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United Faculty of Florida, Fall 2005

August 25, 2005

Remembering Gdansk

On August 14, 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland, struck in reaction to price hikes and dismissals. Led by Lech Walesa, a new Polish workers movement called Solidarity presented a list of 21 demands, organized demonstrations, put out a national newspaper, and gradually pressured the Polish government until, on December 13, 1981, the political security unit ZOMO arrested much of the Solidarity leadership as the government declared martial law. The long, cold duel had begun.

Twenty-five years later, the American Educator ran a feature on that duel: Surviving the Underground: How American Unions Helped Solidarity Win. Our unions' involvement is not surprising: American unions have long supported the international labor movement in general, and hence the right of workers to organize unions of their own.

That support began shortly after the strike itself. In later August, 1980, AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland and International Longshoremans' Association President Teddy Gleason announced that they would organize worker boycotts of Polish shipments in support of the strike. Kirkland also promised direct assistance, saying presciently, "For the first time a pluralistic institution has been accepted within a Communist regime ... with consequences that could be quite far-reaching." Walesa responded with, "Help can never be politically embarrassing. That of the AFL-CIO, for example. We are very grateful to them." And Kirkland visited Solidarity's first convention in September, 1981.

The reaction of western governments was more mixed. The Carter Administration, which had made human rights one of its most public priorities, believed that a more discreet approach would be more effective. Later, although Kirkland suggested to President-elect Reagan that the USA use Poland's debt exposure to pressure the Polish government, the Reagan administration turned to alternative approaches that posed less of a threat to Reagan's financial backers. The European community was even warier of Solidarity.

Martial law raised the stakes, and the AFL-CIO responded by developing channels for smuggling (the article delicately avoids that word, but that's what we were doing) printing equipment, money, and miscellaneous into Poland. Solidarity needed printing equipment for its underground press, to keep the movement alive at the grass roots. And Solidarity needed money for activists -- and for the families of activists in jail.

Over the next six years, the duel slowly approached stalemate, until Solidarity broke out with a series of strikes in 1988, which brought the government to the bargaining table. They agreed on an election, which Solidarity won overwhelmingly to the government's astonishment. It was not entirely over, but on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin wall, the dictatorship was dying.

Victory has a thousand fathers, and certainly the most pre-eminent father of the Polish victory was Solidarity. The AFL-CIO was one of several organizations that supported Solidarity in words, deeds, and material. As for the importance of Kirkland's contribution, Solidarity's principal spokesman said, "We knew that presidents come and go, but Kirkland would still be there."

The AFL-CIO continues its concern for worker rights and worker welfare around the world. In the same issue, the American Educator reported that AFT Secretary-Treasurer Nat LaCour led a delegation to find out how workers are faring in Hong Kong and China. The Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union had helped fight back a proposed "anti-subversion law" aimed at limiting the right of association. But in China, the government-run All China Federation of Trade Unions seems indifferent to poor working conditions which, according to the Solidarity Center, caused 140,000 deaths in 2002 by workplace accidents alone.

September 8, 2005

There They Go Again!

The contract bargained last year between the United Faculty of Florida and the Board of Trustees runs from 2004 to 2007. But money being unpredictable, compensation is bargained each year. According to the contract, we were supposed to start bargaining in October, 2004, in order to have the issues resolved by July, 2005. But the Administration claimed that it did not know if it had the authority to bargain (does that excuse sound familiar?), and so bargaining started ... late last month.

Meanwhile, we have all seen the 3.6 % raise mandated by the State.

The two bargaining teams met last week and the Administration presented a proposal. Then the Administration broadcast a brief description of their proposal (we have posted the description). Apparently the Administration is again bargaining via the media.

Bargaining is a bit like poker, which is why the union is very skeptical of bargaining by press release. On the international scene, a nation that fills the air with public proposals usually isn't serious, and the result usually isn't a resolution of disagreement. More locally, last year, the Administration tried bargaining by press release, to get a complicated scheme that would have denied ANY raises to at least a quarter of all in-unit employees, and cut university professionals off at the knees. The Administration did not get what it wanted.

The history of bargaining by press release does not inspire confidence. In fact, the union believes that the result of last summer vindicates our skepticism. But, as in last summer, we believe that if the Administration is going to broadcast its proposals, we can reciprocate by critiquing them in the Biweekly.

Before we do, remember that everyone (who was rated at least satisfactory) will get the state-mandated 3.6 % raise. At issue is any additional raises. The Administration proposes that these be a kind of incentive raise. The idea is that faculty will send their files not to their departmental committees, but to their colleges. The colleges will select files for at most a fifth of their faculty, and forward them to a seven-member committee that will review them all and assign raises. All in-unit employees who are not teaching or research faculty will be ineligible for such raises.

Before we go into details, we should compare 2004 and 2005 proposals and see if we can see something of the mindset at Allen Hall. Again, the proposal broadcasted last week is on-line, while our critique of their 2004 proposal is in an old Biweekly issue. Three things come to mind:

  • First, the Administration seems to believe that four-fifths of all faculty are non-productive, and therefore should not receive incentive raises. (Actually, the Administration told the union that about seven-eighths of the faculty should not receive incentive raises.)
  • Second, the Administration has no confidence in the departmental evaluation process. Under the 2004 proposal, chairs were expected to correct for what the administration saw as evaluation inflation. In last week's proposal, the departments are cut out altogether, and replaced by a university committee with no expertise in the areas of the faculty they would be evaluating.
  • Third, the Administration is indifferent to logistical difficulties in implementing their proposals. The 2004 proposal plopped a mess in the chairs' laps that would have generated endless grievances that the Provost's office would have to process. The 2005 proposal envisions a single committee plowing through perhaps 300 files, and they haven't even thought about how the colleges are going to decide which files to forward. The complexity may be comparable to having a fifth of the faculty going up for tenure at once.
The union has several concerns about this proposal, assuming that it is serious.

First of all, it is both iniquitous and irresponsible to deny incentive raises to a majority of the faculty. If we were going to use a business model for determining raises, we would want to use incentives to encourage productivity and encourage higher levels of performance. An announcement that incentives would not apply to 80 % of the faculty (or worse, 88 % of the faculty) would be a clear signal to faculty that productivity will not, in general, be rewarded. And by restricting the program to teaching and research faculty, the Administration is signaling to counselors, librarians, and all other university professionals that for them, there are no monetary incentives for excellence whatsoever.

(Fortunately for the university, excellence is its own reward for most faculty. Still, a laborer is worthy of his hire ...)

The situation is even worse if the mechanism for determining the lucky 20 % (or 12 %) is visibly unsound ...

The Administration proposes that the Faculty Senate conduct an election, to elect four faculty members of the committee that will hand out the raises. History buffs will recall that the union was formed in part because of the sentiment that the Faculty Senate deals with academic issues, and should not be involved in the mechanics of job issues. Furthermore, such involvement is not part of the Faculty Senate's mission, as defined in its constitution or bylaws. Does the Administration now propose that the Senate's charter is a legitimate subject for collective bargaining? If so, the Administration should at least have the sense to apprise the Senate (which it has not) before floating such trial balloons.

The situation is actually worse than it seems. The union does not represent all teaching and research faculty, so either (a) the Senate is being asked to set up a system that will treat different faculty differently, depending on which academic unit they are in, or (b) the union is being asked to bargain on behalf of faculty outside of the bargaining unit in addition to those inside. Either proposal is highly irregular.

So we have an inherently irregular proposal to send files from faculty to a committee lacking the expertise to evaluate them. Hundreds of files. To a committee of seven masochists. And there is another point, which the announcement did not address. The Administration informs us that funds are limited, hence the limited distribution of raises, but somewhere there is promotion money. Where other raise money -- for counteroffers, say -- would come from is unclear: as the law requires that all raises have to be bargained, this omission is alarming.

Nevertheless, the Administration has announced it, admittedly with little fanfare. So they must believe that faculty would regard it as an improvement over the current merit/ across-the-board/ discretionary breakdown we've been using for the last zillion years. If any faculty would like the union to take up this offer, please let our Chapter President know: send an e-mail to Roy Weatherford.

Happy Labor Day!

One of the central notions in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations is that a nation does not become rich by discovering gold in the ground. (By the time Smith wrote his book, gold had not done Spain much good.) This might seem odd at first glance, and certainly Smith is perhaps a wee dogmatic on the point, but it is true that land in a colony is cheaper than land in a principal city, and part of that difference in value is the difference in the labor that went into the surrounding environment. Of course, market forces make land in Manhattan more expensive than land in Boise, Idaho, but it is the labor that went into Central Park, the Met, and five zillion shops that makes the market value of Manhattan so high.

This notion has been in the air for some time. John Locke said that "All wealth is the product of labor." And on a different tack, a century after Smith, Thomas Carlyle said that "All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work alone is noble."

Nevertheless, the forces of Leisure and Privilege have a history of treating Labor poorly, and workers have often joined together to deal with their employers collectively. Our unions are partly descendents of the medieval guilds, complete with notions like tenure (which came from the feudal notion of land tenure many guild members were familiar with). One very Nineteenth Century union was the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor in America, founded in 1869, with the secret rituals and other Masonic apparatus common with many philanthropic organizations of that century.

In September, 1882, the Knights organized a parade of over ten thousand workers on Tuesday, September 5. The issue of the moment was the eight-hour day, and workers carried signs saying "Labor Creates All Wealth" (sound familiar?), "Eight Hours for Work; Eight Hours for Rest; Eight Hours for Recreation," as well as signs saying, "All Men are Born Equal" and "Agitate - Educate - Organize." After the parade, there were picnics around the city, and after dusk, fireworks.

Over the next few years, the parades spread, and several states made the first Monday in September a legal holiday. In 1893, workers marched in Union Square to call for making Labor Day a federal holiday; and in 1894, after workers in Pullman, Illinois, were shot down by U.S. marshals during a strike, Labor Day was proclaimed a federal holiday. Samuel Gompers, then-President of the American Federation of Labor, said, "The day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed ... [and when] the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it [has arrived]."

Labor Day is the end of summer, and until recently, fall election campaigns would be launched on Labor Day, when candidates would arrive at the picnics and provide the ... entertainment. Meanwhile, the labor unions inspired others to pick up their ancient ideas: the American Association of University Professors was modeled after labor unions, and the AAUP and other academics reformulated tenure into a new buttress for the equally ancient notion of academic freedom ... for a nation that found, and still finds, academic freedom an odd concept.

When Aristotle said that he valued a life of contemplation, he did not mean that it was easy. It is a lot of work. And that work we do is just as much work and just as noble as cotton-spinning. And that makes Labor Day our day to remember how far we've come -- and think of how far we could go.

September 22, 2005

In Memoriam, Gordon Brunhild

Gordon Brunhild, 77, who as a professor of economics and finance was a founding member of USF's faculty, died Tuesday, September 13. A veteran, a founding member of USF Hillel, a Shriner, and president of Brunhild properties, and active in many other civic and philanthropic organizations, he still found the time to serve as President of the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida during the late 1980s. We are grateful for his years of service. Memorial donations may be made to H. Lee Moffitt Hospital, the Department of Oncology, LifePath Hospice, or USF Hillel.

Congratulations to Gainesville!

After three years of evasions, the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) has finally decided to enforce the law and has ruled that the United Faculty of Florida is the certified bargaining agent for the faculty of the University of Florida -- more precisely, for those faculty that the UFF has always represented there. This ruling became inevitable once an appeals court ruled last February that, well, PERC must follow the law (see the Biweekly article on the ruling). And so PERC has. The Independent Alligator quoted the UFF Chapter Vice President at UF, Kim Emery, saying, "This should be the end of the line ... I think everybody's relieved. It's a really important victory for faculty rights," and saying that they were ready for collective bargaining. Meanwhile, university officials were unavailable for comment: see the Alligator article.

This is the final defeat of the attempt by Governor Bush to break the union. The state union office released a press release, at , where UFF statewide President Tom Auxter said, "The entire state can celebrate the victory of faculty in pursuing a path of excellence through collective bargaining ... We can also celebrate the defeat of politicians in their schemes to break the union through reorganization and to drive down salaries and erode professional conditions of employment." The American Federation of Teachers also issued a press release.

This victory -- and where to go from here -- were two major topics at the meeting of the UFF Senate over last weekend, where we thanked our affiliates for all their support and planned our next steps.

Reclassification Alert

Since the old contract expired in 2003, the university administration has reclassified a large number of employees from positions and job codes within the bargaining unit to positions and job codes outside of the unit. Typically, these reclassifications were made without giving either the employee or the union the notice required by the contract. The effect of this reclassification is that the reclassified employee is no longer represented by the union, and no longer covered by the contract.

The positions within the bargaining unit are listed in on pages 87 and 88 of the contract, which is on-line.

Since the courts have ruled, and now PERC admitted (see previous story), that the terms and conditions of the contract were in force from January 7, 2003, to December 2, 2004, these reclassifications were not legal. In addition, the new contract also imposes similar restrictions on reclassifications. And yet, the administration continued to reclassify employees this year, again without lawful notice, and has indicated that reclassifications will continue ... until over ten percent of the employees within the bargaining unit have been moved out of the unit.

That is enough reclassifications to affect the integrity of the unit itself, which may bring other laws into play. Yes, there are laws against union-busting.

But we must follow due process in dealing with these reclassifications. That due process starts with filing a grievance asserting that the contract has been violated. Typically, a grievance has to be filed within thirty days of the time that the employee knew or should have known of the violation (although in a situation this blatant, it may be possible to do something about older violations).

If you have been reclassified out of the unit, but without any substantive changes in your actual job, you may have a grievance. For more information, contact the Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

Speech Codes at USF

by Sherman Dorn

Earlier this year, USF's Academic Computing wizards put up a server to host online journals, weblogs, or blogs as they're commonly called, inviting the university community to use the server. Great idea! I thought, since I had been using a blog for a course since January and wanted to look at the server for future classes. So I clicked on the link to start an account and faced an imposing user agreement, with several legalistic paragraphs and then a list of prohibitions (see
the home page). What caught my eye was the following promise blog users have to make:
spacer "I will not ... publish information that is racially, ethnically, or otherwise offensive." spacer

I immediately recognized this statement as a speech code, a restriction on what a blogger might write based entirely on the content of the speech. Speech codes have a particularly ugly history in the last twenty years of American higher education, and several courts around the country have struck down speech codes at other public universities for being unconstitutional infringements on the free-speech rights of students, faculty, and staff. Well, it's clear that we have a speech code at USF tucked into the blog user agreement.

The basic problem here is that this restriction is censorship. It violates the academic freedom of faculty and of students. There is also the general constitutional restriction on public agencies like USF -- we can't censor. While I am not a lawyer, I have no doubt that this restriction would be struck down on the face of it by any competent federal judge.

Consider, for example, the vague term "offensive." Who judges whether what you or I write is offensive -- some staff member at Academic Computing? A random student or colleague? Someone living in Schenectady, New York, who happens to be reading USF blog entries? This language in essence puts all of us at risk of being judged offensive with no prior standard of what might be out of bounds.

The point of a university is intellectual discussion, something that generally can't happen without making someone uncomfortable at some point. I plan my classes so that students cannot agree with all the readings I assign. Students who are intellectually comfortable for an entire education are students who have never had to challenge their preconceptions about life. If a student can attend USF for four years and get a degree without being offended at some point, we've failed as a university.

The final problem with this language is that it was written and attempted to put into force by staff members, with no consultation of students, of the academic faculty senate, or the United Faculty of Florida. It is one more example of bureaucracy run wild at USF, with no attempt at collegial governance.

The blog user agreement isn't the only Academic Computing policy that has serious problems. The generic network access policy also restricts the content of what people write. Taken together, the generic network access policy and the blog user agreement attempt to restrict what faculty and students can do with USF computing resources, including several restrictions that violate academic freedom.

In May, I pointed out these problems to Academic Computing. Because discussions with members of the administration had quickly dissolved, I filed an academic-freedom grievance June 1 and during conversations with administrators extended the informal-resolution period of the grievance process through the end of July. I hoped that administrators would understand the harm that speech codes did to the university community. But I failed to hear concrete proposals for a solution from administrators for July and August. It's now late September. The administration is now in violation not only of the academic-freedom provisions of the collective bargaining agreement but also the deadlines for scheduling and holding a formal hearing on the grievance.

I have no doubt that the "offensive language" and other language that violates academic freedom will be removed from the USF computer network policies. In this case, the faculty collective bargaining agreement protects the rights of everyone at USF; the removal of speech codes benefits everyone. But why are administrators dragging their feet, when they must know the inevitable result?

And if you see a speech code hidden somewhere in a USF policy, please let me know. Let's make sure that academic freedom is respected in the details of policy, not just in lip service.

Report on the Senate, Part I

The United Faculty of Florida is a representative democracy, and its representative body is the Senate, which meets twice a year, in spring and in fall. It met last week to review events of the last summer and plan for the next academic year.

This year, we had a distinguished guest. UFF has received good counsel and critical logistical support from New York's United University Professions, which represents 30,000 faculty at the State University of New York and three other institutions. UUP President Bill Scheuerman visited us, en route to Washington, DC (where he plans to press the Senate not to attach David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" to the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act), and he addressed the Senate.

Here is a condensed version of what he said.

These are tough times everywhere, but it is possible to win major victories, like the victory UFF just one for the faculty of the University of Florida (see above). UFF, said Scheuerman, is about where UUP was thirty years ago. Back then, about a third of the faculty in SUNY were members, and it showed in UUP's limited legislative clout: UUP spent its time and energy in Albany defeating bad bills. But now UUP represents 92 % of SUNY's faculty -- including physicians and Nobel laureates -- and the result was clout enough to win 18 % in raises over three years and prevent layoffs in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. There is no substitute for having a majority of the bargaining unit: it shows in the good things one can win and the bad things one can prevent.

And now the UUP is so successful in dealing with Albany, New York (by being non-partisan, Scheuerman noted pragmatically) that the American Federation of Teachers has sent him to visit the U.S. Senate. Alas, it's primarily to prevent some bad things. Perhaps thinking of upcoming discussions in Washington, he spent the rest of his speech on what he hoped to prevent while visiting the Capitol.

The big news is the Higher Education Reauthorization Act, which was traditionally concerned with access to higher education. Scheuerman is working to prevent cuts in student aid: before Katrina hit New Orleans, scheduled cuts were for about $ 9 billion, but since then, the projected cuts range from $ 11 billion to $ 13 billion. Meanwhile, Scheuerman is working to keep the money from being diverted to for-profit institutions. And finally, he is pressing U.S. senators to reject the Academic Bill of Rights. This last item, a sense of the Congress resolution, is part of a campaign that will eventually erode academic freedom to the point that "we'll look like the Soviet Union in twenty years if we don't stop this." But fighting this campaign means stronger unions, which means that higher education unions need more members.

For more information on the UUP, see their website.

October 6, 2005

UFF Senate Report, Part II

In the previous report, we gave an account of a special keynote speech by New York's United University Professions President Bill Scheuerman. Scheuerman said that UUP had become very successful representing SUNY faculty largely by enrolling the overwhelming majority of faculty as members: membership is the key to clout at the bargaining table and in the Legislature. With that in mind, here is what happened next.

United Faculty of Florida President Tom Auxter said that the primary focus of the meeting would be on organizing, i.e., on enrolling enough faculty so that a majority of faculty would be members. Majority membership is historically the threshold which, when crossed, empowers faculty unions to make a quantum jump in what can be won at bargaining: President Auxter noted that faculty at Hillsborough Community College started getting much bigger raises once a majority of HCC faculty were UFF members.

Auxter went on to say that the legislative clout we would get will be critical. Recently, many federal responsibilities have been devolving to the states, and legislatures are responding by cutting programs that are politically safe to cut; for example, the Colorado state government has recently warned the University of Colorado that the university must become self-supporting within a few years. In addition, legislatures are prone to bully anyone who looks weak; for example, faculty in Pennsylvania didn't respond effectively to David Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, and now their legislature is setting up an investigative committee to conduct McCarthy-style hearings on the alleged liberalism of Pennsylvania university professors.

UFF's Executive Director Steve Weinberger reported that while health premiums are not changing much this year, there is a lot of pressure to shift risk onto employees, and noted that this October a number of packages offered to employees have high deductibles and even problematic coverage. He recommended that during this Open Enrollment period people look very carefully at the packages offered.

Incidentally, Weinberger was later asked where the 3.6 % across-the-board raise came from; our legislature is not known for spontaneous acts of generosity. Indeed not: this raise was the result of a LOT of cooperation and hard work. Last October, President Auxter discussed with the faculty senate presidents the possibility of getting the annual pay raise for state employees to apply to university faculty as well, and the senate presidents liked the idea. Then in January, the UFF chapter presidents told the Florida Education Association's chief lobbyist about the idea (UFF is affiliated with the FEA, which represents Florida's teachers in grades K-20, as well as other professionals). Meanwhile, the university presidents independently decided to try to get faculty the state employee raise (and special thanks to FIU President Modesto Maidique for his work lobbying the Legislature). As we can see, the synergy of these three groups was successful -- something to keep in mind the next time the Legislature addresses a common interest.

Anyway, after the Executive Director made his report, we broke into groups -- one for universities, one for community colleges, and one for graduate assistants. And that is where we will pick up in the next issue of the Biweekly.

Planning Reclassification

Last week, the USF Bulletin reported that "The USF community showed overwhelming support for the classification redesign initiative by submitting over 3,200 position description questionnaires (PDQs) for A & P and USPS positions." These PDQs collect information for rationalizing the job descriptions at USF. For the full article, see the September 28 USF Bulletin.

Yes, indeed, something is up. In the last issue of the Biweekly, we reported that the Administration was reclassifying in-unit (i.e., represented by the union and covered by the contract) employees as "non-faculty" and thus to positions out of unit (i.e., not represented by the union and not covered by the contract). As was explained to the union, a lot of positions designated as faculty positions had primarily non-faculty job descriptions, and so should be reclassified as non-faculty, or out-of-unit. Leaving aside the issue of what the word "faculty" means (over the last millennium, the word has been a bit protean), the union is very wary of a reorganization that does not change jobs or job descriptions, but just a few titles and codes. After all, the union has just defeated, in court, a statewide attempt to eliminate the entire union by similar legerdemain. To date, the Administration has not made clear why this rationalization of job codes requires shifting hundreds of employees out of the bargaining unit.

Incidentally, employees shifted out of unit wound up getting pay raises based on the 2 % out-of-unit pot provided by the administration, rather than the 5 % in-unit pot bargained by the union.

The union has filed two grievances, and has proposed that employees involuntarily shifted out of unit be returned to the unit, and given their raises. Retroactively. And the union has made it quite clear that it will resist any salami-style slice-by-slice assault on the bargaining unit.

Notice the use of the word "involuntary." Employees were shifted out of the unit against their will.

This brings us back to the USF Bulletin announcement, which said that employees "showed overwhelming support" for the reclassification project by submitting questionnaires. But in his letter to A & P and USPS employees, Executive Vice President Carl Carlucci says that "All USPS and A & P employees and supervisors will be asked to complete this questionnaire." So the employees who filled out the questionnaire were not showing their support for the reclassification project; they were following instructions from their superiors.

The reclassification project itself is described in a slide show (see the reclassification project site). At the recent consultation between the union and the administration, UFF protested the way the reclassification was being conducted and the entire rationale for the project. We offered to work with the administration to see if the legitimate concerns about how classification affects the state funding formula might be addressed without requiring the actual elimination of rights and benefits for employees. Now, according to a letter from Associate Vice President Sandy Lovins, dated May 18, there is a freeze on reclassifications until, ahem, PDQ results could be analyzed to find out what the Administration should be reclassifying. It would be interesting to know if this freeze is actually in effect.

While the organization of the university should not be permitted to degenerate into a briar patch, the vision of the administration reclassifying positions on an ad hoc basis for over a year -- and then stopping to get organized -- is a bit disconcerting. And it is troubling that the administration interprets the obligatory filing of forms as support for the program the forms are used for. The reclassification program itself has repeatedly violated the contract, and its current set-up comes close to union-busting. All this does not inspire confidence in the reclassification program.

Once again, if an employee has her or his rights violated -- e.g., by being reclassified without proper notice -- that employee typically has thirty days to file a grievance. Contact our Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch, at .

All Aboard the Bandwagon!

Last March, as Representative Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was presenting an "Academic Bill of Rights" that would "balance" the curriculum, the Biweekly warned that if faculty had to "balance" evolution with competing theories of Creation, they would also have to present an account of the Greek Theogony (Hesiod's account is
on-line). Since then, a bounder has leaped onto the bandwagon, and we understand that the Kansas State Board of Education has received letters from a marginalized and no doubt justifiably oppressed Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, also requesting consideration: see the Church's website.

On behalf of classicists everywhere, we are appalled that the Spaghetti Church proposal to Kansas excludes the Theogony, and we hope that (in comparing Hesiod to the Spaghetti Church's documents) literary merit carries at least as much weight as political clout in determining the content of science courses.

Now, about presenting astrology in astronomy courses ...

October 20, 2005

UFF Senate Report, Part III

The legislative body of the United Faculty of Florida is its Senate, which met during the September 17, 18 weekend. This is the third of three reports on that meeting.

In the first report, the keynote speaker, United University Professions President Bill Scheuerman said that union membership makes all the difference in what a union can do for employees: once the union represents a majority of the bargaining unit, the union has more clout in bargaining and lobbying: see Part I. In the second report, UFF statewide President Tom Auxter and UFF Executive Director Steve Weinberger described the legislative situation, and in particular how the efforts of UFF (with help from the Florida Education Association), the faculty senates, and the university presidents won the 3.6 % raise we got last summer; see Part II.

After that main session, the senators went to their respective bargaining councils.

At the State University System Bargaining Council, chaired by our own chapter's treasurer and membership chair, Sherman Dorn (Professor of Psychological and Social Foundations), we started with the membership project. Membership has increased 50 % since the Board of Regents was abolished, and at all university campuses efforts to remove the union were defeated: the last battle was at UF-Gainesville, and the Public Employees Relations Commission has just ruled that the union does indeed represent the faculty it has always represented there. But during the this year we will continue to seek more members, since that is the key to more clout at bargaining and in the legislature.

That is the segue into reports on bargaining and legislation.

On bargaining, the relative sanity at USF seems to be spreading. Bargaining at FAU, FGCU, FSU, New College, UCF, UNF, and USF is going well, and even the UF Administration has deigned to condescend to make plans to start bargaining. A few highlights:

  • FAMU is somewhere between impasse and meltdown. Most of a contract has been Tentatively Agreed (TAed), but there has been no bargaining since April.
    spacer One of the problems is that the president wants to un-TA contract language the administration team agreed to. In particular, even though both sides agreed on contract language on the grievance process, and signed a Memo of Understanding on it, FAMU's president wants to be able to hand a faculty member 24 hours notice.
    spacer Another problem is the president's habit of just going out and hiring senior administrators without a hint of process: the president has just hired a new provost without a search and in apparent violation of Equal Employment Opportunity rules. The president claimed she can hire whomever she wants to hire, and then similarly hired a new VP for Research. The UFF Senate passed a resolution supporting efforts of FAMU faculty to restore shared governance at FAMU.
  • FIU's Board of Trustees continues to entertain. In April, the administration declared impasse, and then asked for a Memo Of Understanding on pay raises, which the union accepted, sending the FIU Board into a snit (but they had to accept their own proposal -- unlike the FAMU administration, the FIU leadership doesn't so wantonly break laws). Then the Board chairman quit. Outside of the Memo, the Administration is trying to move text out of the contract and into university rules, which can be changed at a whim (sound familiar?). The union has filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint, and meanwhile, the FIU Board has asked the Board of Governors to entrust them with ... a new medical school.
  • UCF still has TIPs, PEPs, and SOTLs, and seems to want some kind of Bazaar of Excellence for a merit raise policy. When the union suggested that perhaps a more ... judicious ... program would be appropriate for an institution of higher learning, the Administration told the UCF faculty senate that the union was opposed to Excellence.
  • And at USF, we have a 3-year contract in place, so we are only bargaining over salary and a few selected topics. Our team thinks that the administration's salary proposal is unworkable, and hopes that the administration's curious practice of broadcasting its proposals will induce more faculty to join the union (a membership application is on-line at . Come and join the movement!).
We also discussed the gradual shift of teaching resources from ranked faculty lines to instructors and adjuncts. Despite the potential accreditation problems, the national trend is running strong in Florida. UFF represents instructors but not adjuncts, and any sane union will resist any attempt to drive a wedge into its bargaining unit. But we are watching the situation carefully.

Two issues came up during our discussion of the Legislature.

  • It seems likely that the Academic Bill of Rights will come back. Representative Dennis Baxley has said that he would re-introduce legislation which, if passed, would ensure that the Flat Earth Society gets honorable mention in geology courses. We discussed ways to deal with the Bill's return, and we hope that the university presidents -- and CEOs of high-tech corporations -- will be more public with their concerns next spring.
  • The successful effort to extend the state employees' annual 3.6 % raise to faculty suggests that when the union, the faculty senates, and the administrations work together, we can achieve major successes in the Legislature. We will be exploring prospects for further collaboration.
The stakes are high: at the National Science Foundation Regional Conference last week, NSF officials said that the grant approval rate had fallen over the last few years, and that this was largely due to a sudden increase in applications. They advanced the theory that state-level funding was drying up, driving researchers to try for federal funding. However, Florida's political leadership nurses ambitions (or at least says it nurses ambitions) to bring Florida into the twenty-first century. The union could play a critical role in convincing the politicians that achieving this ambition requires a lot of state-level support.

The bargaining committees met on Saturday evening, and reported back to the full Senate on Sunday morning. This year, the Senate took a few actions (e.g., resolving its support for shared faculty governance at FAMU) but largely planned for a year of persuading faculty that the union's bargaining position would be a lot stronger if we had more members.

November 3, 2005

Intellectual Property Rights, Part I: Background

Patents and copyrights are not new. Originally, a "Letter of Patent" (or Open Letter) granted a monopoly to someone, e.g., the exclusive right to sell raspberry jam in Smallville. Letters of patent were already being issued for new inventions when the Republic of Venice issued a statute for patenting inventions in 1474. The idea, then as now, was that it took time, money, and effort for Hans Lipperhey to invent a device for "seeing faraway things as though nearby," so he should be able to have some kind of monopoly on manufacturing the device in order to make a return on his investment (with, hopefully, a profit). The idea, in the words of the U.S. Constitution, is "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

There are limits. For instance, the Netherlands States General found the telescope too simple to be patented (which delighted the Florentine opportunist Galileo, who made a bundle from knock-offs), but the States General did reward Lipperhay for inventing binoculars. Since then, lawyers have debated what can be protected and what cannot.

Copyrights took longer. Before Gutenberg, stealing books didn't pay. But when Mr. Gutenberg made stealing text profitable, governments creaked into motion. In England, the government held a tight grip on the printers until 1681 (to prevent inappropriate material from being published, no doubt), but once that grip was relaxed, Parliament realized a need to protect authors. In 1709, they passed the very first copyright law.

Since then, inventors sought to patent their inventions while authors have sought copyrights for their books. Recently, copyright law has expanded to include many creative works (and is now even sniffing at software). All this raises a problem. What if someone else had paid the expenses? Often this was a contractual arrangement: A employs B to invent C, and as a result, A owns C -- provided A and B had signed a contract to that effect (English Common Law, the basis of American Law, is very big on contracts). That is how many businesses work nowadays. But lots of groups of creators -- from traveling playactors (enjoying the "protection" of a patron) to scholars at universities -- never did work quite that way. And what if it is the government that pays B to invent C? If the government offered a prize for someone to invent C, the government may let B make money from C anyway, in order to sweeten subsequent prizes -- even if the result is that the taxpayer pays twice.

The issue is the where the money goes. For example, if a university supports employees as they produce saleable works, the work would not exist if the employee hadn't made it, and perhaps not if the university had not supported the employee's efforts. Some university administrations would argue that the university's own budget should benefit from works done with university support, while some statesmen would argue that the public that supported the university should get a break when buying works produced by university employees. Employees would argue that they, of their own will, did the work, and economists would warn that the various players should be reliably rewarded if we expect more works.

As the amount of money involved grew, so did the amount of politics.

And all this is going on during an era when high-tech companies pocket all the royalties and charge the public market rates, while paying researchers much more than college professors. In addition, companies would fund only that research that looked like it would pay off quickly. And during the last hundred years, research universities grew vastly more expensive, while the financial potential of patents and copyrights grew.

Big science, in particular, costs big money. While the U.S. government had always been involved in science (e.g., Meriwether Lewis and William Clark), it was World War II that made science a federal priority. Vannevar Bush, the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, composed a report on Science - The Endless Frontier, which he submitted to President Truman in 1945. The success of the Manhattan Project (and other wartime efforts) persuaded the government to create the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to support scientific research. Since then, more agencies (e.g., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)) would join the science business, and help propel the United States to the premier position at Stockholm. Through the 1950s and 1960s, government paid for big science.

But there were some quirks. While a few companies supported scientific research, these companies maintained research & development programs that shied away from pure science. Too risky. Pure research remained the domain of universities, which got research money from the likes of the NSF, NIH, ONR, DARPA, NASA, etc. Some of the results of the research were clearly in the public domain (thus far, quantum chromodynamics remains unpatented and apparently unpatentable), but some of the results were patentable. So during the 1960s and 1970s, the dominant view was that if the taxpayers paid for the research and development, the taxpayers should benefit from both the existence and availability of the resulting works. Thus until 1980, government agencies tended to hold the patents, and hand out non-exclusive licenses. In theory, this would make the works less expensive. In practice ...

Human nature being what it is, companies did not see much point in non-exclusive licenses, as that reduced their potential profits. So on December 12, 1980, President Carter signed Public Law 96-517, the Bayh-Dole Act, to "amend the patent and trademark laws." The purpose of this act was to enable colleges and universities to patent (or get other rights for) work done at universities, even work paid for by the taxpayers. The universities could then sell exclusive licenses to companies that would then make higher profits. It was rather like the tradition of government A offering a prize to B to invent C -- and then letting B make money from C. And as is noted on the Bayh-Dole page of the University of California's Office of Technology Transfer (at ), lots of beneficial -- and profitable -- inventions were the result. (For a view from MIT, see Lita Nelson's column in Science magazine.)

If some people were uncomfortable with the idea of taxpayers being charged for work taxes had partly paid for, it was a way for dealing with the unpleasant reality that research universities are expensive, and that the money has to come from somewhere. (Indeed, since around 1980 or so, the federal government has grown stingier about supporting big science.) And it was a way of spurring work in directions that society valued, especially directions too dicey for America's increasingly risk-averse private companies.

Not everyone was delighted. Even during the debate, congressmen worried about whether the public would get soaked or whether the act would encourage monopolies (and hurt small businesses). There were provisions for making sure that inventions were made available to the public. For example, as the Act's Summary notes, the Act "Empowers any Federal agency to require inventors or their assigns to grant licenses in order to: (1) achieve practical application of the invention in its field of use; (2) alleviate health or safety needs; (3) meet requirements for public use specified by Federal regulations; or (4) achieve participation by United States industry in the manufacturing of an invention." But as recently as 2002, Peter Arno and Michael Davis complained that the government was lax in using these provisions to defend the public interest against high prices for AIDS medicine (see their column, Paying Twice for the Same Drugs, and a responding letter by Bayh and Dole, Our Law Helps Patients Get New Drugs. This is another instance paying for the existence of a work versus paying for its availability.

Nevertheless, the new system has proven attractive enough to entice the Europeans, whose ancient system of permitting professors to hold the patents is being replaced by governmental ownership (practically all major universities in Europe are public universities, which are more micromanaged in Europe than in America).

The last holdouts are largely Scandinavian. In Sweden, universities are developing carrots to entice professors to share: come to the research park and the university will handle the business aspects of the R & D. There are occasional glitches. Recently, the Danish Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University developed a new test for predicting susceptibility to E. coli in piglets. Research had been partially funded by the Danish Bacon and Meat Council, which was miffed to hear that once the test had been developed, the Council's member hog farmers would not even get a discount for it. Sniffed the university's Research and Innovations Office, "They are not used to paying for research results." More precisely, the Council did not realize that what the Council had paid for was the existence of the test, not its free availability.

Moral: read the fine print. Remember this moral: we will see it again next issue.

And now for an interesting quirk in the law. While royalties are to go for the mission of the university, they are to be shared with the inventor. In essence, tax dollars are paying for the existence of the invention or work, but the university and the creator still can make a return on it, for a while. The effect of this is that a university will have an office -- at USF, this is the Division of Patents and Licensing -- whose business will be to forge agreements with faculty on patents and copyrights and handle business aspects of the business while faculty go and invent (or create) more saleable products.

USF's transition to Research I status has led the Administration to expand operations. In February, 2002, President Genshaft launched a new USF Center for Entrepreneurship to enable USF "researchers to take what they've discovered and move it along to the applied stage" via university-corporation collaborations. Meanwhile, the older Division of Patents and Licensing handles the business end for more and more faculty: during the last academic year, the Division completed twenty new contracts, twice that of FSU, albeit a third of that of UF.

Of course, in any mutually beneficial relationship that involves money, things can go wrong. The union's concern is to protect faculty rights by bargaining and enforcing a contract. But in general, it's best to know what one is getting into in advance, for many problems arise out of misunderstandings and miscommunications. And that is where we will pick up the story next time.

November 17, 2005

Barbara Ehrenreich will visit USF on Wednesday, November 30.

She will speak at 3:30 in the Cooper Auditorium (CPR 103). For more information, see our press release.

Intellectual Property Rights, Part II: at USF

It is an old debate. In his Second Treatise on Government, John Locke writes, "... the turfs my servant has cut; and the ore I have digged in any place ... become my property ... [as] The labour ... was mine." The labor his servant undertook was his own? What he should have said, say Locke's defenders, is that as he hired the servant to cut the turfs, and provided the tools, so he should reap the reward.

One part of this debate has been: who reaps the rewards for works created or invented by an employee, on (or off!) the job? Historically, the answers depended on what sort of job it was, what sort of employer it was, whether the work was done on the job or off, whether the work had anything to do with the job, etc. Ideally, there should be a collection of clear rules, but the practice is fuzzy and depends on a lot of things ... such as: how much money are we talking about? An employer will not care about $ 10 (if you're lucky!) from a poetry journal, but will care very deeply, as a matter of purest principle, about a piece of software that Mr. Gates simply MUST have.

We are university employees, so we are where we are because of several centuries of evolving practice (for a thumbnail sketch, see Part I). Where we are is a result of federal and state law, the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and university policy, legally in that order.

Notice the phrase "university employees." The Collective Bargaining Agreement applies to everyone in the Bargaining Unit, so in particular, our rights and obligations as defined in Articles 18 and 19 of that contract apply to all of us.

Here is how it works. (Much of this from a Draft Statement of 'Statement of Policy and Procedures for Inventions and Works', essentially a patch pending future policy review.

We are creating and inventing things all the time. We create handouts supplementing class material; we write articles for scholarly journals; we even devise ad hoc contraptions for experiments. Most of these have no financial potential: there is no identifiable market for the handout, academic journal publishers often insist on getting all rights (to maintain accessibility, so they say), and the contraption -- like the telescope -- may be too simple to patent.

But sometimes it might have potential. This is where the Division of Patents and Licensing (DPL) comes in. Now, copyrightable works usually do not have enough potential: publishers typically do not pay enough to interest the DPL. The DPL, after all, is a money-raising arm of the university. So the work has to have significant money-making potential, and thus is probably an invention (or a computer program, and computer programs are, within controversial and shifting limits, copyrightable). It may be a patent, and the DPL handles a lot of patents (recent ones are listed on-line).

So one criterion is that the work must have sufficient financial potential. The second one is that either:

  • The university has a legitimate interest in the work, or
  • The creator would like the administration to handle the work.
Several hours of browsing through a hierarchy of legal and semi-legal text on what the university has a legal right to leads to this conclusion: it is a fuzzy and protean issue. We will discuss aspects of this issue below (it depends mostly on how much and what kind of "support" the university provided, and what kind of work it is); for the moment, just note that if the university has a legitimate legal interest in the work, and if the DPL chooses to take interest in the work, then the DPL runs the show, sharing the proceeds with the creator in accordance with laws and policies.

But a creator may prefer that the DPL handle the business aspects anyway, even if the university cannot lay claim to it, for that greatly simplifies the business aspects of the work. Besides, if another predator appears, it helps to have someone with big lawyers and a material interest in supporting the creator's position.

So a creator has created or invented a work. If it was created or invented on the job, then the creator must inform the administration -- unless it is an academic publication (see the next paragraph) or some other kind of exception. If it is a copyrightable work, it should be reported on the Disclosure of Work Form. If it is a patentable work, it should be reported on the Invention Disclosure Form.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Despite the fact that the "Draft Statement of Statement of Policy and Procedures ..." contains the statement, "A University employee is required to disclose to the University all works that he/she may create or author in the course of University-supported effort," the DPL does NOT want to know about academic publications, because USF faculty publish so many that the DPL would go mad just processing all the forms. (Fortunately, the policy statement is under review, so no doubt new and improved language will be forthcoming.) Anyway, by Article 18.3(C)(1) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement -- which has priority over any mere USF policy -- says "...employees need not disclose regarding books, articles, or similar works, the intended purpose of which is to disseminate the results of academic research or scholarly work...," which should relieve the DPL.

There are other exceptions, and exceptions to the exceptions, etc., so be careful of fine print. See the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Draft Statement for particular situations. (And don't be afraid to ask.)

If the work is created off the job, it is reported to the Provost's Office, which gets to decide what to do with it: the relevant form is the Outside Activity Report. Note that the critical issues are whether the work was done on the job, and whether it used university support (e.g., were university computers involved?). There are two other points: the employee must notify whomever buys the outside work that the employee does not speak for USF, and if the work is an invention, it must fall outside of the employee's job-related field in order to be truly outside work.

Anyway, the work has been reported. The DPL now has about two to five months (depending on circumstances) to decide what to do. It may be a good idea to contact the DPL directly in advance (see their web-page) to ask questions (it usually helps to get actual information rather than trawl for rumor) and, perhaps, to lobby. After all, the DPL is in the business of selling marketable items, so if you want someone experienced to market your item...

If the DPL decides not to get involved, you're on your own. If the DPL decides to get involved, then there is still going to be work to do. First of all, it would be very wise to get a very clear and precise statement about who is to do what. After all, the DPL would be your business partner -- not your friend. Many lawsuits and other problems reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education seem to be results of communication problems, misplaced expectations, etc. It is always a good idea to read fine print.

This written statement will be essentially a new contract, what the Collective Bargaining Agreement calls a "written agreement." The employee gets up to 45 % of the net revenue, with an additional 10 % or so going to the employee's research program or unit. The rest goes to the university.

For more information, see the forms for USF researchers, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. USF is a state institution, so USF's policy is within the scope of Florida Statute 1004.23. Notice that the language of paragraphs (1) and (2) are rather broad: the administration is to have an inclusive view of what the university has rights to. (But the administration has the option of not claiming the rights if they don't think that the work or invention will be worth the trouble.) Federal Title 37 (Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights), Part 401 (Rights to inventions made by nonprofit organizations and small business firms under government grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements) is on-line, and summarized by the University of California Office of Technology Transfers at a special web page. This governs research and development with federal support. In other words, there is a lot of fine print. If you encounter difficulties, you may contact our Grievance Chair, Mark Klisch.

December 1, 2005

Are you now, or have you ever been ...?

It all began, according to one columnist, at a constituent party in Pennsylvania last year. State Representative Gibson Armstrong was buttonholed by an angry constituent, father, and veteran. His daughter had been taking a physics class at Pennsylvania State University when the instructor went into a tirade over American foreign policy. The father told Armstrong that while the instructor had the right to his opinions, he shouldn't be expressing his ingratitude to the military in a physics class.

So last summer, Armstrong introduced House Resolution 177, to create a Select Committee that would investigate political bias in Pennsylvania universities. Armstrong contended that he had received fifty complaints from students about mistreatment by professors pushing political agendas. These included, according to Armstrong, a biology teacher who showed Fahrenheit 451 in class, a Women's Studies teacher who had the class chant "abortion, abortion," and a College Republican who complained that his physics teacher had said, in class, that "Bush is a moron." Said Amstrong, "This is simply about creating a fact-finding body."

There may be more to this than fact-finding. Although Gibson C. Armstrong, R-Lancaster County (see Vote Smart's assessment of him at Vote Smart's assessment of him) denies that partisan politics are involved, Armstrong is expressing the concerns of largely Republican students and parents (including the veteran mentioned above -- and his politically active daughter). And not just Republican students and parents.

Last fall, Republican activist David Horowitz attempted to run advertisements in college newspapers across the country encouraging students to buy his book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left. The ad said that "The war between Arabs and Jews is not the cause of the war on terror, as apologists for Muslim radicals claim; it is the war on terror." Of the 100 campus newspapers that had received the ad, seven refused to run it, including Carnegie-Mellon's The Tartan, which was still smarting over an April Fool's issue that had gone a little too far. Horowitz announced that he would turn to the Pennsylvania legislature, and his supporters went to Armstrong.

So while other states were debating Horowitz's Academic Bill of Rights, on March 1, Pennsylvania State University President Graham Spanier went to the Legislature to ask for more money and wound up being pinged by Armstrong and colleagues about an anthropology professor who told his class that "American revolutionaries were no different than al-Qaida," about an instructor who called a student an "idiot," and about expensive diversity training courses. Spanier could only say that he was not familiar with most of the episodes mentioned, that he did not think that teachers should keep their students comfortable all the time, although "we don't see the university as a forum for political indoctrination." And in July, HR 177 -- which only required legislative approval as it was merely a resolution forming a select committee -- passed by a largely party line 108-90 vote. It required a report by June, 2006. Pat Heilman, President of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, had warned that as the resolution lacked formal procedures, the investigation could "be a witch hunt."

The show is on the road, and the first stop was at the University of Pittsburgh, where there was a two-day performance on Nov. 9, 10. (The University of Pittsburgh was formerly private, but it became public -- and hence under the legislature's thumb -- in 1966.) Armstrong chaired the hearing, which was co-chaired by Thomas L. Stevenson, R-Allegheny, who said that the report would be out ... in November, 2006. (Whether the investigation would be generating a lot of publicity during the election season was not announced.) Serving as counsel for the panel was David French, who was, is, or may be resigning from the presidency of the libertarian Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (see French's testimony at a preliminary hearing. The lead witness was Steven Balch, the President of the National Association of Scholars. Dr. Balch read a 25-page statement, which is posted on-line via 25-page statement.

The basic thrust of Dr. Balch's statement was that a university is supposed to provide students with an intellectual toolkit, but it is not supposed to advance any particular point of view. In the classroom, an academic is not supposed to be an activist or an advocate. According to Dr. Balch, several studies have shown the liberal bias of academics, including one he conducted in Pennsylvania showing that academics tend to contribute several times more to Democratic candidates than Republicans. The situation is so extreme as to compromise intellectual pluralism, he said, and the liberal bias has been institutionalized in the programs of several social science departments. In several fields of study, there is virtually no pluralism at all. Although he personally opposes attempts to expand diversity in the student body or the faculty, he did note that university administrations put a great deal of effort into ethnic, gender, and other diversity efforts, but none into intellectual diversity programs that would benefit right-wing intellectuals. He highly praised the natural sciences, including biology (not a word about Intelligent Design), which he says have avoided the ideological problems pervading the social sciences and humanities. He outlined several nebulous steps that legislatures could take, and said that legislatures should take steps if universities themselves do not.

Several other speakers addressed the panel those two days. Joan Wallach Scott, former chairwoman of the American Association of University Professors Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure warned that the Academic Bill of Rights "ironically infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it" (See testimony of AAUP witnesses University of Pittsburgh Provost James Maher described the university's academic integrity and grievance policies (see an account of his presentation). And not all panelists supported the panel's mission: for example, Representative Dan Surra, D-Elk/Clearfield, called the committee a waste of the taxpayers' money. Meanwhile, Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheney, whose district includes the university, said he was reminded of McCarthyism and that "... there is a motion nationally to discredit and intervene in academia."

There were several noisy protesters, whose lack of decorum moved Armstrong to say: I think the only people who expressed any totalitarian views are those protestors who interrupted the testimony of a presenter ... I think its important as legislators to see how higher education is spending the $2 billion from the state."

The next performance will be in January.

And now for three observations.

I. First, party politics is older than the Blue and Green parties of Byzantium. Political parties do tend to represent particular political interests: in the late Nineteenth century, railroads were Republican and immigrants were Democratic. There is a feedback loop: a party supports a group which supports the party which supports the group and so on. There is a standard procedure for winning adherents from an underrepresented group: try to persuade members of that group that it is in their interest to switch. Witness the blandishments Democrats and Republicans are now directing at Hispanics.

Republican leaders (like Armstrong) and theoreticians (like Horowitz) may say that they are disturbed by what they see as a lack of Republicans in Academia, but they are not following standard operating procedures for fixing such an imbalance. That is to say, the Republican party is not proposing financial aid to students, broad support for research and scholarship (much less expanded support for creative works in the arts and humanities), or even fixing the problems the government creates for foreign students. It is as if the Democratic party, after conducting a few semi-scientific studies, decided that the military is too Republican and demanded that something unspecific but punitive be done.

In other words, this campaign is not about fixing something that is generally acknowledged to be a problem. It is largely theatre. So much for strategy. The other question is whether there is any content to the complaint.

II. So second, the investigation is driven by anecdotes. Academia is so large that there will always be anecdotes, so if we want to know the dimensions of the problem, we need some way of measuring its dimensions. That is, statistics. That's no surprise: one of the great success stories of the last two centuries is public health, and that success came about when doctors decided to rely more on statistics than on anecdotes.

There are several statistical studies that suggest that academia -- like Wall Street, real estate, and corporate law -- has a different mix of political views than the public at large. This may be the result of self-selection (or of people adjusting their political views as their interests change). But are violations of academic freedom a problem? Of course: just look at the AAUP's list of censured institutions AAUP's list of censured institutions. But Mr. Horowitz's campaign is about a different collection of violations of academic freedom. Administrators have testified that they have little quantitative evidence of liberal oppression of conservatives in academia. This may be because they haven't been paying attention; it may be because we are not currently measuring that problem; it may be because that phenomenon is very marginal. At any rate, this is a battle of anecdotes -- and even the AAUP's list is only an enumeration of anecdotes -- and it does not tell us how serious or widespread the problem is.

III. It also does not tell us what to do about it. One thing that history suggests is that when governments meddle with academia, the results are disastrous ... for academia. The politicians then move on to other fields of conquest, leaving the academics to clean up the mess. It sometimes takes generations to repair the damage. It is best if academics can keep things in house.

This is good theatre, so it is likely to be with us for some time. In fact, here in Florida, we expect round two next spring. For that reason, we are going to be asking for YOUR support in dealing with the legislature. Stay tuned.

December 15, 2005

Domestic Partners

Last December, the United Faculty of Florida and the USF Administration signed a three-year contract. During the life of this contract, salaries and a small number of other items are bargained each year. (While we have received 3.6 % raises mandated by the Legislature, the compensation we are bargaining now is the usual merit / minimum / discretionary package.) This annual bargaining was supposed to be completed by last July, but the Administration refused to start bargaining until August, and we have been bargaining since then. That's four months, and one reason why it has taken so long is that the Administration has resisted putting additional funds into the merit-driven salary pool, preferring to use a discretionary plan the Administration will develop. Whatever the resolution -- which hopefully will be soon -- the raises should be retroactive to last August.

Meanwhile, the contract also says that in annual bargaining, each side opens up at most three articles for negotiation. The union bargaining team has just opened Article 24 on benefits: specifically, the union team has proposed that the contract provide a mechanism for health insurance for domestic partners. Currently, the state health insurance program provides health insurance for spouses but not for domestic partners; the proposal is that USF provide a mechanism for this extension of health insurance benefits. The proposal for domestic partner health benefit coverage is for coverage of ALL domestic partners, provided that they have evidences of partnership (shared residence, financial interdependence, etc.): the proposed language for Section 24 is on-line.

This is not something that came out of the blue. One of the major improvements of the new contract over the old was the addition of "sexual orientation" to its non-discrimination policy in Section 6.2. (This change was many years in coming: such victories require much patient work by many parties.) In addition, Section 24.10 currently says that "The University and UFF agree to discuss the benefits and fiscal impacts of domestic partner benefits ...." Ah, so let the discussion begin; that's what bargaining is all about.

While we cannot predict what will happen this time around -- anything can happen in bargaining -- our proposal is part of a national movement. Over the last decade, the proportion of members of the Association of American Universities that offered domestic partner benefits have been steadily rising; last year it was up to three fourths of the membership. When the University of Florida decided to offer domestic partner benefits (our proposal is modeled after their program), UF's Vice President of Human Resources estimated that about 300 colleges and universities nationwide offered such benefits (this vice president helped set up similar programs at Rice and Vanderbilt universities).

The movement extends beyond academia. There is an idea that a "creative class" of artists, scientists, and other innovators are not only attracted to places where things are happening, but also to places that tolerate (if not welcome) people who practice a bohemian life style. A sideways glance at the history of urban creativity from ancient Athens to Reformation Amsterdam to Victorian London suggests that this is a plausible thesis. This thesis was popularized by Carnegie-Mellon economist Richard Florida, whose books on the Creative Class have generated a lot of controversy. But the idea goes back over a decade, when employers discovered that domestic partner benefits made compensation packages more attractive. Starting with Ben & Jerry's and Lotus Development, by 1993 domestic partner benefits were being offered by Sony, the City of Seattle, and the University of Chicago, among others.

Then Apple Computer started offering domestic partner benefits in 1993, and the fight over Apple's program raised the stakes. Apple stood its ground against an anti-gay backlash, and the trend has continued, but in the face of growing flak. Some institutions exhibited less grace under pressure: what started as a faculty lawsuit (by a faculty member who wanted coverage for her partner) against the (public) University of Pittsburgh quickly morphed into an eleven-year soap opera which theoretically ended a few months ago when the University finally capitulated (after losing several faculty) and offered the benefits. Note I call that ending "theoretical": by some curious coincidence, the university was the site of the first investigative session of the Pennsylvania House Select Committee investigating liberal bias in academia (see an account of that in the last Biweekly).

The reactions continue. When the UF Board voted twelve to one in favor of the benefits, the lone dissenter called the program "immoral, unethical and clearly nonscriptural. Its an abomination." And in Ohio, State Representative Thomas E. Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, sued Ohio's University of Miami for instituting such benefits, contending that they violated Ohio's recently enacted anti-gay constitutional amendment. Indeed, as of 2004, the reactions were severe enough for Richard Florida to write that the GOP's "anti-elitism" was scaring the creative class out of America altogether.

Domestic partner benefits are part of a package that academic institutions, corporations, and governments around the world are going to be offering. Failure to offer such benefits not only discourages applicants who would want them, it would also be a signal to all creative workers that Tampa in general and USF in particular are not hospitable to the sort of people we need to make Tampa America's next great city, and to make the I-4 corridor a high tech reality. Sooner or later, USF will be offering the package. The only question is whether USF will choose to lead ... or to follow.

Happy Holidays!

All around the northern hemisphere, as the Sun sinks into the south and the Earth grows cold, there is a human need to say we are alive, we are here, and we know the sun will return. Hence the midwinter festivals, from the great Roman extravaganza of Saturnalia (followed by the great Roman hangover of Brumalia) to the Tibetan Festival of the Dying Year. From Chanukkah candles to great Yule logs, everyone finds their own way to celebrate their own victory against the cold.

But the festivities themselves remind us of an ancient problem. As a portly gentleman explained to Mr. Scrooge, "At this festive season of the year ... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor ... who suffer greatly at the present time." Every festival has, at its margins, a crowd of destitute onlookers that remind the revelers that the cold is real.

This is not only charity. Yes, we can judge the moral level of a society not just by the wealth of its wealthy or its average happiness, but by its treatment of its worst off. And yes, giving alms is one of the threefold ways of renunciation in Hinduism, and one of the five pillars of Islam. But it is not only a matter of kindness or calculation in the chimpanzee that returns from the hunt and hands out strips of meat to those who appeal. It is also a matter of life and death. For a troop, the members have to support each other if the troop is to survive. And a large society has to find a way for the able or fortunate to support hungry strangers, if only for reasons of public health. When Roman emporers distributed free food, they did it not only to improve their political positions, but also to maintain public order.

When Scrooge caught a glimpse under the hem of the Ghost of Christmas Present's great coat, he saw "a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish ... No perversion of humanity ... has monsters half so horrible and dread." When a stricken Scrooge asks about them, the Ghost says, "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both ... but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

This was not the only warning Dickens made. As a young man he warned his fellow Victorians of the fate of Bourbon France with his Barnaby Rudge; as an older man, he returned to the Eighteenth century with his Tale of Two Cities: his most classically tragic character, Madame Defarge, certainly had Doom written on her brow.

So as we make merry amidst the candles and logs and traditions we have imported from all over the world, there are faces that we can see but dimly through the window, out in the cold. And when that portly gentleman comes not only with a pledge book, but also with a proposal for public funding, he is appealing not only to conscience but also to the instinct for self-preservation.