

The other was a raise mandated by the legislature, and applying to everyone with at least a satisfactory rating, effective in fall of 2006, when it actually started appearing in our paychecks. UFF spearheaded the lobbying in the legislature to get this raise (that's why political action is part of our mission).

We face similar confusion this year. The current contract runs from 2004 to 2007, so we need an entirely new contract effective ... effective ... well, immediately since our raises over this summer are supposed to be coming into effect now (the legislature is stingy this year, and is mandating only bonuses). Unfortunately, considering the budget mess in Tallahassee (see below), this could take a while. Meanwhile, we encourage all employees to familiarize themselves with GEMS so that they can keep track of they are actually being paid; your departmental staff (represented by AFSCME) can help you here. And let us know if there is a problem, for the only way we can find out if there are payment problems is if the people we represent tell us: if you find a problem, contact the Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

Budget Update

On August 1, Florida's college and university leaders told the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission that they needed $ 100 million more each year for ten years in order to meet anticipated demands on the higher educational system. Florida has the lowest tuition in the country, and perhaps not coincidentally, both UF and FSU recently slipped in U.S. News & World Report's annual ratings. Meanwhile, all of Florida's public universities are preparing for a 4 % cut in General Revenues (not E & G, as reported in the July 19 UFF Biweekly), and as an exercise (we hope) planning for a 10 % cut.

The proximate cause is a housing slump: Florida’s economy is inordinately dependent on "growth," and the current slow-down in tax receipts is anticipated to cost Florida over a billion dollars in tax revenues. The slow-down has local roots: with rising property insurance and muddled property taxes, Floridians are wary of moving to bigger houses while non-Floridians are increasingly attracted to cheaper deep-South alternatives. But there are also broader problems, reflected in recent bumps in the stock market, the rise the trade deficit, the fall of the dollar, etc.

One of the local roots highlights another problem: if Florida is hit with another hurricane, Citizen's Insurance is very exposed, and the state government could be facing billions in liabilities. The legislature may feel it has the choice of allocating money to the General Fund now and then withdrawing it should a hurricane hit, with inevitable administrative repercussions just as Florida deals with a hurricane aftermath, or the legislature could simply put a lot of money in the bank just in case. We will not know what the legislature will do about hurricanes for another month.

Florida is not unique, for the National Conference of State Legislatures reported that a boom during the last two years is ending just as Congress is inflicting more unfunded mandates (now at $ 75 billion). The next two years are expected to be rough all around, although some states (our legislature should take note!) are making special efforts to protect higher education.

The level of state support is dropping nationwide, forcing universities to look elsewhere, and one place universities have been turning to during the last few decades are students. One reason tuition has been rising nationwide is that the other sources of funding for academia have been drying up: as higher education is increasingly regarded as a commodity rather than a public good, students and their parents are expected to pick up more of the bill. Florida has been resisting this trend, but a recent lawsuit, Graham v. Pruitt, to free the Board of Governors to set tuition might, well change that. The Board (and UFF) have joined this suit, more out of desperation than anything else: on the eve of this suit members of the legislature had told the press that the universities should not expect adequate funding from the state.

The next year will probably be hard, and the next few years will be critical. We have heard many high-sounding statements, from the Chamber of Commerce and leading newspapers, about moving Florida into the Twenty-first century. That will cost money, and we shall see who is willing to put their money where their mouth is.

When in Trouble

The formal mission of the union is to bargain and enforce a contract. Enforcement is necessary because sometimes the contract is violated. And awareness is necessary because sometimes the victim of a violation is YOU.

Neither injustice nor stupidity are violations of the contract: a violation of the contract is an act (or inaction) that contravenes an item in the contract. So you should become familiar with the contract, the original version of which is on-line. If you are a victim of a violation of the contract, and you wish to seek redress, you should file a "grievance." A grievance is merely an assertion that the contract has been violated (there is a form for filing a grievance on page 92). You have thirty days since the time you knew or should have known about the violation to file a grievance, so even if you believe or hope you can work it out quietly, you should file a grievance (which often can spur a quiet but successful resolution). The union can help by having a fellow university professional (an experienced volunteer who has had grievance training) work with you on the grievance; to get help, contact our Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

The contract does not enumerate all situations where union assistance can be helpful. For example, the federal "Weingarten Rule" says that if an employee is in a meeting which could lead to disciplinary action, and that employee is represented by a union, then the employee can stop the meeting until a union representative can join. (For more on the Weingarten Rule, see the article in the May 17, 2007 UFF Biweekly.) This rule can be helpful, for supervisors can do reckless things when they are confused or frazzled.

The contract is only a piece of paper: it can only be enforced when we enforce it. And that means all of us.

September 6, 2007

The Legislature and the Budget

On September 10, the Legislative Budget Commission will meet alongside legislative committees gearing up for the special session on what to do about a billion-dollar-plus hole in the budget. That’s perhaps 2 % of the budget, but with commitments and technicalities restricting the Legislature’s options, Dame Rumor is suggesting a 4 % cut in General Revenue funding, which could cost the State University System (SUS) about a hundred million dollars.

The United Faculty of Florida and its affiliate, the Florida Education Association (which represents teachers at all levels throughout the state) are lobbying legislators to try to protect education funding as much as possible. The legislature is very averse to tax reform, so the most likely outcome is to move allocations around, and the UFF and the FEA are seeking the optimal allocation.

1. One proposal – supported by many students – has been to raise tuition, but for a variety of reasons, there is relatively little money to be gained with a tuition hike this year, so there is not much interest in this option this time around.

2. The UFF, the FEA, and a number of others have observed the coincidence that the SUS’s cut is approximately the same as the current allocation for new initiatives; perhaps some initiatives could be postponed and the funds used to protect current programs. We have sounded out this position and some legislators appear sympathetic to the argument.

3. And there’s the Budget Stabilization Fund, i.e., the rainy day fund. The FEA is suggesting that an economic downturn counts as a rainy day, and perhaps some of the money could be released.

This is only some of what was going on in Tallahassee. According to a recent report in the St. Petersburg Times (print edition), the Florida senate was inclined towards a broad distribution of cuts while the Florida house was inclined towards deep cuts in a few targeted areas (while Governor Crist was inclined towards protecting education, human services and public safety – about two thirds of the budget); on Wednesday, Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio announced that the special session informally scheduled for September 18 was canceled because the lack of a necessary consensus for what action to take (the Tampa Tribune posted their letter). No later date was announced, but with over a billion in red ink en route, it is likely that the legislature leadership is using the time (and the uncertainty over the amount of time) to press for the necessary consensus over what to do: the Times remarked that "Canceling the session also gives advocates for threatened programs more time to plead their cases," i.e., the lobbying and planning will continue.

Sherman Dorn, President of the USF Chapter of the UFF, advised the chapter that "The legislature has a choice of whether to cut new programs that have no students yet and no employees yet, or to cut existing programs that have students currently enrolled and faculty and other employees who have been at USF for years. The rainy-day fund should be tapped, and the existing university programs should be preserved even if that means that new initiatives are delayed or dramatically curtailed." He expressed concern about the relative silence of the system's senior executives and board members on what to do about the cuts – with the exception of the letter by FSU Provost Larry Abele (see below) – and wrote, "I see danger when the system's leaders are silent on a matter that can irreparably harm the universities. So we must speak up." See President Dorn's full letter is posted at our off-campus site.

Legislators take constituent feedback very seriously, at least if they want to stay in office, and contacting legislators is relatively straightforward. First of all, it is illegal to use state office equipment to lobby legislators, so one must use one's own cell or home phone or home computer. State senators are listed at the senate page and representatives at the house page. It is usually best to distill a short a clear message: it should concern a single subject, focusing on what the legislator should or should not do, and the phone call should last no more than a minute. Phone messages are taken by staffers (either live or by playing recordings), and short, clear messages worded in advance are more likely to be accurately noted. The same need for brevity is true for e-mail messages, which should probably be no more than 200 words.

In the long term, the SUS's rather problematic finances need to be shored up. This crisis should not be something we think about instead of thinking about the long-term problem: this crisis is a symptom of the long-term problem, and there is no better time to think about the long-term than during a crisis which may determine the future of the system for many years to come.

A Letter from FSU Provost Larry Abele

On July 28, FSU Provost Larry Abele circulated to SUS presidents, provosts, and others, a letter that he had sent to the Board of Governors about the budget crisis.

Dear Members of the Board of Governors,

It is clear that our universities face real challenges in the weeks and months ahead and I want to thank you for all the work you have already put into getting through the revenue shortfall and to extend an offer to help in any way I can.

Along those lines, I have developed some principles and recommendations that, in full or in part, may be use of some use in your deliberations. They are prompted by an observation recently made to me by one of our alumni. The simultaneous arrival of directions to cut budgets along with proposed guidelines to distribute $100M for Centers of Excellence struck her as somewhat odd. Specifically, she asked, how can we reduce services to students while spending funds that do not directly serve the vast majority of our students? She was referring to the proposal to distribute $100 million in non-recurring funds for Centers of Excellence. A veteran of budget reductions here in Tallahassee, she asked how we could award non-recurring funds to programs that will require the expenditure of recurring funds in order to be successful when, at the same time, we are asked to cut recurring funds from our budgets?

Her questions are not dissimilar to those others have been asking. I had hoped that these issues would be discussed at the last BOG meeting but since they were not I feel compelled to make one last argument for open discussion. Therefore, I suggest that the BOG consider the principles and recommendations below as we deal with shrinking state revenues.

First Principle. The SUS, as its first priority, will serve its currently enrolled students exceeding some 280,000 along with the 60,000 plus who have been accepted for the fall 2007. This does not mean that other issues, such as economic development or public service, are not important but that they are secondary to the needs of our students.

Second Principle. The SUS and its universities will continue to maintain strict financial accountability for its operations and deal with the many ramifications of budget reductions and existing contractual obligations in a timely and expeditious manner.

Third Principle. The SUS will abide by the reduction priorities outlined in Chapter 216, Florida Statutes. This will entail following two state mandates. The first was outlined in a recent communication to the BOG. On June 29, 2007 a joint letter from the Governor, Senate President and Speaker of the House directed universities, among other state entities, to anticipate a minimum budget reduction of 4% during fiscal years 2007-08 and 2008-09 in recurring General Revenue Fund appropriations. This is the minimum reduction that will occur as quarterly releases are reduced from 25 to 24%.

Some recommendations would seem to flow from these principles.

Recommendation I. We must maintain our credibility by focusing on our First Principle and therefore In order to meet the mandated reduction of 4% for the fiscal year 2007-08 and deal with existing contractual obligations in accord with the Second Principle, the BOG will suspend all or some portion the $100M for Centers of Excellence along with a portion of funds from HB 83 (Venture Capital Program) in order to build into the SUS the most orderly possible means of accommodating reductions. This means that a portion of the SUS recurring reduction will have to be addressed in FY 2008-2009,

Recommendation II. All funds for new programs not directly serving students should be reduced to meet the 10% reduction for the fiscal year 2007-08. The BOG should make every effort to include the $80M allocated to the University of Miami as part of this reduction in keeping with the Third Principle.

Recommendation III. Each university will identify and initiate changes, on a timely basis, to make the recurring fund reductions that will be needed to replace the non-recurring funds listed in I and II above. The value here is that each university will have a full year to identify the sources of the recurring funds while still being able to serve current students.

Recommendation IV. The same First Principle and approaches listed above will be used to develop the reduction plans for 2008-09. Programs that do not directly serve students will be reduced first and then limit enrollment of students to those fully funded by the legislature for the fall 2008 class.

Recommendation V. The BOG should work with the Community College and Public School systems to ensure that each education delivery system receives only its proportionate share of the overall state reduction in recurring general revenue.

Thank you for your consideration, Larry

Lawrence G. Abele
Provost and Executive Vice President
Academic Affairs
The Florida State University

September 20, 2007

In the Aftermath of Virginia Tech

Last April 16, a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University killed 32 people with a pair of guns within a few hours, the deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history. Within days, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine commissioned a study of the events, which was released in late August (and available on-line). Across the country, academic institutions are taking their security plans out of their filing cabinets and reviewing them.

Of course, all this is in response to a Man Bites Dog event. The more mundane Dog Bites Man reality was captured by the recent deaths of nine miners at Crandall Canyon Mine in Utah, while the statistical reality is reflected by the memorial at water's edge in Gloucester, Massachusetts, of a fisherman facing the gale: in 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an on-the-job fatality rate of fishermen of 142 per 100,000 – and none were homicides. A glance at the on-the-job fatalities over the last fifteen years (see page 2 of this BLS release) shows a dramatic decline in homicides, a steady rise in falls, and the continued dominance of on-the-job driving fatalities.

Educational and Health Industries reported less than one on-the-job fatality per hundred thousand last year – as opposed to the national mean of about four fatalities per hundred thousand. Moreover, as the Virginia report notes, shootings in academia are very rare (about 16 a year among 4,000 institutions). But each homicide is catastrophic for someone, and such violence often has lasting effects on the continued function of the institution, for violence induces primal fears that mine support collapse do not.

And from the beginning, unions have been concerned with safety.

In the feature article of the September/October AFT On Campus, there is an account of security measures taken in Suffolk County Community College after a faculty member was stabbed by a student in class; this student had already acquired three complaints from three instructors, but because of communication problems, no one had been aware that there were several complaints against this one student. SCCC has set up a clearinghouse to handle complaints – and track them – and is also working with the Suffolk County police on emergency plans.

Communication lies at the heart of many prevention and intervention problems. In the Virginia report, the authors wrestled with the point that over the years, several institutions became aware of Seung Hui Cho's mental problems, and that several reports had been received by several offices of Virginia Tech, but that this intelligence had never been organized into a form that would enable someone with authority to take action. Moreover, when Cho started shooting, emergency personnel did not have direct access to decision-making officials at the university, and (jumping to the conclusion that the initial shooting was domestic and therefore would not have a sequel) did not warn the campus community. The report has several long lists of carefully worded and often narrow recommendations about changes in communication, procedure, and organization.

There are (at least) four problems.

First, there is the often-ignored problem that composing documents is not the same as promulgating policy. People have to be so familiar with the policy that when circumstances arise, they act on it. This is why, for example, one of SCCC's innovations was a "table-top exercise" involving a simulated attack by armed robbers (while the most common sources of violence are co-workers and, in the lingo of Labor & Statistics, "clients," there is also violence from criminals and family members – see page 4 of this BLS survey). The prevention side is more difficult, for complaints of strange or threatening behavior have to be correctly classified and routed by staff to appropriate principals, who in turn deal with them. Perhaps with some training...

Second, it is the faculty who are actually on the front lines. When the Federation of Teachers asked the Monroe State University administration for assurances that MSU was addressing the issue of violence on campus, MSU provided materials including a pamphlet listing counseling services available to students. But there was no information on how faculty should deal with a troubled or troubling student. (And since there is a comparable problem with co-workers, it would be helpful to have information on that as well.) At present, many institutions do offer specific information on dealing with harassment of various kinds, and similar information about potentially dangerous behavior may also be helpful.

This leads to the third problem: when we ask experts for direction, they don't really know what to say. Unlike a harassment complaint, which concerns behavior that has (allegedly) occurred, a complaint about potential danger concerns something that might happen. The experts themselves do not have a reliable method for predicting dangerous behavior: we have a lot of abstract descriptions of alarming symptoms, such as emotional combativeness in class (or curling into a ball, like Mr. Cho), but even a trained observer has difficulty telling if such symptoms indicate danger or only eccentricity. There have been cases where experts or administrators overreact and the institution gets sued.

Part of the difficulty is that violent colleagues and students are rare while academia is full of squabbles. Since we rarely encounter someone who is actually dangerous we may be inclined to mistake a disagreeable colleague or student for a dangerous one: readers may recall that in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings there were news stories reporting that high school students were chewed out by teachers and principals for wearing "gothic" clothing. Overreactions generate memorable injustices, undermine respect for authority, compromise the credibility of subsequent complaints, and generate lawsuits. On the other hand, even without the combative academic atmosphere, incorrect complaints are inevitable: one of the standard exercises in elementary probability theory is to show that if a disorder is rare, the percentage of false positive diagnoses is high. At any rate, an institution cannot act on its anxieties about someone, but only on the actual behavior of (or unambiguous expressions by) that someone.

Of course, just because misbehavior isn't dangerous doesn't mean it isn't misbehavior. Calvin & Hobbes afficionados know that many classes have their Spacemen Spiffs who daydream (in class!) about how the teacher is an alien – and what should be done about it. Some compose literature on the subject (as assignments, or on their desks, as the case may be), and a few indulge disruptively in class. The last sort of thing has been dealt with by sending the disruptive student to the principal, and that principle (pun intended) still applies in college.

The current procedure at USF for reporting a disruptive or disturbing colleague or student to one's chair or supervisor, who can contact the Consultation Services (coordinated by Dr. Skalkos) in the Counseling Center during business hours; other resources include the relevant dean of one's college, the Advocacy Program (within Student Affairs; this program typically deals with victims of crime and/or trauma), the Office of Student Rights & Responsibilities (within Student Affairs), and the police. Very few people seem to be aware of this procedure (communication, again!), and there is a certain looseness to it. USF is among those institutions reviewing their policies: there is an ongoing "Safety and Security" task force that will be meeting with various campus groups over this semester in the hope of producing proposals in spring. The task force will be seeking input, but anyone interested in submitting suggestions can send them to the Provost's Office, or to Vice President Meningall in Student Affairs.

Pulling all this together, faculty and administrators need to know what to look for – at least, the best that experts can tell us to look for – and what to do when we encounter potential trouble. But that leaves us with the fourth problem. Faculty are not experts, and the training and resources to deal with troubled students and colleagues (and with suicide being the second highest cause of death among college students, troubled students are a real phenomenon) is an additional burden on us. It is also a burden on the institution: the International Association for Counseling Services recommends one professional per 1,000 to 1,500 students; so USF, with its 38,000 students, should have at least thirty counselors; USF actually has eleven. Add the current understaffing of the USF Police Department (partly a consequence of low salaries, which leads to low retention rates...), and whatever USF's policy, USF's ability to promulgate that policy is seriously compromised.

Teaching is a calling, which sometimes means we have to go beyond teaching in our particular field. But we need the resources and support.

Update on Norman Finkelstein

In the June 21, 2007 issue of the Biweekly, we described the controversy surrounding DePaul University’s denial of tenure to Norman Finkelstein; Finkelstein had been denied tenure amidst a confrontation with Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz over a book on Israel (and on Dershowitz on Israel) that Finkelstein had written, and many of his supporters were concerned about academic freedom implications – especially when one of his supporters was also denied tenure.

On Sept. 5, Finkelstein and the DePaul administration announced a settlement, which included his departure. The administration said that the publicity about the case "was unwelcome and inappropriate" but "had absolutely no impact on either the process or the final outcome," and that "Professor Finkelstein is a prolific scholar and an outstanding teacher." Finkelstein said he had been vindicated, and said his colleague's tenure denial was a "piece of unfinished business that will haunt DePaul until it is corrected."

The terms of the settlement were not announced, and there seemed to be a lot of grumpiness about the resolution. Dershowitz told the Chicago Tribune that "The university has traded truth for peace...The statement that [Finkelstein] is a scholar is simply false. He's a propagandist." Noam Chomsky wrote the Tribune that, "Of course, the whole affair was an utter outrage, a cowardly attack on academic freedom." Finkelstein himself seems uncertain of his future, for he is quoted in College Freedom saying, "My prospects in academia are dim," for an academic employer would be leery of him: "Nobody wants to go through this hysteria."

October 4, 2007

Budget Update

On October 1, UFF (statewide) President Tom Auxter sent the following message to the university chapters.

"The Florida House and Senate proposed budget cuts of 2.3% for universities and 1.8% for community colleges -- after an intense faculty grassroots effort to contact all legislators through district offices. Legislators rejected the Governor's recommendation of a 6.2% cut for universities and a 4.5% cut for community colleges. A conference committee still must iron out relatively small differences in proposed expenditures."

Auxter then noted that, "The Governor can still change the outcome for universities by vetoing the 5% tuition increase. Governor Crist can be contacted at (remember not to use public equipment or networks for this advocacy)."

Privatizing Responsibility

The USF Administration's recent proposal to privatize some of the USF police raises some questions about inherent problems with any private security force.

Before the Empire expressed its ambitions and wealth with miles of marble, the City of Rome was a city of wood. Seven hills stood above a forest of densely packed apartment buildings rising three or four stories or even higher. The first floor often consisted of shops, and the street was noisy and smelly (before automobiles there were ...), and yet renters preferred the lowest floor they could get: the higher you were, the less likely you could escape fire.

The Republic had no fire department, and this created an opportunity for entrepreneurs like Marcus Licinius Crassus, whose private force would show up and, as the flames surged through the structure, dicker with the owners over the price; usually the owner simply sold the structure to Crassus for a song, and over the years this (and similar) enterprises helped make Crassus one of the wealthiest men in the Republic.

After Crassus helped destroy the Republic (he was a member of the triumvirate, with Caesar and Pompey), the first Emperor, Caesar's heir Octavian, created the first known fire department. The Familia Publica was staffed by about six hundred slaves and was equipped with snazzy Alexandrian fire engines (which did not, apparently, render bucket brigades obsolete), but fire fighting in a city of wood was dangerous and the slaves really didn't have that much motivation to risk their lives fighting fires to save other people's buildings. It was, predictably, a disaster that propelled reform: in 6 AD a sequence of destructive fires impelled Octavian to create the Vigiles, a force of about seven thousand free and respected employees of the state dedicated to fighting fires (and sedition). It seems to have done fairly well, except for being overwhelmed or sabotaged (take your pick) in 47 AD (when Nero did or did not fiddle on top of the Palatine). This long-term success is not surprising: standing in that narrow street with nothing but a few comrades, a little Egyptian pump, and a mess of buckets, up against pillars of fire and smoke, a Roman knew that his own standing and that of his family would benefit or suffer by his conduct. The slaves the Roman professionals replaced had no such motivation.

Sedition, as well as the hazards of fire fighting, raises the problem of trust. Whatever the greater efficiencies and savings of employing private contractors, statesmen prefer to retain the more critical functions of government to the government. "... [I]f any one supports his state by the arms of mercenaries," warned Machiavelli, who knew about such things, "he will never stand firm or sure, as they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold amongst friends, cowardly amongst enemies..." Well, why should a mercenary risk his neck for some strange prince with a short-term difficulty?

The problem with mercenaries is that the commitment in trust the state gets is commensurate to the commitment the state gives, and if the state only offers piecework, then the state will only get that (if that) in return. (Compare this to the Roman practice of holding veterans in esteem, and granting them land upon retirement: no wonder Rome could expect a lot of its soldiers.) Worse, if one hires a company like Blackwater (or a peg-legged sea-cook like Long John Silver), that contractor will hire the employees that that contractor prefers to hire, under terms and conditions of that contractor's choosing. The employees hired by Blackwater (or John Silver) will then suffer a conflict of interest in any division – overt or subtle – between their actual employer and the institution that they are theoretically serving. The result is usually just a degradation of service, but disasters are not uncommon.

Privatization is not in itself a bad thing: it took forty members of the French Academy forty years to produce the Vocabolario, but it took Sam Johnson alone (well, with private assistants) less than ten to write the Dictionary. But composing dictionaries is not an office of trust like, say, fighting fires, maintaining sewers, or counseling schoolchildren. And some positions – counseling and teaching schoolchildren or administrating schools, for example – require that employees (e.g., counselors, teachers and administrators) take a long-term view. Replacing counselors and teachers with subcontractors hired by a for-profit education firm (or replacing administrators with subcontractors hired by a management company) will ultimately undermine the mission of the university – a university already compromised by the privatization of the campus bookstore, janitorial services, and (haven't we learned the lesson from Rome?!) the police.

Privatization is in vogue now, for not only is sewer maintenance often privatized, but last year, the IRS started contracting collection agencies to handle delinquent accounts. Meanwhile, as Dilbert fans have noticed, the high-tech world is increasingly dependent on consultants, contractors, and other transient creatures flitting through volatile firms looking for some stability. This is a way to maximize black ink on quarterly balance sheets, for it saves money on benefits while simultaneously discouraging union organizing. But if no one keeps an eye on the long run, everyone could find themselves muddling through towards the abyss. Only by long-term commitments going both ways can an institution like a university assure its future.

The FEA Delegate Assembly

The United Faculty of Florida is a union local of the Florida Education Association, the state's joint affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. The FEA's primary decision-making body is the Delegate Assembly, which meets once a year to review the past year and plan for the next. The Delegate Assembly met last weekend in Orlando just outside the Orange Convention Center, and had 910 delegates and 208 registered guests. One of the guests was AFT (national) President Ed McElroy, who told us that the AFT was keeping its eye on Florida because, "If there is an educational reform pushed by pure politics, someone in Florida is trying to make it into law."

FEA President Andy Ford's address identified four issues that the FEA was concentrating on: reducing the impact (particularly the punitive impact) of the FCAT test, reducing class sizes, obtaining pay raises, and reducing high school dropout rates:

  • Smaller class size was a reform supported by parents and teachers, and yet the class size amendment is being ignored and evaded in Tallahassee; later, the Delegate Assembly approved two resolutions on supporting and working towards enforcing the class size amendment.
  • Low salaries are a major reason for Florida's continued hemorrhaging of teachers: 20 % of new teachers leave within a year and nearly half within five years. Florida must not only recruit but retain qualified teachers, and that means salaries.
  • Despite the current debate over the statistics, the statisticians agree that about a third of all Florida high school students drop out, which lowers lifetime earnings while raising crime and social costs: Florida ranks last among states for education funding, and near the top for law enforcement and corrections.
Ford concluded by noting that a recent Money Magazine article ranked tax incentives as less important in business relocation decisions than education and quality of life.

Then on to politicking: Florida is represented by four members of the National Educational Association's Board of Directors, and one of those seats was becoming vacant. There were campaign speeches, a demonstration, and ultimately an election (by secret ballot): Calvin Collins from Polk County will represent us in Washington.

And recognition of Friends of Education. This year's awardees were Representative Dan Gelber, the House minority leader from Miami-Dade (who told us that despite the legislature's promise to "hold education harmless" in upcoming budget cuts, education was "first on the chopping block"), who told us that his sister was happier now that she had moved from law to teaching; Senator Steven Geller, the Senate minority leader from Broward County, who was unable to attend; and Senator Ted Deutch, who has stressed the importance of teacher retention in Florida.

There were sixteen items of new business, including one to study the effect of air quality in classrooms, one to have FEA oppose the new property tax initiative (if it reached the ballot and passed – a big if – it is estimated to cost education seven billion dollars in five years), one to have FEA push for school lunches with all five food groups (currently, the federal government permits omitting fruits and vegetables), and one to find out how many counties are complying with the new state law requiring PE in schools.

And that was the end of the first day.

October 18, 2007

Budget Crisis Lands as a Category Two Instead of Category Four Hurricane

The third special session this year ended October 12 with higher education cuts that were much smaller than the 6.2% cuts that the governor proposed in early September. According to Florida Education Association staff, the overall cuts for the state university system are approximately 2.5% of the system general revenues appropriated in the spring (depending on whether the governor vetoes tuition increases). Faculty, students, administrators, trustees and governors, and newspapers around the state made clear that cuts of 6.2% would cripple the state's colleges and universities. The legislature heard the message and gave the system some non-recurring funds to buffer the cuts to the budget base, and the legislature also approved small tuition hikes and a technology fee. The long-term financial stability of higher education depends on the Graham-Frey lawsuit on the powers of the Board of Governors and on the structure of the state's tax system (see the article below on the UFF Senate meeting).

The United Faculty of Florida Senate, Part I

The UFF Senate is the primary legislative and policy-setting body for the UFF. It meets twice a year, usually in central Florida as UFF chapters (one for each college or university represented) are scattered throughout the state. This year, 75 senators met in Orlando, just outside Disneyland.

This senate meeting, the theme was getting state funding.

UFF (statewide) President Tom Auxter began with Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which is charged under the Florida constitution to "examine the state budgetary process, the revenue needs and expenditure processes of the state, the appropriateness of the tax structure of the state, and governmental productivity and efficiency; ... determine methods favored by the citizens of the state to fund the needs of the state, ...; examine constitutional limitations on taxation and expenditures at the state and local level; and review the state's comprehensive planning, budgeting and needs assessment processes to determine whether the resulting information adequately supports a strategic decisionmaking process."

Auxter reported that he appeared before the Commission to tell them that current funding provides enough for Florida to have a university system, but not enough to make it work. As an example, he mentioned that Florida's faculty-to-student ratio ranks 49th in the nation, which has led to crowding, with unfortunate consequences, e.g., precocious high school students have been shut out of dual enrollment (simultaneous enrollment in nearby colleges) for lack of space. He also described the College Board's recent edition of Education Pays, which claimed that not only do individuals benefit from higher education, but society does as well. That report claimed that not only do "[h]igher levels of education correspond to lower unemployment and poverty rates," but "earnings of workers with lower education levels are positively affected by the presence of college graduates in the workforce." People with higher education are less likely to smoke or be overweight, while they are more likely to engage in volunteer work.

This is the message we have to get to the public and the legislature, Auxter argued. The Commission's hearings ended today (!), and now comes the cogitation and politicking: we have, said Auxter, a "ninety-day window" to get out our message for adequate and reliable funding, for the Commission will spend the next three months composing proposals for constitutional amendments to be presented to the voters for approval. Notice the word "reliable": currently Florida relies on rather fitful revenue streams that dry up during economic downturns; the universities (and other state and public institutions) require more stable resources. Auxter encouraged individual chapters to set up committees to visit legislators in their home districts, to put a constituent face on the faculty.

That evening, we started getting to specifics. Our longstanding position is that Florida's state funding of higher education should be in the top quartile; currently, it is at the top of the bottom quartile. The problem is complex. During the past quarter century, state and federal support for universities has declined as education itself became seen more as a private commodity than a public good; the states have increasingly relied on raising tuition to make up for funding deficiencies while the federal government has encouraged universities to rely on licensing and patents.

(Digression on licensing and patents. At the September 19 meeting of the USF Faculty Senate, President Genshaft said that in a study of universities that recently joined the American Association of Universities – which USF aspires to join – they found that the necessary funding for reaching AAU criteria came from inventions made and licensed at those universities; Genshaft did not then appeal to USF's west campus for a lucrative breakthrough, but she did say that the USF Administration was not counting on state support for its endeavor to join the AAU.)

(Another digression. At a meeting with the Tampa Tribune's editorial board last summer, one of the Tribune's reporters asked us why the local business community does not support USF more. That's a very good question, considering how much of a stake the business community has in USF's future.)

Raising tuition has less of a lottery aspect than inventing the next Gatorade, but nationwide tuition is rising more rapidly than inflation, and some UFF senators were wary of asking students to do what the state itself won't. But the system is under extreme strain – and the community colleges, which have fewer alternative sources of funding and less control over enrollment, are under far more pressure than the universities – so UFF and the FEA will press the state government to do something. In the end, the UFF decided to generally press for more funding and more stable revenue streams while studying how the system can be fixed, at least in Florida.

The FEA Delegate Assembly, Continued

The United Faculty of Florida is a "union local" of the Florida Education Association; the FEA represents teachers and other professionals across Florida and has over 135,000 members. Most locals are countywide organizations, like the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association; our local is unusual (but not unique) in being spread across the state. Each year, the primary legislative and policy-setting body of the FEA – the Delegate Assembly – meets to legislate and set policy. The meetings are usually in central Florida, and this year 910 delegates (representing the various locals) and 208 guests met in Orlando.

Imagine a convention hotel (next door to the Orange Convention Center) with a huge ballroom surrounded by class-room sized conference rooms (just the size for a union local delegation to caucus in), all opening into a two-story hall filled with concession stands offering jewelry or art, distributing forms on union benefits and requesting support for causes. John Edwards was the only presidential candidate with a stand (but the American Federation of Teachers – one of the FEA's two national affiliates – has recommended that the AFL-CIO endorse Hillary Clinton), and there were of course t-shirts for sale. One must have a badge to enter the ballroom itself, which had a series of projection screens behind the dais, and over a thousand chairs with signs indicating where each local's delegation is to sit; there were eight microphones set up in aisles for discussion and motions from the floor.

The business transacted on Friday, September 29, was described in the previous Biweekly. The meeting continued into Saturday morning; as is unusual, the new business had been concluded and what remained were informational items.

One was the History Project. The first incarnation of the FEA was in 1886, when monthly salaries ran from a low of $ 20 (in Gadsden county) to a high of $ 77.50 (in Polk county). Since then, the FEA has gone through several reincarnations – including a split that ended with the last reincarnation in 2000. The FEA is assembling materials and collecting memories to preserve for historians. Indeed, out of scholarly interest or sentimentality (or practical concerns, which I'll get to in a moment), history has become a major interest. One booklet, Fighting for the Profession: A History of AFT Higher Education, tells us that John Dewey held AFT membership card # 1, and that AFT members included Albert Einstein, Ralph Bunche, John Kenneth Galbraith, Reinhold Niebuhr, Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield, Roger Sessions, and Billy Collins (Einstein is quoted saying, "I find it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together both to protect their own economic status and also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field").

One reason for this interest is mentioned in the booklet (on page 13) under the title "Defending the Academy with Scholarship." Corporate-backed think tanks are pushing the notion that education (and other forms of scholarship) are commodities rather than public goods, and should be treated as such. Part of the AFT's defense of the academy is a new journal, American Academic, which could be regarded as a little sister to the NEA's established Thought & Action. Like the publications issued by Washington think tanks, these journals (issued in Washington) are intended to help frame debate in policy circles.

Speaking of framing debate, the other major topic (besides a video on declining teacher retention) was the upcoming re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (whose current incarnation is the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act: see the May 26, 2005 Biweekly article. The NCLB has turned into a gigantic unfunded federal mandate with many sticks and very little carrot, so the NEA and the AFT are actively lobbying Congress and encouraging supporters to send letters and make phone calls. As of Sept. 26, the latest draft the re-authorization increased reliance on standardized tests and increased sanctions, thus reducing local control. So we have our work cut out for us.

The meeting closed with the usual flurry of announcements, including UFF delegate Roy Weatherford's announcement that USF had just entered 18th place in the Eastern Conference. The next meeting will be in Tampa in October of 2008.

November 1, 2007

How to Abuse Instructional Faculty, Part I

Faculty in the USF College of Nursing have a high turnover rate: more than 20% last year. That may have something to do with how they're treated as professionals – or not. For example, most faculty elsewhere at USF know what they are teaching in January. Most faculty knew by mid-spring what they were teaching in the fall, and the bookstore was nagging us to get orders in before it was too late. But not faculty in the College of Nursing.

Faculty of the College of Nursing did not know what they were teaching until mid-July at the earliest and early August for some. This is a violation of the collective bargaining agreement's requirement that faculty have an annual assignment six weeks before the start of the annual contract period, August 7. Each year, department chairs and school directors should be providing us our annual assignments by June 26. That doesn't mean that changes cannot be made: a small amount of last-minute swapping is understandable. But when an entire college cannot make assignments before students start enrolling in courses, giving faculty insufficient time for preparation, that is administrative dysfunction and a recipe for demoralization and high attrition, which we have seen in the College of Nursing.

If you know what you're teaching in January, thank your chair or director for being competent at this part of bureaucracy, for you could be in the College of Nursing instead. If office pools were legal in Florida, the chapter could run a pool for the exact day and time the last Nursing faculty member found out what her or his spring schedule was. But it's no joking matter when faculty have to gamble that they're going to be treated professionally.

Rent-A-Cops Update

The university administration has decided to spend $200,000 in the next year on rent-a-cops, while bargaining with uniformed university police drags on.

During the past few years USF police presence on campus has declined; on Oct. 27, the St. Petersburg Times reported that the USF Police Department had one officer per 939 students, as opposed to the 500-to-1 standard for city police departments. Part of the problem is pay: there are twelve vacant positions but the starting salary is about $ 35,000 a year, about $ 4,000 less than local market. In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings (see the Sept. 20 Biweekly article), people in the university and surrounding community became concerned. It soon became apparent that part of the administration's solution was to hire a private security firm (see the Oct. 4 Biweekly article), and the administration announced on Oct. 26 that they would hire Allied Barton Security " provide officers for residence halls and some campus events, and to provide expanded foot patrols campus-wide" (the announcement is posted on-line). It will cost $ 200,000 a year, but President Genshaft said that, "The entire university community will feel reassured when they see this extra layer of security."

Actually, that $ 200,000 is just about the money needed to jack the USF police officer starting salary up to market level and also give each current officer a $ 4000 raise – there seems to be some sentiment that the solution is for the USF police department to hire more officers, but that would still leave plenty of money for meaningful raises. Observers at Monday's collective bargaining session with the Police Benevolent Association noted that the AlliedBarton contract also represents about half of the funds swept out of the Police Department budget some time ago. While the creation of the new Department of Public Safety may make sense, that restructuring does not address the need for adequately paid uniformed police who protect faculty, staff, and students.

Considering the opacity of the administration's financial mathematics – they still have not released information about the national-appearance fees being paid to USF by ESPN, let alone the extra licensing fees the university is receiving as a result of the football team's success – the financial rationale for this "extra layer of security" is not reassuring.

Anyway, what of the company chosen? AlliedBarton was one of the "Top 125" firms listed in Training Magazine for the last three years, and has won numerous awards from such organizations as the Disabled Veterans of America and Big Brothers/ Big Sisters. "For decades," says the page on services for colleges and universities, "we’ve been protecting a variety of institutions of higher learning from large metropolitan campuses to colleges in small rural communities" (English professors would invite colleagues to read that sentence out loud carefully...)

Allied Barton's recent history brings us back to the problem of union-busting, for Allied Barton is being haunted by the specter of the Service Employees International Union (the SEIU is one of the more activist unions), which has been organizing Allied Barton employees, campus by campus. The SEIU explained its interest in Allied Barton in a March 2006 press release: Allied Barton is the largest U.S.-owned private security firm and, "Given the company’s large marketshare ..., a change of position by Allied Barton on the union issue would pave the way for security officers to move closer to their goal of winning better jobs." In December 2006, Allied Barton employees at Harvard voted to unionize (under the SEIU), and soon were aided by an ad hoc student organization, the Harvard Stand for Security Campaign (which complained that the minimal guard salary of $ 12.68 an hour (which is about $ 25,000 a year if full-time(!)) was below the Cambridge Self-Sufficiency Standard, which organized a hunger strike that landed two undergraduates in the hospital, descended on the president's office (he arranged to be elsewhere), and supporting the SEIU in bargaining.

Harvard was merely the most dramatic example; at the University of Pennsylvania, some private guards involved in SEIU's campaign were somehow suspended or transferred or something – retaliation against an employee for union activity is a violation of federal law – after presenting President Amy Gutmann with a petition asking for her assistance. After the NAACP and other community organizations publicly appealed on the guards' behalf, Gutmann requested that the guards be reinstated. Allied Barton offered the guards their old positions back (and some returned) but said that the president's appeal had no effect on Allied Barton's decision. Meanwhile, Allied Barton guards at Temple University are also being organized...

The university administrations, having outsourced their union problems, claimed to be above the fray. What they gained is unclear. Certainly they are paying private guards less (although by hiring at salaries $ 15,000 below market rates, one wonders about the qualifications of the resulting staff), but they also invite on campus an organization with a demonstrated capacity for embarrassing their contractual partners. And if something goes wrong, it is not clear who is liable under law; but in practice, the buck stops at the university.

November 15, 2007

Health Insurance Cutoffs

Several faculty on annual contracts had their health insurance benefits cut off when their job appointment paperwork wasn't processed in time. This seems to happen most to new faculty or to faculty who transferred from one academic unit to another; many people experiencing this problem seem to be non-tenure-track faculty on annual contracts.

At the moment, USF's Division of Human Resources (HR) is dealing with these glitches on a case-by-case basis. The paperwork problems arise from long communication lines. An academic unit sends its employee's appointment paperwork to HR, which processes it and sends it to a private company, People First, which deals with the insurance companies, all accompanied with messages to and from Payroll, which handles the paycheck deductions. Here is how it is supposed to work:

  • If an employee is hired or undergoes a "status change" that could affect coverage (e.g., a job-related change like changing the FTE assigned, or a personal change like marriage), that employee may instate or adjust coverage. One must enroll in an insurance program, either directly with People First or via HR (and enrolling via HR may be preferable as we shall see).
  • In theory, one can get coverage effective the 1st of the next month provided one has already paid a month's worth of premiums. So for example, if one is hired in November, one can get covered as of December 1 provided that a month's premium is paid before then. (People First will not process an insurance enrollment until they get both the paperwork and the money!) Getting that month's worth of premiums paid in advance may require special handling, but usually HR can arrange for the necessary deductions to be made before the 1st of that month so that one will be covered by then.

There are several things that can go wrong, and People First is prone to react by not processing paperwork (letting employees discover that they're not covered when they seek medical care) – or by sending ultimately spurious letters announcing that one is not covered. If something does go wrong, the glitch has to be fixed. If the glitch happened on campus, one will need the assistance of one's department and of HR to track it down; if the glitch occurred in People First, an employee can either:

Notice that whether the glitch occurred on or off campus, HR can be helpful. And if it is not clear whether the glitch occurred on campus or at People First, it is probably a good idea to ask HR for help.

Anyway, if an employee was suppose to be covered (i.e., the employee sought medical care on or after the 1st of the next month and the premium was paid) but wasn't covered because of a paperwork glitch, and that employee seeks medical care, the employee will be required to pay but should be subsequently reimbursed. If care is expensive, or if there is an emergency, HR will endeavor to resolve the glitch as quickly as possible.

If you have been continuously employed, there is probably no problem, but if you are newly employed or transferred or had some kind of status change, you may want to be careful. For example, one clear sign that something is wrong with the paperwork is if paychecks are not being deposited on time; in addition, if you enrolled in a health insurance program, deductions should appear on your pay stub posted in GEMS. (If you have made special arrangements with HR to get your first month's premium paid before the 1st of the next month, you probably should check your pay stub to make sure that the deduction was made.) If you suspect that something is amiss, you can ask your department or unit to check, or you may contact HR. In addition, if you changed or instated health insurance recently, you should have received a letter with your People First user ID and password so you can check your account on their page (if you did not get a letter...).

This is a peculiar situation, and it is not clear where the liability lies if something goes seriously wrong. Last year, the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) published a report, While Improving, People First Still Lacks Intended Functionality, Limitations Increase State Agency Workload and Costs, and while one would hope for improvements since then, there still seem to be problems. UFF would like to know how widespread the problems are, so if you have been cut off, please let us know: contact our Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

The United Faculty of Florida Senate, Part II

Twice a year, the United Faculty of Florida’s Senate – the primary policy-making body of the UFF – meets in central Florida to review the previous six months and plan for the next. The Senate met in Orlando over the October 6 – 7 weekend, and the primary theme was state funding: for a report on that theme, see the previous Biweekly (and note UFF President Tom Auxter's recent appeal). But there were other issues, most notably membership.

Membership is important, and not just to the union. On Sunday morning, October 7, the four bargaining councils (for university chapters, for public college chapters, for private college chapters, and for graduate assistants) reported on caucus meetings that they had held the previous Saturday evening. The official subject being bargaining, the reports often mention the raises won. As usual, when the chairman of the bargaining council for public colleges made his report, we heard about college after college agreeing to 5 % raises. As usual, when the chairman of the bargaining council for universities made his report, the raises (if not held up in protracted bargaining) were smaller.

The explanation, as innumerable experts have told us, is membership. If most employees in the bargaining unit are members of the union, then the union has a lot more clout at the bargaining table. Our community colleges have very high memberships, and by some coincidence, they get higher raises. Meanwhile, our universities have lower membership rates and, by a similar coincidence, they win lower raises. And even a small difference can add up. Suppose that College A offers a 5 % raise each year, while University B offers a 3 % raise each year; after ten years, the College A faculty will have a net raise of nearly 63 %, while College B faculty will have a net raise of a bit over 34 %. Recalling that union dues are 1 % of salary, if Professor Smith is a professor at College A while Professor Jones is a professor at University B, and if they started out at the same salary, but with Professor Smith being in the union and Professor Jones not, then ten years later Professor Smith’s salary (after deducting union dues) is almost 20 % higher than Professor Jones’s.

Not that we union members blame non-members for holding our salaries down but...we’re all in this boat together, and we university senators are a wee bit tired of the bragging by college senators. So we listened up when membership initiatives came up.

UFF (statewide) President Tom Auxter announced that our affiliates (the Florida Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association) are pleased that UFF membership has grown by more than fifty percent during the last half-decade, and intend to invest another million dollars in our organizing efforts over the next four years (recall that in the October 4 Biweekly, we reported that AFT (national) President Ed McElroy told the FEA that the AFT was keeping its eye on Florida because, "If there is an educational reform pushed by pure politics, someone in Florida is trying to make it into law"). The UFF will use the money for staff support and infrastructure, but ultimately membership recruitment is up to the current membership: if you are a UFF member, feel free to tell non-member colleagues why you joined.

It's not just about salaries. As an example, UFF Executive Director Ed Mitchell reported that at a college he was organizing, when all the nursing faculty signed up, the provost visited them to find out if they "had any issues." When asked if the visit had anything to do with all of them joining the union, the provost said, "that, too." One can often accomplish things as an organized group that one cannot achieve alone. For example, turning to Tallahassee concerns, Mitchell said that during the recent legislative special session on apportioning the budget cuts, the emails and phone calls by faculty to legislators helped a lot in reducing the cuts to higher education (recall that the cuts were reduced by over fifty percent).

Mitchell also reported that the bargaining units themselves are under attack. At several institutions – most notably the University of Florida but also elsewhere – the administration has been reclassifying positions within the bargaining unit as "staff" or "administration," and moving them out of the bargaining unit. The result is that those employees are no longer represented by UFF but instead by another union (or, if they were reclassified as administrators, they are on their own). Mitchell reported that in Gainesville’s case, UFF is going through the formal "unit clarification" procedures of the Public Employees Relations Commission, and he is hopeful of victory.

Alas, "elsewhere" includes USF, whose administration has explained to us that reclassification is necessary because of state funding formulas, but these explanations are rather short of details. So far, our chapter has growled at the administration and explored options. Meanwhile, one of the problems is that if a position is reclassified, we often don't find out about it unless someone tells us. So if you have been (involuntarily) reclassified out of the bargaining unit (the job titles and codes within the bargaining unit are listed in Appendix A, page 87, of the 2004 – 2007 Collective Bargaining Agreement, please contact our Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

The next Senate meeting will be in late spring, 2008. In winter, all our UFF senate seats will be open for the chapter elections, so every interested UFF member should consider running for the Senate; the call for nominations for the Senate (and for other Chapter offices) will appear in January.

November 29, 2007

The Dwindling of Summer School

Effective September 1, 1976, every undergraduate student arriving at USF with less than sixty hours of transfer credit must take at least nine hours in summer session.

By some coincidence, the United Faculty of Florida won its first certification election in 1976, launching the long history of bargaining contracts with the old Board of Regents. One of UFF's earlier victories can be found in Section 8.4(a) of the 2004-2007 Collective Bargaining Agreement; see page 14): of summer school appointments, the contract reads, "Available supplemental summer appointments shall be offered equitably and as appropriate to qualified employees ... in accordance with written criteria. These criteria shall be made available in each department/unit." And of summer salaries, it reads, "Faculty teaching during any of the summer terms shall be compensated in the same amount as compensation received during the regular academic year for the same or similar course."

And by Subsection 9.4(B) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, if you have a summer teaching assignment, the expectation is that attendant responsibilities such as advising doctoral students and sitting on doctoral committees go along with that assignment. The quid pro quo makes sense when faculty receive pro-rated compensation for teaching in the summer. For nine-month faculty who do not have summer assignments, those contractual responsibilities disappear when the paycheck does. "A nine-month faculty member without a summer assignment has no obligation to work without pay," said UFF/USF Chapter president Sherman Dorn. "Go write an article, finish that book, spend time with your family, and recharge your batteries. If you're not paid in the summer, then until August 7, there is no obligation for you to show up on campus."

Anyway, the catalog does not present a rationale for the nine-hour rule, but there are several rationales for summer school. One of the most prominent is to provide additional sessions for students to take courses to fulfill graduation and other requirements. This rationale is important because USF has a four-year graduation rate of 21 %, and about half of USF's students take six years or more to get their bachelor's degrees. Graduation rates have become a sore point with both the politicians and the press, and even the normally supportive Tampa Tribune recently editorialized that, "Lawmakers should remember this dropped ball the next time the university asks for more money." And the legislature has indeed been applying pressure at that point.

One of the primary reasons for the delay is lack of space in required courses, so if required courses were offered in summer then (in theory) students would have more opportunities to take them. There is a problem, related to the similarly motivated fiddling with the class schedules to make required courses more available: there aren't enough faculty to teach these required courses. But fiddling appears cheaper and is more in line with what the legislature seems to want, so fiddle they will.

Even as it is, summer school costs money.

Recall that UFF long ago won the concession that faculty will be offered summer school positions "equitably and as appropriate," and that they will be paid at the same rate as during the year. That is to say, since a three-hour course during the spring or fall semester is one-eighth of one's full-time annual assignment, a faculty member will be paid one-eighth of their annual salary to teach an additional summer course. This can be three or more times as much as an adjunct would cost, so there is a temptation not to offer summer school positions to regular faculty. Departments dealing with the cost of summer school made decisions under enormous financial pressure, and predictably a lot of summer teaching assignments have not gone to regular faculty.

These assignments caused several problems (including a grievance filed by UFF), so in late spring, 2005, the Office of Academic Affairs sent out a memo recommending that regular faculty be given priority in summer appointments and that criteria for appointments be posted in each department. (See the April 14, 2005 article in the UFF Biweekly for more details.) When the issue of summer appointments reappeared in spring, 2006, Academic Affairs sent out another memo (dated March 9) making the following points (verbatim):

  1. Chairs are responsible for creating schedules that produce enrollments necessary to achieve college and departmental SCH targets.
  2. Reasonable efforts should be made to offer courses needed for students to graduate in August.
  3. Concerted efforts should be made to provide at least one course to nine-month, full-time faculty members who desire to teach in the summer, contingent on their courses meeting minimum enrollment levels. The minimum enrollment level should not exceed the number of students necessary to cover the cost of the course.
  4. Courses should be made available to full-time faculty on the basis of established departmental procedures.
  5. Compensation for full-time, nine-month, in-unit faculty who teach courses should be commensurate with that specified in the 2004-2007 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
  6. The judicious use of adjunct instructors and graduate students, subject to the provisions in criteria #3 and #4, is allowed. When feasible, employing graduate students is especially encouraged as a means of providing summer support.
  7. Second summer courses may be made available to full-time faculty members, contingent on the conditions specified in criteria #3 and #4.

Of course, money woes were at the root of all this, and as this is a tight budget year, we are already hearing of all kinds of options either on the table or meandering through the rumor mill. This spring may bring more problems. So here are a few points.

First, the nine-hour requirement and the low graduation rates make running summer school sessions unavoidable. The only question is what they will look like. During the last few years, there has been a department-level "privatization" option that allows departments to run summer schools provided they pay for themselves. This encourages departments to offer large, low-level multi-section courses, possibly not taught by regular faculty to save even more money. But these are not the course requirements students are failing to get for lack of space; the problematic courses would be higher-level (perhaps upper division) courses with few sections and requiring more expert teachers (i.e., regular faculty). USF can save money on summer school by defeating one of the purposes of summer school. Adroit departments will work out all the expenses of summer school as a single package so that mass courses will subsidize required courses with minimal net cost at the departmental level. But even then, the tension between mission and money is real.

And in this, the interests of students and regular faculty are largely aligned, which brings us to the second point. The tendency to rely on adjuncts for summer teaching is part of the general trend away from academic tenure. For decades, pundits have been predicting that tenure would disappear. But that was impossible: tenure is a property right (so the revocation of tenure is actionable) and besides, while state legislatures happily contemplate abolishing tenure, they are cautious enough to want some other state to make the leap first. Besides, if a university wants to hire an eminent researcher, then tenure must be in the package.

But if tenure cannot be abolished, it can be whittled away. As the New York Times recently noted (login may be required), over the last three decades, the percentage of faculty who were not adjuncts was cut in half. The reason is financial, and the Times quoted UNC-Pembroke President Charles Harrington saying, "We have to contend with increasing public demands for accountability, increased financial scrutiny and declining state support ... One of the easiest, most convenient ways of dealing with these pressures is using part-time faculty."

This causes problems for students, and not necessarily because adjuncts are not good teachers – some adjuncts have been teaching quite well for decades – but because of lack of support. Not only are adjuncts paid a fraction of what regular faculty are paid (with all the market and morale problems that entails), but also they lack the graders, offices, and other support that regular faculty take for granted. Cornell Higher Education Research Institute director Ronald Ehrenberg told the Times that adjuncts "teaching loads are higher, and they have less time to focus on students," and noted that, as the Times put it, "The elite universities, both public and private, have the fewest adjuncts." (One wonders what the situation is for members of the American Association of Universities.) And more pointedly for USF's graduation rates, the Times reported that "Dr. Ehrenberg and a colleague analyzed 15 years of national data and found that graduation rates declined when public universities hired large numbers of contingent faculty." The Times gave two student quotes that suggested that adjuncts have huge demands on their time (keep in mind that while a four-course load is in theory full-time, many adjuncts teach up to six classes): "They have so many classes that they give tests that are easier to grade," and "They’re never around."

Returning to summer school, there is that other problem highlighted above but often overlooked: no summer appointment means no summer job assignment at all. And yet the university couldn't function if faculty didn't advise students, administer departmental and unit operations, attend defenses, and conduct research and scholarly activity (sans external funding) during the summer. None of this is assigned, nor could it be without a summer assignment of some kind, and thus it constitutes an enormous contribution of volunteer labor by the faculty. It is not entirely clear what to do about the problem of faculty doing work not in their assignments, but it would at least behoove the administration – at all levels – to presume a little less upon the faculty who, paid or otherwise, keep the university running year round.

December 13, 2007

The FEA Recommends Against the Property Tax Reform Proposal

The United Faculty of Florida is a union local of the Florida Education Association, which represents teachers across the state, and UFF members are also members of the FEA. This week, the FEA is sending fliers to all members asking them to vote against the property tax amendment on January 29. Low turnout is expected in this election, so individual votes may count more than usual.

Political junkies may remember that this amendment was rapidly cobbled together out of spare parts after various competing proposals died in smoke-filled rooms. The FEA tends to take a jaundiced view of financial patchwork.

Meanwhile, the FEA has also been lobbying the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which is charged under the state constitution to present reform proposals to the voters for approval later next year. The FEA has also asked members to send letters to the Commission stressing the importance of a stable, reliable, and adequate source of educational funding. If the property tax amendment is defeated, it could leave more leeway for the Commission to compose a more rational package for tax reform.

Anyway, UFF members are being advised to watch their mailbox.

AFSCME Requests Federal Mediation

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees is – like FEA, via the American Federation of Teachers – affiliated with the AFL-CIO. AFSCME was the primary target of Governor Jeb Bush's anti-union efforts (although he did devote a lot of attention to the FEA). Like UFF, AFSCME had to fight for "voluntary" recognition by the USF Administration. Unlike UFF (but like the Police Benevolent Association), AFSCME has not been able to bargain a contract.

The USF Oracle covered faculty-administration negotiations this last spring and bargaining with the staff and police unions this fall. The Oracle observed in its December 5 editorial that the Administration "has shown remarkable determination in its attempt to alienate every employee union with which it negotiates." It is in the interests of students and faculty that there be collective bargaining agreements for all campus unions that treats all employees decently and encourages retention of good staff and uniformed police. One concern of employees that the editorial did not mention is that the Administration's outsourcing of the bookstore and some security undermines their missions and makes the environment more hostile in bargaining; so far, the Administration's privatization efforts within UFF's bargaining unit have been restricted to bringing in independent contractors, a.k.a. adjuncts.

Federal mediation goes back to the presidency of Martin van Buren (who also inaugurated the ten-hour day for federal workers), but federal mediation agencies only started appearing in the twentieth century. The current Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was created by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 as an independent body "to assist parties to labor disputes in industries affecting commerce to settle such disputes through conciliation and mediation." The FMCS itself says in response to the Frequently Asked Question, "Does using a mediator mean negotiations have failed?" the response, "Absolutely not. It means the parties to the negotiation are using a tried and true resource available to them to improve their bargaining...." Indeed, the UFF chapter and administration at Hillsborough Community College used federal mediation some years ago when they were stuck in bargaining. The two sides now have a solid working relationship, hostility has decreased significantly, and faculty get solid raises every year.

Observers should be concerned with the inability to make a deal with police and staff. This protracted paralysis will only undermine the efforts of USF faculty, professionals, staff and students towards making USF one of the nation's outstanding universities.

But the Pension Fund was Just Sitting There...

Handling money can be a problem for public agencies like school districts and municipal governments. Revenue arrives at various times while bills are due at other times. Public agencies need safe places to put money where it will be handy when, say, payroll is due. Handling that much money (in interest-earning accounts) with that many transactions is a complicated business, so some states offer such accounts for local governments. Florida, for example, offers a Local Government Investment Pool (LGIP).

Florida's LGIP is in trouble, and the FEA (and other unions) became concerned when it was proposed that the LGIP be rescued with money from Florida's pension fund, the Florida Retirement System. Fortunately, that proposal appears to be off the table. But it is worth reviewing the situation because (a) one never knows how off the table the proposal is and (b) this isn't the first time (nor will it be the last) that the FRS would be eyed by needy politicians, and (c) the ultimate cause of the problem is still very much with us.

Going in reverse order, the ultimate cause started several years ago when the LGIP invested very big in real estate, particularly in mortgages. Exactly why is unclear, but Forbes reports that most of the mortgage paper sold to the State Board of Administration, which oversees the LGIP, was sold by Lehman Brothers; then-Governor Jeb Bush was one of the three members of the board and is now a consultant to Lehman Brothers. Anyway, there is a spectrum of mortgages ranging from A rated (mortgagee appears to be willing and able to pay off the mortgage) to B rated (terms were tinkered with so mortgagee may be willing and able...). B rated or "subprime" mortgages are supposed to make credit available to those who otherwise wouldn't have it, but critics complain that it encourages predatory practices. Critics have noted the disproportionate number of minorities with subprime mortgages, and the number of borrowers with good credit who appear to have been persuaded to buy houses beyond their means. Some subprime mortgages, e.g., adjustable rate mortgages, zero-principal mortgages, and even "pick a payment" loans – which allow the principal to increase (!) – make critics nervous.

Traditionally, mortgages were held by banks. But nowadays, mortgages (A, B, and in between) are mixed, packaged as "Structured Investment Vehicles" and sold: investors share the mortgage payments – and the risks. And the risks are substantial, as investors discovered when the real estate market began to soften in 2006 and many subprime mortgages went into default. The problem is vast: there is about $ 1.3 trillion in outstanding subprime loans in the U.S., and people are losing their homes to banks that find themselves unable to sell foreclosed property. The situation is still being played out, and many economists are worrying about a recession.

Among the investors hit by the subprime bust was the LGIP, and this fall, when local public agencies discovered that the LGIP was in trouble, they started a run on the fund. The LGIP's paper assets fell from $27 billion in September to $ 14 billion last week. Again, fortunately it appears that pension fund money will not be used to bail out the LGIP. The State Board of Administration hired BlackRock, an independent firm overseeing about $ 1.3 trillion in investments, for advice about what to do about the LGIP. BlackRock recommended against a bail-out, instead proposing that the LGIP be restructured. Hopefully this will (a) restrict liabilities from the LGIP's remaining $ 2 billion in subprime investments and (b) reassure local governments into not withdrawing more money, which would undermine the LGIP further: see the statement by the current State Board of Administration and the statement by UFF (statewide) president Tom Auxter. Meanwhile, other funds (notably Montana's Short Term Investment Pool) are facing similar problems.

But for about a week, bailing the LGIP with pension fund money was being discussed (and publicly opposed within the Florida cabinet only by Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink), which is a reminder of the vulnerability of pension funds. One would think that after FRS lost $ 85 million to and $ 335 million to Enron that it would not have spent $ 182 million to bail out Edison Schools (a charter school company with lots of right-wing political connections) just after Edison's stock lost over ninety percent of its value while its customer base was shrinking. Yet despite loud complaints and open appeals to then-Governor Bush to stop the deal, it went through, complete with a 42 % pay hike for Edison's CEO. Part of the problem is that Florida is unusual in giving elected officials (i.e., politicians) having sole authority over the investments of the Florida Retirement System and other state investment tools, like the LGIP. For example, California's pension system's board of administration includes three members appointed by politicians, four ex-officio members who are state officials or staff, and six board members elected by stakeholders (details of the CalPERS board structure are posted on-line). A diversified board structure in Florida would be less likely to invest in such risky affairs as Enron after its fall began or a poorly-managed school-privatization company like Edison.

Anyway, the situation and the history of FRS, together with the U.S. courts' laxity in protecting pension funds during the last decade or two, has made the FEA and other unions in Florida very sensitive to any threat to FRS funds. The price of a decent nest egg is eternal vigilance.