|April 9, 2009|
ARBITRATION HEARING APRIL 24 ON INVOLUNTARY ANNUAL LEAVE
Last May, at a special meeting of the Faculty Senate, President Genshaft announced a Budget Reduction Proposal. Among the nickel-and-dime items was the closure of USF for three days during the Winter Break of 2008, and the imposition of involuntary annual leave on all employees assigned to work during that time.
Article 17, Section 9, of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (see the current contract ) does not enable the administration to impose involuntary annual leave. And there is no precedent for this action (the administration can always close a university, but past practice has not been to demand that salaried employees cough up annual leave because of the closure). So the Chapter and our Grievance Chair (Dr. Mark Klisch, our vice president, who is a salaried employee) filed a joint grievance.
A grievance is a formal complaint that the contract has been violated. Any employee who is a victim of a violation of the contract may file a grievance, but only an employee who was a union member AT THE TIME OF THE ALLEGED VIOLATION may be represented by the union in the grievance process. (In addition, the chapter may file a grievance on its own behalf on any violation of the contract.) A grievance must be filed within thirty days of the time the grievant knew or should have known of the violation.
First, a grievance goes through two steps. The first step usually consists of an attempt to quietly resolve the issue, and, if that doesn't work, a Step 1 hearing before a representative of the President. If that doesn't work, next is a Step 2 hearing before a representative of the Board of Trustees. If the matter still has not been resolved to the grievant's satisfaction, the union may choose to take the case to arbitration, to be heard by a neutral third party. Notice that it is the union's decision whether to go to arbitration.
After UFF lost in the Step 2 hearing on involuntary annual leave, the union decided to try arbitration. And so on April 24 at 9 am, eleven months after President Genshaft's announcement of imposed annual leave, both sides will present their cases before a neutral arbitrator.
Dr. Klisch and statewide UFF Executive Director Ed Mitchell are both confident that USF acted in violation of the collective bargaining agreement by attempting to force employees to take annual leave on specific days. The arbitrator has the authority to restore annual leave to in-unit employees if USF is found to have violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We expect to know of a decision within two months.
THE VERDICT ON WARD CHURCHILL
Ward Churchill seems to be the most colorful figure in the current round of academic freedom cases. A prolific writer and extravagant commentator, he is the sort of faculty member an attention-hungry school on the make would want – and the sort of faculty member that a timid administrator would fear.
Shortly after 9/11, when Churchill was chairman of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, he wrote a commentary on how "a few more chickens – along with some half-million dead Iraqi children – came home to roost in a very big way at the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center," remarking that "...[i]f there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it." Few noticed this piece of purple prose until Churchill expanded it into a book, and then the ruckus began. (See the Biweekly's June 7, 2007 article.)
The University of Colorado proved to be on the timid and fearful side of the spectrum, and after legislators and the governor publicly demanded Churchill's head, the university obliged. It is impolitic to fire a tenured academic for insensitive commentary, but as Robert Penn Warren wrote, there is always something: "There is always the clue, the cancelled check, the smear of lipstick, the footprint in the canna bed, the condom on the park path, the twitch in the old wound, the baby shoes dipped in bronze, the taint in the blood stream." Churchill had left many such clues in his career. A committee of five faculty investigated seven "allegations" and concluded (among other things) that he had plagiarized a pamphlet, mishandled the work of others, and falsified and fabricated evidence (particularly misrepresenting sources). As for sanctions, four recommended suspension without pay for two to five years, and one voted in favor of dismissal. The university fired him.
Of course, he sued. His predicament should not be taken lightly, and not just because some politicians hoped that his dismissal would send a message to pointy-headed professors everywhere. He is such a flamboyant figure that one can forget the emotional cost of going through such a confrontation, but a glance at Books-in-Print shows that his intimidating stream of memorably titled books ends with "Pacifism as Pathology", published April, 2007. But he was committed, for he testified that "...I want restitution and acknowledgment the entire process under which I was terminated from the university was fraudulent."
The jury deliberated for a day and a half, ultimately deciding in Churchill's favor and awarding him $ 1 in damages. This was a compromise between five jurors who wanted to award more and one who didn't want to award anything, and it has puzzled observers who tend to read policies and principles into compromises. Still, Churchill's lawyer is confident that the university will have to pay his fee and rehire his client.
This case may affect several potential academic freedom cases on the horizon. An ironic example is UC Berkeley Law Professor John Yoo, who wrote some strange memos for Bush's Department of Justice on the use of torture. A recent thread of court decisions (from Garcetti v. Ceballos to Hong v. Grant) suggests that academic freedom may not protect such memos, so perhaps Yoo should have to answer for them before a university committee. On the other hand, there is a certain air of whose-ox-is-gored in these decisions. Yoo is supported by Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who readers may remember played a substantial role in Norman Finkelstein's tenure denial (another academic freedom issue, involving a book written by Finkelstein attacking Dershowitz). Meanwhile, Bard College has just fired Joel Kovel, one of the noisier advocates for a secular Palestine. If the next few cases suggest that the wind is shifting, administrators may be less inclined fire noisy professors in order to appease politicians and pundits.
Boston College and the University of Nebraska cancelled appearances by William Ayers, and legislators had a fit when Richard Dawkins appeared at the University of Oklahoma. There are two ways to take this. First, when politicians and pundits try bully tactics over a visit by a mere village atheist like Richard Dawkins, it's time for an uncompromising defense of academic freedom. On the other hand, the University of Oklahoma didn't bend, so perhaps the wind is shifting. But even if so, social winds do not turn of their own accord, so it is indeed time for an uncompromising defense of academic freedom.