WATCH OUT FOR THAT TREE!
Last month, the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) informed the USF Administration that it was cancelling its accreditation of USF's current English program for prospective foreign students, INTO USF. The problem was that the CEA had accredited the USF English Language Institute (ELI), and USF had replaced the ELI with INTO USF without much of a heads up.
When the CEA discovered by accident while surfing the web, according to CEA Executive Director Theresa O'Donnell that a program that they accredited had been replaced by something else, they pulled their accreditation. How this happened is unclear, since evidently USF sent a letter to the CEA in March even though, the USF Oracle reported, Provost Ralph Wilcox did not see sending such a letter as a necessity.
Actually, it was. The CEA's Policies and Procedures states that "All accredited programs and institutions must promptly notify CEA in writing of any proposed substantive change in the program or institution occurring since the most recent CEA accreditation review, using the Reporting Substantive Change document..." and that substantive changes include "...any change in ownership, legal status or form of control..." Whatever the communications between the CEA and USF were, they did not include collaboration and assurance that the CEA's forms were properly filled out and acceptable to the CEA. "We did not accredit the partnership," O'Donnell told Inside Higher Ed; "we accredited the University of South Floridas English Language Institute."
And there is more to this than just making sure that USF properly genuflects to accreditors...
"Unaccredited institutions are not reviewed against a set of standards to determine the quality of their education and training," warns the U.S. Department of Education. "...earning a degree from an unaccredited institution may create problems for students." The U.S.D.E. recognizes accrediting agencies, including the specialized Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA), whose scope is "...the accreditation of postsecondary, non-degree-granting English language programs and institutions in the United States." It was founded in 1999, recognized by the U.S.D.E. in 2003, and currently accredits about eighty programs in the new, growing, and somewhat wild and woolly world of English language instruction (for details on the sort of wildness and wooliness agencies like the CEA face, see the
Biweekly article on such programs).
As all graduate admissions officers (and HR departments!) are aware, the world is full of programs and institutions handing out parchment like candy, and all kinds of new accreditation agencies are being organized to *discourage fraud* seems such a harsh way of putting it, so let's follow the CEA and say that these agencies "promote excellence." Accrediting agencies newly recognized by the U.S.D.E. during the last ten years include the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, the Midwifery Education Accreditation Council, and the CEA.
One problem an accrediting agency can face is: what if an institution replaces an accredited program with a different program? How much of the accreditation would the new program inherit? Considering the shenanigans entertaining aficionados of weird news in higher education, a prudent accreditation agency may be justified in being cautious. CEA Director O'Donnell's reaction to USF replacing the ELI with INTO USF was blunt: "... the former English Language Institute was within the University and was totally controlled and governed and met all the standards through its division in the University" she told the USF Oracle
(see the USF Oracle article), but "[n]ow that theres the partnership with INTO, that is no longer true because the controlling factors are under INTO." (Talking with Inside Higher Ed, she stressed USF's failure to keep CEA informed. See
the Inside Higher Ed article.)
Accreditation is not a new issue. In the July 1, 2009 Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting, Wilcox assured the SEC that USF was not interested in a venture that would compromise the program's accreditation. And there was the example of Oregon State University, which had similarly lost its accreditation with CEA after joining with INTO. (Oregon State continues to run its...unaccredited...program nonetheless.)
Although most of the fuss was about whether it is USF or INTO that "owns" INTO USF, there is another problem. The
CEA Standards for English Language Programs and Institutions lists several standards for faculty, including Faculty Standard 5: "Faculty members having working conditions appropriate for their responsibilities." Admittedly, UFF takes a broader view of "working conditions" than CEA, but we cannot help noticing that the USF Oracle reported that one of their anonymous sources told them that "...INTO faculty was told by administration to not speak of the situation." This suggests that the terms and conditions of employment which to UFF includes academic freedom are under stress at INTO USF. And this was exactly the sort of problem UFF and other skeptics were worried about. INTO's own aggressive and litigious history
(see the Biweekly story on INTO) suggest that USF may have joined with a magnet for trouble.
Once again, any UFF member can seek assistance from the UFF by contacting the Grievance Chair,
WORKING PLANS FOR THE USF CAMPUSES
Life, said John Lennon, is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. This is as true for institutions as it is for individuals, a point to remember when institutions lose themselves in the daydream process of long range planning. On the other hand, in rough seas perhaps an accurate description of USF's current environment it is wise to pay attention and have a map.
In theory, USF's favorite map is the 2007 2012 Strategic Plan (see, e.g.,
downloadable documents, and
strategies, and of course
a presentation; also see
the Biweekly's 11/16/2006 story and
the Biweekly's 3/8/2007 story).
The State University System also requires that universities produce annual reports and "work plans" to "... outline the universitys top priorities, strategic directions, and specific actions and financial plans for achieving those priorities."
The USF Administration is working on a "work plan" to send to the Board, and UFF has received working drafts, which we have posted on-line.
There are three immediate observations one can make about these drafts:
The working plan does provide us with an example of the Administration at work. For one thing, it seems to have little faculty involvement. For another, it does suggest a distinction between Tampa and the other campuses:
- They are clearly cribbed from the 2007 2012 Strategic Plan. That is not surprising, for the working plans are supposed to project into the future, and that future was already projected by the Strategic Plan.
- They are compendia of adjectives and benchmarks. Just as the Strategic Plan does not propose "specific actions and financial plans", neither do the working plans.
- There are no reports in the working plan about progress made against the benchmarks. Admittedly, the regulation didn't ask for them.
The USF Administration has long emphasized membership in a particular prestigious association as a goal. USF Administration's Vision Statement in the Strategic Plan reads: "The University of South Florida envisions itself as a premier research university with state, national, and global impact, and positioned for membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU)." But in the working plan, the Vision Statement for the entire USF system reads: "The University of South Florida System will empower and connect its institutions into a distinctive system nationally recognized for innovation in its teaching and research, for attracting outstanding and diverse scholars, staff and students, and for transforming its region and beyond."
So much for the AAU? No: the Vision Statement of USF-Tampa reads: "The University of South Florida Tampa envisions itself as a pre-eminent research university with state, national and global impact, and positioned for membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU)."
As if to underline Tampa's position in the system, Goal 3 of USF-Tampa ("Building World-Class Academic Programs and Research Capacity") begins with: "Research is a hallmark of every college, department and program at USF Tampa. It is an expectation and a privilege of every faculty member, whether it is sponsored by an external funding or carried out with support of university resources." Taken literally, this sweeping statement could be a source of considerable misunderstanding or even mischief.
This brings us to the curmudgeonly question of what this exercise is for. Or rather, is this working plan going to be used for anything other than filling filing cabinets? If it is going to have any force, it's centrality to academic issues make it something that should require not only faculty input, but faculty vetting.
TRUSTEES DECLARE IMPASSE OVER A ROUNDING ERROR IN USF BUDGET
On Tuesday this week, the USF Board of Trustees declared impasse in bargaining with the United Faculty of Florida and asked the state Public Employees Relations Commission to start impasse proceedings ... over items that amount to a rounding error in USF's almost-billion-dollar budget.
Impasse is a procedure in labor law when two sides have a small number of issues they cannot come to agreement on in the context of broader agreement on the contract. UFF and the Trustees have signed and ratified two Memoranda of Understanding in the past year that change the terms and conditions of employment, but that is separate from the complete Collective Bargaining Agreement. With regards to the total contract, only one article of 31 has been agreed to (on professional development leave and sabbaticals), and the Trustees declared impasse on two articles (Article 3 on UFF Privileges and Article 8 on Appointments of
the current contract), a curious combination that ignores the rest of the contract.
The Trustees' previous proposals on Articles 3 and 8 also have a relatively small financial impact on the University. The chapter's bargaining team estimates that the current differences between the parties on all disputed issues in the two articles are less than a quarter of a million dollars, considerably less than the salaries of several university vice presidents and a small fraction of the total salaries of the President's Cabinet at USF altogether. Compared with the billion-dollar annual operating budget of the university, this is a rounding error.
There are also a few errors in
an e-mail sent to many faculty Tuesday morning from the administration. According to the email from management, UFF is stopping the university from distributing one-time bonuses to faculty and others who have received Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching and other awards, and management also claims that UFF's bargaining team will not bargain summer salary caps. But actually the chapter's bargaining team offered to extend the summer cap and put a proposal on the table months ago to remove awards from the annual bargaining of salaries. These proposals are posted on
the UFF bargaining page; in particular, see:
The record of bargaining is that management refused UFF's offers on both issues and refused several different offers.
"I'm bewildered at management's refusal to accept reasonable offers and the subsequent declaration of impasse," said Chapter president Sherman Dorn. "Instead of analyzing management's concrete interests, maybe we should have brought out the Ouija board to prepare for bargaining."
The chapter is consulting with UFF staff in Tallahassee over the next week for the next steps to take in this particular case. In theory:
The BOT has also indicated that it has changed its mind and no longer wants to wait until August (or later) before discussing salaries. The UFF has already presented a proposal, and looks forward to seeing theirs.
- The UFF and the BOT agree on a Special Master, who will hear arguments for both sides and make recommendations for contractual language to present to the bargaining unit and the BOT for ratification.
- If both sides agree to the Special Master's recommendations, then that is the language that will be presented for ratification.
- If either side objects to the Special Master's recommendations, the dispute goes to the Legislative Body of the contract. Under law, that's the Board of Governors, recently the BOT has been claiming that authority, so the BOT would then hear the dispute between the UFF and the BOT and impose contractual language to present for ratification.
- If both the bargaining unit and the BOT ratify the language, that will be the contractual language; if not, the contract language dies at the end of the fiscal year under discussion in bargaining.
SUMMER SCHOOL AND THE SYLLABUS
This summer session C, two holidays fall on Mondays, which complicate summer classes taught on Mondays. Summer school is compressed even without holidays. But as Senior Vice Provost Dwayne Smith noted in a missive to all faculty, not only are faculty not required to teach any additional classes, but students may have difficulty attending additional classes that teachers schedule (and consequently complain to chairs, deans, parents, etc.).
First, the legalities. As Smith observed, a teacher is not obligated to teach any sessions other than the regularly scheduled ones. It is the responsibility of the Administration to compose a schedule providing sufficient time to accommodate a syllabus of the appropriate number of credit hours, and to satisfy institutional (and student!) accreditation needs. It is the responsibility of the department or the teacher (as appropriate) to compose a realistic syllabus considering the time constraints. For more on the legalities, see
the UFF blog posting.
Second, the realities. Students have schedules of their own, and scheduling additional sessions to make up for holidays or class time cancellations due to hurricanes, etc., can cause logistical problems and equity problems for teachers (how does one treat students fairly if some students can participate and others cannot?).
There are several things a teacher can do other than hold additional class sessions. One may assign some material as homework (and use Blackboard as a monitoring tool); one may encourage group formation as a technique for providing students with feedback on their work; one can even be heroic (although there is no contractual obligation to do this) and meet with groups of students at mutually acceptable times. But there is another thing a teacher can do...
Under the making lemonade out of lemons category, a reduced amount of class time may provide an opportunity to take a long, hard look at a syllabus that may have been left unrevised for years, or even worse, accumulated seaweed and barnacles. A reduced schedule may be a hint that perhaps one should decide what is important and what is not. Of course, that sort of judgment call can only be made by a teacher with the capacity and authority to take a blue pencil to a syllabus. That's one reason why it is best to employ regular faculty for summer school. And it's a reminder that academic freedom includes the authority to judiciously wield a blue pencil when conditions warrant.
USF SURVIVES A HARD BUDGET SESSION
Several times during the spring legislative session, and once in May, UFF called on faculty to sway politicians. One of the primary results became manifest last week when Governor Charlie Crist signed the budget without vetoing any operational revenue for the state university system.
As noted in the Florida Education Association's Final Report (see p. 27 of
the Final Report), the State University System's total operating budget will increase about 5 %.
But sixteen of the 44 allocations on the veto list (posted
on line) were of line items for specific higher education institutions, including three from USF (funding for a part of USF Polytechnic New Campus, the new Pharmacy building at USF Polytechnic, and the Interdisciplinary Science building at USF Tampa). So higher education got a hit, and strangely enough, it was in buildings, which politicians usually like to keep moving during recessions because construction helps keep employment up. Crist did not explain these vetoes in his veto message (posted
A budget is as much plan as commitment, and it was made with certain economic assumptions in mind (assumptions made before, say, the Greek debt crisis and the Gulf oil spill either of which could represent problems for Florida's economy this coming year). The money will actually be delivered in quarterly installments, and at this point we can only cross our fingers and hope that the installments will come through.
Next year, the projected hole in the budget is six billion dollars twice that of this year. And that means that during the fall election campaign, there will be a lot of backroom budgetary planning for the next legislative session. The Florida Education Association will be dropping by those backrooms to encourage continued funding for higher education which is, after all, one of the most reliable engines for pulling economies out of recessions.
ACCREDITING INTO USF, CONTINUED
Foreign students are big business these days, and for Commonwealth and American universities, that means not only recruitment but also English language instruction. As noted in the
24 September 2009 issue of the Biweekly, USF decided to expand its foreign student presence by merging its English Language Institute (ELI) with a British company founded by an Australian realtor,
INTO University Partnerships.
INTO is a relative newcomer in a new field, and its performance in Oregon State University did not inspire confidence: OSU had consequently lost its accreditation with the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (the CEA, see their
website). At the 1 July 2009 USF Senate Executive Committee meeting, Provost Ralph Wilcox stressed the importance of recruiting foreign students, but as paraphrased by the minutes (see
the minutes), "USF is not interested in partnering with anyone who might threaten the on-going accreditation of ELI."
But this April, USF did indeed lose accreditation with the CEA, as reported in the Biweekly (see
the article). Since then, the General Counsel's office has provided us with some relevant letters, and we can trace the sequence of events. First of all, the Policies and Procedures of the CEA (see
their PDF file) has a whole section on "Procedures for change of control or ownership", which starts on page 41 of the PDF file.
UFF believes we should have an outstanding and (of course!) accredited English language program for our foreign students. And we are gratified by the CEA's support of the principles of due process. We encourage all interested members of the university community to attend the INTO USF Townhall meeting this (Thursday) afternoon at 2 pm in the TECO room in the College of Education.
- On March 29, USF sent a letter (see
the letter) announcing the merger, stating that ELI was now the "Academic English program" of INTO USF, and concluding that "We would like to continue CEA accreditation of the Academic English program, which was the primary program of the former English Language Institute."
- On April 12, CEA sent USF a letter (see
the letter) saying that it was not clear to what extent that this Academic English program was a continuation of the ELI, and at any rate, it was not clear that Academic English met CEA's standards. Then CEA noted that when an accredited institution makes a substantial change, it is supposed to submit a "Reporting Substantial Change" form, which was enclosed. At any rate, the CEA withdrew its accreditation.
- In late April, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox sent CEA a letter (see
the letter) apologizing for the "apparent insufficiency" of the March 29 letter, stating that the Administration was "both surprised and disappointed" by USF's loss of accreditation, but that the Administration understood how the CEA could have "misinterpreted" the situation. The letter asserted that the university "has maintained continuity of ELI programmatic functions" and that INTO was providing non-academic contractual services. The letter asked for additional discussion to continue accreditation, and Associate Provost Kathleen Moore sent a follow-up formal appeal on May 24.
- On May 28, the CEA backed off from its declaration of an immediate end of accreditation. The letter grumped that substantive changes "must be reported to the CEA prior to the change taking place" (see
the letter). A new "50/50 relationship" with an outside agency is a substantive change. But "...to provide due process to INTO USF", CEA withdraws its withdrawal of its accreditation. For now. HOWEVER, the muddle will be forwarded to the CEA Commission, and USF must submit, by July 15, documents substantiating the assertions of continuity between the ELI and INTO USF. The letter concludes with a warning: "...CEA retains the right to investigate and require additional documentation or an on-site visit...."
PHI BETA KAPPA SAYS "NO" AGAIN
If USF would like alumni with Phi Beta Kappa keys, USF would want a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at USF. USF has been repeatedly applying the application process is a multi-year cycle and USF has just been turned down. Again.
The Phi Beta Kappa Society was a quasi-Masonic secret society founded at the College of William and Mary in 1776; when General Cornwallis arrived, the society fled to Harvard and Yale. Later, the society abandoned some of its disreputable trappings (like the secrecy bit) and over the years it has evolved into the nation's leading college honor society, with 280 chapters across the country. Inductees include seventeen U.S. presidents, thirty-eight U.S. Supreme Court justices (including seven members of the current court), and 136 Nobel Prize winners.
Phi Beta Kappa has a long history of interest in the liberal arts; after all, the Greek letters Phi Beta Kappa is an acronym for Philosophiae Biou Kubernetes "love of wisdom is the helmsman of life". And its primary interest when selecting chapters must be undergraduate education, practically by definition.
While Phi Beta Kappa no longer insists on classical Greek, their standards are still based on the liberal arts. To be eligible for induction, baccalaureates must take at least ninety course hours in arts and sciences, in particular establishing sufficient mastery of foreign languages and mathematics (see
their eligibility page).
But this raises the question: is a Phi Beta Kappa chapter important to USF? If excellence in undergraduate education is one of USF's goals, a Phi Beta Kappa chapter would seem to be a likely benchmark. On the other hand, undergraduate education requires resources, and if USF's board and administration are primarily interested in other priorities, then it is not surprising that USF has not gained a Phi Beta Kappa chapter.
On the other hand, the community seems to be under the impression that undergraduate education is a USF priority. Indeed, in the 2007 2012 Strategic Plan, seven of USF's eight designated peers have Phi Beta Kappa chapters (the list of peers is on the 6th page of
a presentation document for the plan) and two of USF's three aspirational peers have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. There is, at least, a public commitment to the kind of excellence Phi Beta Kappa represents.
The question goes to the articulation between the values expressed by the USF Board and the Administration, and the details of their actions. And as this particular issue undergraduate education goes to the heart of the academic enterprise, it is certainly an issue that the shared governance system at USF should address openly and comprehensively.
WHOSE RECOGNITION DOES USF NEED? PART I: THE AAU
You may have heard Dr. Hook and the Medicine Band on the radio, singing that "...we keep getting richer / but we can't get our picture / on the cover of the Rolling Stone." USF administrators have long touted USF's research dollars and envisioned that USF should be "positioned for membership in the Association of American Universities."
The AAU (see their website) was founded in 1900 by fourteen universities including Harvard and Yale to be a "...forum for the development and implementation of institutional and national policies promoting strong programs of academic research and scholarship and undergraduate, graduate, and professional education."
In 2009, the AAU announced that its 62 members received 57 % of all federal funds for college and university research, employed 81 % of the members of the National Academies, and claimed 70 % of the Nobel prizes awarded to Americans. In 2006, AAU institutions awarded 16 % of the undergraduate degrees and 53 % of the doctorates while employing 69 % of the post-docs and enrolling 63 % of the National Merit/Achievement Scholars. Not bad for a group with 6 % of the undergraduate students nationwide.
And the AAU has 63 members now: Georgia Tech has just joined. The Chronicle of Higher Education commented, "...for many universities, particularly up-and-comers, the big draw is prestige. Trustees, lawmakers, and donors want to see signs of progress, and being on the shortlist with Yale and Berkeley looks good in a rankings-obsessed industry."
But what kind of shortlist with Yale and Berkeley?
The Chronicle reported that membership depends primarily on external funding and the number of National Academy members. The AAU's nine indicators (including their rather dated and slightly weird (the Pulitzer doesn't count?!) list of awards, memberships and fellowships) suggest a strong interest in high profile research and scholarship; there is a generic indicator for "undergraduate education" that gives little clue what the AAU looks at in this area, and the AAU's attitude may be changing:
So is undergraduate education of declining importance to the membership of the AAU? If USF's mission includes a strong commitment to provide an outstanding education to the children of the citizens of the state of Florida, how much effort should USF put into pursuing AAU membership? If the Chronicle is right that AAU membership is a benchmark, what is it a benchmark of?
- When Clark and Catholic universities left the AAU, "amicably" we are told, there was talk about how Clark and Catholic put greater emphasis on undergraduate education than the rest of the AAU members.
- Both Clark and Catholic have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, which shows a commitment to undergraduate education. 59 of the 61 U.S. members of the AAU have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, and tellingly, one of the exceptions is the recently inducted Georgia Institute of Technology (the other exception being Caltech).
USF is in a major metropolitan area in a transitional period, both astride the I-4 corridor and at a gateway to Latin America, both a major resource for a state that will need intellectual resources and a door of opportunity for a large population of students from less advantaged backgrounds. Florida taxpayers, parents, students, employers and employees, pay the bills, and the faculty, professionals, and staff do the work. We all should be asking: Where is USF going? Where do we want to go? Where do we want to be? On the cover of the Rolling Stone? If that is the best sense of identity that the Board of Trustees and the Administration can muster, we can only recommend that they seek input from faculty, professionals, staff, students, and the community at large.
WHOSE RECOGNITION DOES USF NEED? PART II: OUR COMMUNITY
In very old Merry-Go-Rounds, there would be a dispenser near the carousel with some rings. Competitive merry-go-rounders would try to grab a ring from the dispenser each time around. There were many iron rings, but the prize was the brass ring.
For USF, what is the brass ring? After all, AAU membership is certainly some kind of ring. But so is a Phi Beta Kappa chapter (which USF just failed to get: see
the June 17 Biweekly article). Which are iron and which are brass? Recent news events suggest what the brass ring might look like.
USF's identity and mission have been highlighted recently in its leadership and participation in studying the scale and effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into the Gulf. Readers may recall that USF's Weatherbird II found a plume of oil six miles wide, that British Petroleum saw nothing, but that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed USF's reports. USF is at the forefront of the national effort to ascertain the scope of the disaster and to develop a response. USF's contribution has meant more to the community and is more likely to be treasured by the community than participation in any exclusive club, no matter how prestigious. (For up-to-date information on USF's efforts, see
the Marine Science page on the oil spill).
This story is not a one-day-wonder: the oil is going to be with us for years, fouling the beaches, killing mangroves, making life hard for corals and fish. USF is going to be part of the long-term response. And USF is in a good position for that: for USF has faculty active in areas from marine environmental science and water to community involvement. USF is more than just six superbowls: USF will be developing science and technology to understand and deal with the oil and provide options, and we will be teaching the students to use that science and technology.
And of course, "we" are the faculty and professionals at USF. As Nobel Laureate Isadore Rabi observed, the faculty are not employees of the university the faculty ARE the university.
We can compare the situation at USF with that of Florida State University. Despite unrestricted net assets of over $ 300 million, FSU reacted to the budget crisis last year by laying off 62 faculty and reorganizing major units. The Geological Sciences, Meteorology, and Oceanography departments were merged, and faculty laid off. Science magazine quoted FSU Arts & Sciences Dean Joseph Travis saying, " Sciences never pay for themselves ... Theres always a subsidy arrangement."
This was not just bad timing. FSU is in the state capitol, it serves a state with peculiar geology (Florida is a sponge made of limestone), problematic weather, and surrounded on three sides by ocean. The outcome of the decision to collapse the three departments was foreseeable: all the oil spill did was to make manifest the already predictable consequences of the cuts. (For more on FSU's cuts, see the
January 7 Biweekly article.)
So it was logical for the USF Board and Administration to employ USF's unrestricted net assets to protect a priceless resource of the people and the state of Florida. And recent events show that the decisions made by the USF Board and Administration to protect the institution were correct. And in fact, these recent events suggest that it is service to the community in scholarship and research, in teaching at all levels, and at community outreach that is what the brass ring is all about.
MEASURING AN INSTITUTION
One of the great revolutions over the last few centuries was the quantification of reality. The great quantifier, Galileo Galilei, proposed that a few well-chosen measurements could produce a decent description of a physical situation, and his commercial contemporaries in places like Florence and Venice did the same for business. Later, Britain and France would employ "statistics" to transform government and medicine.
In his "Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences", Nobel physicist Eugene Wigner outlined the assumptions underlying the utility of measurements.
First of all, one does have to measure the right thing. And what the right thing is depends on what the problem is.
Secondly, whatever is being studied must be sufficiently modular so that a few variables would suffice for a decent description.
But (honest and undeluded) auditors can often get a reasonable picture of a firm's financial situation. As computers made the numbers more available, executives and stockholders demanded them, too. But as the summer of 2008 has shown us, it takes good judgment to figure out which numbers are important, and what these numbers tell us about what is going on.
As soon as mainframes became commercially available, "Decision Support Systems" arose to present the important numbers to executives. One of the currently popular systems is a "Management Information System" called a "dashboard" because it presents the most important data in a visually useful array.
A classical dashboard presents the data in an array of graphics. If one datum is particularly interesting, a user can "drill down" by opening a link at that graphic to explore further. Dashboards are used in user interfaces from personnel management to security operations, and in an era of growing demands for transparency and public access, some institutions use dashboards so that browsers can get snapshots of institutional performance.
In 2008, the Minnesota State College and University System launched a dashboard. Minnesota blogger Charlie Quimby enumerated three good aspects of the MSCUS dashboard:
There are several caveats.
- It was readily accessible from the homepage.
- It enabled browsers to focus on key measures.
- Its drilling capability enabled it to provide many levels of reporting to a variety of browsers.
One arises from the issue of who the intended audience is. A memo for a senior executive has a different intended audience than an Annual Statement for stockholders (and the media), and a dashboard intended for the public is somewhat like a Statement. On the other hand, one can tell from a Statement what management thinks is important.
Another caveat is that it may not be clear what a dashboard's numbers mean. For example, suppose that the institution wanted to measure research productivity & quality.
The last option recalls Warren Buffet's rationale for not investing in derivatives: when most users do not understand what a productivity measure is actually measuring, its utility could be compromised.
- One could post the total number of articles published by faculty over the year. But not all journals are equal, and even articles from the same journal have varying impacts.
- One could count the number of citations of articles published by faculty at the institution. This at least measures impact, but not all citations are equal either, so perhaps we should weight the citations. There is a whole industry of citation indices.
- Recent work in social network theory suggests that the most important impact may be indirect, and thus that a better measure would be ... the number of citations of articles that cite articles by the faculty.
A dashboard is a compromise between reality and intelligibility, and one needs to keep one's eyes open and a few grains of salt handy. With these caveats in mind, let's look at USF's dashboard.
GAUGING WHERE USF STANDS
USF has a cluster of web-pages within its Strategic Planning site, largely accessible via the
Performance Metrics page.
The place to begin is probably the Performance Dashboard (click the link at the lower right hand side), which lists eight numbers, with the history over the past five years and the (green) goal. For example, the second number is the estimated Federal R & D expenditures for science and engineering. This is a slightly peculiar number, considering that science and engineering is only some of the university, and in particular it overlooks the river of money flowing into the Health Science Center. Anyway, expenditures rose from $ 143 million in 2004-2005 to $ 170 million in 2008-2009. This is a somewhat steady increase, especially considering the dip in NSF funding in 2005.
But the SAT was first, and from 2004-05 to 2008-09, the mean SAT for "First-Time-In-College" (FTIC) freshmen increased from 1108 to 1160. Presumably this refers to the combined scores for critical reading and mathematics (maximum = 1600), excluding the writing component introduced in 2006. Anyway, during the five years in question, the College Board says that the mean scores sank from 1026 in 2004 to 1016 in 2009. This suggests that either USF's applicants are getting higher scores or that USF is getting more selective.
This brings us to the maddening problem with such dashboards: what we get is the first glance. And sometimes we don't get critical information needed to put key data in context. Notice that drilling is impossible from the dashboard; if we want more, we have to look at the
Planning and Performance Accountability Matrix. There are two tiers (links at the menu at the left), and let's look at the Secondary tier.
Recall the shallow increase in SATs mentioned on the dashboard. Now, item B.II.5 shows increase in GPAs for incoming FTIC freshmen. (And the percentage of Pell grant recipients has declined from nearly 30 % to 26 % -- recalling links between family income and academic performance.) And B.II.7 notes a substantial increase in National Merit, National Achievement, and National Hispanic Scholars.
The last item is difficult to analyze in the absence of the total number of incoming FTIC freshmen, a critical piece of contextual information that is, ahem, absent. So we go to the Office of Decision Support, to the
InfoMart, and find that the undergraduate FTIC new student headcount for fall in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 were 3957, 3774, 3800, 3157, respectively. So the proportion of high performance new students has increased, and possibly the total number of new students is going down.
All this suggests that USF is indeed becoming more selective. On the other hand, USF is providing opportunities: notice that B.II.8b shows a shallow increase of first generation students.
And you can get a sense of what the administration values (notice that in the Primary tier of the Planning and Performance Accountability Matrix, item B.I.8 lists the number of National Academy members). You can even find a very sparse bit about finances. And it's on the web, waiting to be surfed.
HARD TIMES AHEAD
By now, we all know that we face several years of hard times. Hard times that will affect us and the people we know personally. And hard times that will affect the university. The folklore from Aesop's tale of the ant and the grasshopper to Pharoah's dream of the seven fat cows and seven starved cows strongly advises preparation. And there are things that we can do.
But first, what we are facing? Most readers are familiar with the general picture. The federal government is too nervous to spend much money on, say, stimulating the economy by rebuilding decayed infrastructure, so we face a shallow multi-year recovery marked by high unemployment (and consequent political dissension). Locally, Florida's tourism and development industries are likely to recover more slowly than the rest of the nation. This will take years.
One can get more precise prophesies from economic forecasters. The Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida's
July 2010 Florida Forecast predicts:
One can see what this means to the state by looking at its budget, in particular, at General Revenues, which pays our salaries. Last year, 53.7 % of General Revenues went to Education, 24.5 % to Human Services, 16.7 % to Criminal Justice and Corrections, and so on down. But where did General Revenues come from? 74.1 % came from "the" Sales Tax, 7.1 % from Corporate Income Tax, and so on down. During recessions, sales tax income goes down while demands for education, human resources, criminal justice & corrections, and so on, go up. The demand increases just as revenues fail.
- The BP oil spill will discourage tourism, and "[e]mployment in the Leisure and Hospitality sector in Florida will not begin to grow until 2012." (In fact, a previous forecast predicted that the spill could put nearly two hundred thousand Floridians out of work and cost the state eleven billion dollars.)
- Housing starts will accelerate in 2011 and 2012 as construction recovers more rapidly than tourism.
- On the other hand, "[i]t will be 2014 before payrolls recover to their pre-recession levels." The forecast is actually more pessimistic, for during the previous decade, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Florida unemployment rose from 3.8 % in January 2000 to 6.0 % in the depths of the 2001 2002 recession then slowly falling to 3.3 % in the spring of 2006. It was 11.4 % last month and the forecast predicts that "[i]t could be 2022 before unemployment falls below 5 % again."
- The forecasts sees the strongest growth during the next few years in professional & business services, trade & transportation & utilities, manufacturing, and...education & health.
For the coming academic year, we may face a reprise of 2008 2009. Recall (see the
12 February 2009 Biweekly article) that universities receive their allocations in four quarterly installments, and that during the 2008 2009 academic year, the state withheld 4 % of the installments when revenue failed to meet expectations. Last year, with all the "stimulus money" from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, there was enough money to get the state through the year. The stimulus money is dwindling, so the state may withhold money again.
Exactly how money would be withheld is unclear. The legislative leadership is thinking about a session in August, where the subject may come up. But with election in fall, there is some speculation that the mess will be postponed to next spring, when the cuts could be deeper.
That spring, the legislature will be budgeting for the 2011 2012 year. Even before the BP oil spill, there was discussion of a "six billion dollar hole" (twice the size of the hole the legislature faced last spring when it was able to fill the hole with stimulus money). The State of Florida Legislative Budget Reduction Instructions for the Fiscal Year 2011 2012 warns that: "Maintaining a balanced budget could require as much as a 15 percent reduction in recurring appropriations through Fiscal Year 2011-2012." That's 15 % on top of previous cuts.
The situation is very serious. And the United Faculty of Florida is one of several organizations preparing for action.
PREPARING FOR HARD TIMES
Fortunately, there are already a number of organizations among the constituents of the USF community. In 2009, three of them the Faculty Senate, the Student Government, and the United Faculty of Florida
invited institutional finance expert Leroy Dubeck to review USF's Financial Statement and describe USF's budget. This led to the public discussion of USF's unrestricted net assets and how they could be applied during hard times to protect the university. In the end, the Board of Trustees and the Administration used some of the assets to protect the university, and no faculty were sent away from USF.
According to the
2009 2010 Financial Statement, USF's unrestricted net assets were $ 289 million at the end of the 2008 2009 fiscal year. The resources are there.
One important lesson from that year was that we should pay attention to the budget. But with stormy weather ahead, it may be best for constituents and friends of USF to work together on not only surviving, but surfing the troubles of the next few years. That includes maintaining state support.
Many Florida leaders are saying that education in general and universities in particular are engines of growth (especially during downturns), and Florida boosters are saying that education (especially higher education) will be critical for Florida's future in a globalized Twenty-first century. That serves as background for the USF community to convey a message to the legislature. And the USF community would be much more effective conveying a message if the USF community worked together in communicating that message.
In politics, timing is everything. The elections are this fall, and budgetary plans will be drawn up during the next few months. This fall, the Florida Education Association will be asking Florida voter's to pay close attention to a very important election especially with two critical referenda (Amendments 5 and 6) to restrict gerrymandering on the ballot but then in spring the fight will be on to save the universities from the budgetary ax. Any employee in the bargaining unit who would like to help USF in Tallahassee can contact the UFF-USF Political Action Chair,
August 4, 2010
LETTER TO THE BARGAINING UNIT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA AND UFF SETTLE CONTRACT: 5% SALARY DEAL
GO GATOR FACULTY!
In the last few days, the University of Florida chapter of the United Faculty of Florida settled a contract reopened with the UF Board of Trustees for a total 5% package, including 4% formulaic merit and 1% administrative discretion. Congratulations are owed to both the UF administration and the UFF chapter's chief negotiator, Chris Snodgrass. After the turmoil at UF over the past several years, this is a significant advancement for faculty welfare and students' needs in Gainesville.
The settlement a few hours north of us along I-75 is very different from the current status of bargaining at the University of South Florida. The United Faculty of Florida has had salary proposals on the table since summer 2009, while we are now almost six months from when the Board of Trustees last had a salary proposal on the table for more than two hours. In February, the Trustees' bargaining team pulled their salary proposal. They next put a proposal on the table at the beginning of the bargaining session June 25 and then pulled the proposal before the end of the session. They have not offered anything on the salary article since. While UF is in the end zone on salary negotiations, USF's Trustees aren't even in the parking lot to play.
The United Faculty of Florida and the Trustees are now headed to an impasse Special Magistrate hearing August 26 on all issues remaining for bargaining in 2009-10. The Trustees are still trying to lowball instructors on promotion raises; they just sent an impasse proposal today for 6% raises, though instructors perform a disproportionate amount of teaching. We are defending the history of 9% raises for all promoted employees because we know that is in the long-term interests of the university, to treat all employees fairly and not put non-tenure-track instructors in the back of the bus. The year the university begins implementing instructor promotion procedures is NOT the time to pull the rug out from under the best of USF's instructors.
Tenure-stream faculty and librarians who were promoted in the spring should not be worried about their promotion raises: Florida law requires the Board of Trustees to maintain the language of the 2008-09 agreement while there are continuing negotiations and the impasse process, so faculty and librarians should see the standard promotion raises appear in their GEMS records next week.
In addition, the chapter will arrange for a ratification vote later this month of the Memorandum of Understanding MOU reached earlier in the summer that would allow distribution of bonuses for last year's honors and awards. Because new employees are eligible to vote, we need to wait until new faculty are in the GEMS database for the bargaining unit, but voting should conclude by the end of the month, and then it will be the Trustees' turn to ratify the MOU.
If the sides cannot reach agreement on the remaining contract issues, the chapter will keep everyone in the bargaining unit informed of the positions the chapter is taking, of the evidence presented at the hearing, and the rest of the process.
USF Chapter President
United Faculty of Florida
PURITY AND PRACTICALITY: AN IMPASSE STORY
Why would a Board of Trustees say that one of its must-haves for bargaining is a summer cap and then reject eight union offers that included a summer salary cap? Bargaining is not about an abstract rationality. At its most productive, it is about meeting the joint interests of the parties in practical ways. At its most destructive, one party sabotages bargaining in search of a self-defined moral crusade, even if that sabotage is not in the party's best interest.
As of this Wednesday, the union and the Board of Trustees (BOT) are at odds over instructor promotion raises and all other salary issues other than librarian and tenure-stream promotion raises, as well as over layoff units and procedures, summer teaching compensation, and the structure of release time for bargaining and contract enforcement. On the issues that management has talked about publicly, the differences between the parties are very narrow financially--less than a quarter million dollars at a university with a billion-dollar annual budget and about $300 million in unrestricted net assets.
The impasse the BOT declared is not about money, say chapter officers. "The Trustees' disproportionate focus on pocket change," said Chapter Secretary Greg McColm, "only complicates bargaining and undermines any collaboration that the union and management might have in facing common concerns, like Tallahassee."
"In 2004, the Trustees tried to put some employees in the back of the bus on raises, and they're trying the same thing again today," said former Chief Negotiator Bob Welker, who also sat on UFF's statewide bargaining team for eleven years. "USF's graduation rate is below fifty percent and they're trying to save peanuts by kicking many of the faculty working to help our students."
"Management's behavior is consistent with using bargaining for symbolic purposes--removing perceived impurity from the affairs of the university," said Chapter President Sherman Dorn.
Dorn presented the summer pay cap as an example of an issue where the BOT is not addressing practical concerns (the proposed cap is $ 12,000 per three-hour summer course). After the BOT had persuaded UFF to try a (pilot) summer salary cap in 2009, administrators ignored union concerns that the provost's application of the cap unfairly affected lower-paid faculty assigned to teach four-hour classes. "If you gain a concession as a pilot," said Dorn, "Does it promote trust at the bargaining table to ignore the other party's concerns about implementation?"
(In fact, UFF presented summer cap proposals addressing union concerns on March 5, April 9 (two offers), April 16, June 25, and July 2 (three offers). All can be seen
on the Bargaining Page.)
Dorn added, "Since 2008, it has been public that we're concerned inflation on the cap would eventually reduce summer salaries to adjunct wages, and the Trustees' chief negotiator said July 16 that the Trustees would not address those concerns with this contract."
Dorn summed up the situation: "All this makes no sense if you look at bargaining in practical terms and look to compromise. It makes great sense if management decided that they had to have exactly what they wanted, total surrender, to get rid of something that was polluting their vision for the university."
"The Trustees' bargaining became worse after I became chief negotiator in January," says Mark Klisch, a licensed psychologist at the student Counseling Center. "Their impasse proposal to change current language that's the language in the previous contract everyone agreed to would fix low promotion raises for instructors at six percent instead of the nine percent that librarians and tenure-track faculty receive."
The two bargaining teams will present their cases at an Impasse Hearing on August 26 and August 27 at a time and place TBA by a Biweekly Extra. (The hearing is public, and ALL are welcome to observe in whole or in part.) The UFF position is posted
Bargaining Page; the BOT has not yet informed the special magistrate or UFF what their position will be on Articles 9, 13, and 23.
In June, the BOT declared impasse over two of the thirty articles then being bargained. Chapter President Sherman Dorn said, "We were advised that when the impasse process starts, it addresses all unresolved issues. Our most urgent priority became narrowing down the unresolved issues so the two sides didn't look like utter fools in public. And that would let us see what would be necessary to reach agreement on the toughest issues and how to protect our ability to bargain, not disarming unilaterally."
The agreements reached June 25 and July 2 shows evidence of the first priority, (see the
Bargaining Page). This was a speed-dating version of the way bargaining usually proceeds as a sequence of proposals that grow increasingly alike.
"I expect we've been described in private as unreasonable," Dorn said. "That we're defending anachronisms that interfere with managing a modern university. That compromise would be compromise with pollution. They have to understand that bargaining is about practicality, not purity.
"If we go all the way through the impasse process, both sides will be hurting. Or we could come to a reasonable agreement."
The United Faculty of Florida is your Collective Bargaining Agent. Just like an agent for a movie star (but cheaper: UFF charges only 1 % of salary, not 15 %), the union bargains and enforces a contract.
The two sides bargain "wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment." Typically, the two sides exchange proposals, like the sequence of proposals enumerated on the
Bargaining Page. When one side presents a proposal, its chief negotiator can list the various merits of the proposal, and members on the other side can ask questions, talk about the various deficiencies, and accept the offer or make a counterproposal (usually after private meetings called caucuses, or sometimes at a later session). Because of the way things are set up, it is tricky to discuss issues outside the framework of a given proposal, so bargaining often proceeds as a sequence of proposals that grow increasingly alike. If there is a complete agreement, both sides Tentatively Agree on various articles until finally the entire contract is signed and ready to present to the (employees of the) Bargaining Unit, and to the Board of Trustees, for ratification.
This is not a rational forum where the Truth (or best argument) determines the outcome; it is a structured legal process to allow unions and public agencies to work out differences and protect interests.
Take a look at the
Bargaining Page: at most meetings, both sides presented proposals and talked about them. But on June 1, the Board of Trustees declared "impasse", and since then they've presented only one proposal. And that proposal for salaries was one that the BOT probably needed on the table during impasse, for legal reasons. In other words, since declaring "impasse", the BOT's level of participation in bargaining has declined.
So what is "impasse"?
In the course of bargaining, one side may send a Letter of Impasse stating that there is a "dispute" and requesting help. According to Florida Statute 447.403, for an independent public entity like USF, help consists of a Special Magistrate, who is to hear the case. In preparation for the hearing, the two sides share lists of issues to present to the Special Magistrate.
At the Impasse Hearing, the Special Magistrate determines the areas of dispute and the facts. Subsequently, the Special Magistrate composes a recommendation "with the objective of achieving a prompt, peaceful, and just settlement of disputes," according to Florida Statute 447.405. After the hearing, the two sides have to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations. If both sides accept the recommendations, then they are incorporated into the contract language to be presented to the Bargaining Unit and to the Board of Trustees for ratification.
The tricky part is if one side does not accept the recommendations. According to FS 447.403, the dispute is then presented to the "legislative body" to impose a resolution to the dispute, to be presented to the Bargaining Unit and the BOT for ratification. If this imposed resolution is not ratified by both sides, it becomes a sort of interim contract for the remainder of whatever fiscal year is in question.
According to FS 447.203(10), the "legislative body" of USF is the Board of Governors. But the Board of Governors delegated its collective bargaining authority to the boards of trustees, and USF Board of Trustees has delegated its authority as the legislative body to its Labor Committee (see
the 8 April 2010 Biweekly for the story of the staff union impasse legislative-body hearing).
This might suggest to the sufficiently cynical reader that all the Board of Trustees has to do is to declare impasse, reject the recommendations of the Special Magistrate, and impose whatever they like. But life is not like that. Even assuming that all the footwork in the previous paragraph is legal, there remain some rules about bargaining that have to be navigated. And this particular situation is a bit tricky.
The impasse grew out of several sections of the contract where the Board of Trustees seeks to change the current language (i.e., the language of the 2008 2009 contract, much of which has been around for many, many years). Of the articles listed in the Letter of Impasse, the BOT seeks to change language in order to reduce promotional pay raises to instructors, to make summer pay caps permanent, and to charge UFF for release time. So the BOT declared impasse over current language (and BTW, the UFF estimates that these changes entail about 0.008 % of the university's budget). In addition, the BOT has pressed for a major rewrite of Article 13 on layoffs, which would dilute tenure and would not, in UFF's opinion, be in the interests of the faculty or of the university.
UFF's leverage resides in the fact that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement grants large swaths of discretion to the Board of Trustees and its management in areas in which the union could insist on nailing down, including workload, supplements for various added duties and responsibilities, starting salaries, minimum salaries, and rules for counteroffers. If a union does not waive its right to bargain such "mandatory subjects of bargaining," the Board of Trustees cannot take those issues to impasse and try to impose discretion that the union has the right to bargain.
In trying to come to an agreement this summer, the UFF has also preserved its ability to bargain those issues as the impasse process moved forward, and its position as stated at the table and documented in its statement of impasse issues is that it is not currently waiving the right to bargain these subjects. If there is an agreement without an imposition by the legislative body, both sides could of course agree to continue the waivers that each side historically has been willing to grant as a practical matter of reaching agreement.
And it is possible to reach agreement without getting to the legislative body hearing. The UFF chapter in Gainesville had been bargaining with the University of Florida Board of Trustees since 2005 when, after four years (!), UFF declared impasse. Bargaining continued for several more months, in the shadow of impasse, a prospect that may have played a part in the two sides Tentatively Agreeing to a contract.
The evidentiary hearing before the Special Magistrate for the UFF-USF impasse is scheduled for August 26, 27, times and places TBA in a Biweekly Extra; per Florida state law, the hearing is open to the public, and UFF invites all interested members of the USF community to attend. Meanwhile, UFF is willing and able to continue bargaining during impasse, and we are hopeful that the issues can be resolved without more fuss.