More Than Nature or Nurture
For some of us, the job is their life. For others, it's their livelihood. For still others, it's a calling. And for others, it's a stepping stone. And for some, it's something to fun to do.
This affects what kind of job we do, and what kind of job we want. And while the union usually focusses on how supervisors evaluate employees (a very serious consideration for raises, renewal, tenure, and promotion), when we think about how we are doing, it may be a good idea to start with the sort of job we want to do.
Keeping an eye on raises, renewal, tenure, and promotion, let's focus on "success". Contrary to the all-American fantasies about making it on American Idol, not to mention old-world notions that either you're born with it or you're not, there is a work-ethic school of thought about this. "Genius," said the Comte de Buffon, "is nothing but a greater aptitude for patience." Eddie Cantor said, "It took me twenty years to become an overnight success." Thomas Edison, who had a particular obsession about the subject, said that "The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: Hard work, Stick-to-itiveness, and Common sense."
But there is more to it than that. Here is Edison again: "Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration." "Real work" does not mean avoiding mistakes. Edison made many mistakes and was proud of it: "I have not failed. I've just found ten thousand ways that won't work."
Self-help books have been all the rage ever since there was a social ladder – and a controversy over whether or not it was worth climbing – but recently the study of success has become more serious. Reporter Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers suggested that it's a matter of luck and intelligent stick-to-itiveness.
Observe that someone attempting to follow Thomas Edison's advice would need to have support. Innovation in education and research involves taking risks, and the current practice of continuous evaluation and accountability deters risk-taking. An instructor who tried a new pedagogical technique that did not pan out could get in trouble. If we really want excellence, we have to think carefully about our evaluation and reward structures.
- Luck. In Canada, age eligibility for youth soccer is determined by birthdate, so children born early in the year will be the largest in their teams and will be encouraged to continue, while children born late in the year will be the smallest and encouraged to do something else. Gladwell observed that leading Canadian soccer stars tend to be born early in the year.
- Ten Thousand Hours. Gladwell trotted out (some say cherry-picked) examples of people who spent ten thousand hours working on one thing, and became very good at it. This observation was based on work by FSU Professor Anders Ericsson on the use of deliberate practice, a subject we will return to in later articles.
Remembering tribus horrendum annis (or were they three horrible years?)
The next presidential election is only 635 days away, and one of the two leading candidates is former Florida Governor John Ellis (Jeb) Bush, who helped launch one of the major crises in Florida's higher education. While the crisis spanned the state, USF was particularly affected when 9/11 put USF in the international limelight. Thirteen and a half years later, Bush is back in the news; and, briefly, so is another major figure in the crisis, former USF Professor Sami Al-Arian.
With these two figures back in the news, perhaps it is time for a retrospective. After all, we've come a long way: since 2001, USF enrollment has grown over 21 %, research funding grew fourfold, and UFF membership at USF more than tripled.
Sixteen years ago, when Bush was governor, he met with then Florida House Speaker John Thrasher in an Orlando restaurant to discuss (among other things) the refusal of the Florida Board of Regents to be a lapdog for Tallahassee politicians like Bush and Thrasher. (Back then, the Board of Regents oversaw the State University System.) Bush and Thrasher decided to abolish the board and replace it with a scheme they drew out on a napkin: a system of boards at various levels that would be more ... accountable ... to the politicians.
There was some gravy. Bush was trying to get rid of the public employee unions, and reorganizing the university system seemed to provide a rationale for decertifying the United Faculty of Florida. By September 11, 2001, the game was afoot.
USF was soon involved - and entangled - in 9/11. Then-USF Computer Science Professor Robin Murphy brought robots to the WTC wreckage to help the search (she has since moved to Texas). Meanwhile, Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly invited USF Computer Science Professor (and Palestinian activist) Sami Al-Arian to his show, where he roasted Al-Arian for his connections with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups - none of which were involved in the 9/11 attacks.
The uproar over Al-Arian lasted until his arrest in 2003. The USF Administration and Board of Trustees came under enormous pressure, and Al-Arian was fired, unfired, and then left in limbo, barred from campus. The problem was that dismissing Al-Arian required grounds for dismissal. Back then, the USF Chapter of the UFF had a policy to represent all faculty facing dismissal, so the union defended his due process rights as an employee.
While Al-Arian's case got all the attention, the Bush-Thrasher reorganization went through, the Board of Regents was replaced by a statewide Board of Governors overseeing a system of boards of trustees, all answerable to Tallahassee. Many people, particularly former Governor Bob Graham, worried that the reorganization would politicize the universities, and they persuaded the people of Florida to pass a referendum to help insulate the boards from the governor and the legislature. The referendum did not stop the effort to decertify the United Faculty of Florida, which in USF found itself in a two-front war.
The union's involvement with Al-Arian ended with his arrest. But while that got USF out of the international limelight, it only ended one front for UFF. A union is certified if it wins a certification election in which employees vote on whether they want to be represented by that union. A certification election can be forced by getting enough employees to sign a petition asking for the election. At many universities, including USF, a majority of the faculty signed the petition, and the union hoped that the administrations would voluntarily recognize the union and forgo an election. After two university administrations actually forced and overwhelmingly lost certification elections, the rest of the administrations voluntarily recognized the union. That included USF, and on 13 December 2004, USF President Judy Genshaft and UFF USF Chapter President Roy Weatherford signed the first contract between UFF and USF. The three hard years were over.
Al-Arian was tried (and largely but not entirely acquitted). There was a plea bargain which was supposed to get Al-Arian deported at once, but during the following decade he was imprisoned and later put in house arrest. But now, as the Times and the Tribune reported, he has been deported to Turkey. Meanwhile, Bush is running for president and Thrasher is president of Florida State University.
As for UFF, in early 2002, when all this was getting started, statewide President Tom Auxter asked the USF Chapter to compile an archive for future scholarship. (The USF Library's Special Collections also kept an archive of the affair.) The Chapter decided to send out, every other week, to all faculty, links to the stories it encountered. Later, the links and comments were collected into a website on the entire affair, which is now an online archive (but after over a decade, many of the links have rotted away). The tradition of a biweekly email broadcast to all faculty continues as the UFF Biweekly.
There was one significant change. The statewide UFF decided that because pursuing grievances was expensive - in staff support and legal fees as well as the time of our volunteers - the union would no longer defend any employee who was not a member at the time the employee knew or should have known of the violation. We represent all in-unit employees in bargaining but not in grievances, so anyone who desires that protection should join today.