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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
9 July 2020
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Thinking Ahead About Reopening

Fall is coming; time to think ahead. In this issue, we think ahead about reopening. There is a plan, the result of a sequence of successive mandates from Tallahassee on down, in which each successive level was able to ask for advice in implementing the edict from above.

  • The Plan. Small classes will meet in large rooms, while taking precautions. Larger classes will move online to provide the large rooms for the small classes. For details, see below or click here.
But will the virus cooperate?
  • Reality Check. The effort to contain the virus is not going well, and USF is already behind schedule for reopening. For more cold water, see below or click here.
Speaking of realism...
  • The Latest on the Budget. We are deep in a recession now, and that will effect how much funding we will have. For details, see below or click here.
As announced in last week's Biweekly Extra, the faculty overwhelmingly voted to ratify the Memorandum of Understanding adjusting evaluations and assignments during this calendar year. We thank all of you who voted. The ball is now in the Board of Trustees' court: once they ratify it, it will come into force. Next, bargaining the next contract...

Chapter Meeting Tomorrow on USF Tampa at noon on Zoom

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on Zoom. On the agenda: reopening, consolidation issues, and other pressing matters. And here are the minutes for the previous meeting.

We will meet tomorrow, and on July 24 and August 7. Any employee in the UFF USF Bargaining Unit may attend, but you must have an invitation: contact the Chapter Secretary. Meetings and events are posted on the Events Calendar of the UFF USF Website. Come and check us out.

USF United Support Fund for Food Pantries

Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.

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If you have been the victim of a violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, you have thirty days from the time you knew or should have known of the violation to file a grievance. If you are, and at the time of the violation were, a dues-paying member of the United Faculty of Florida, you have the right to union representation. To contact the UFF USF Grievance Committee, go to the online contact form. For more information, see our web-page on grievances.

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The Plan

Just before
the previous Biweekly was broadcast, the Board of Trustees approved USF's Plan for Autumn 2020, aspects of which were described in that previous Biweekly. One critical question is: how much of a choice do faculty have on whether to go online or face-to-face in the fall? The plan addresses this question on pp. 20 & 21. The default appears to be: If there is a default, and if that default is to teach face-to-face with some kind of precaution, it would be helpful for that to be communicated to faculty as soon as possible.

The Plan then cites the Memorandum of Understanding that UFF USF employees just voted to ratify. It states that:

A bargaining unit member, or individual(s) with whom the bargaining unit member resides, whose age and/or underlying medical/health condition puts either of them at risk for death or severe medical/health complications should they contract COVID-19 during the Public Health Emergency, shall be given priority to teach their courses in an online format as a reasonable accommodation.
But the Plan then goes on to state:
This accommodation may be granted with the explicit understanding by all parties that the faculty member will engage with instructional digital designers in USF Innovative Education for the preparation necessary to deliver a quality online educational experience. Performance expectations exceed those associated with transition to remote instruction in Spring 2020.
It is not entirely clear what this may mean. Even if a course has been developed and taught for many years, if it was never taught online before, it still needs a lot of redevelopment to be moved online and still be effective. Fortunately, USF Innovative Education has developed a Designing Your Online Course (DYOC) package, and they have posted a USF Quality Online Readiness Checklist outlining what should be in place by the time classes begin. Considering the likelihood that we will be online - in spite of political pressure (and worse) from Tallahassee and Washington - it probably would be wise to be prepared.

Reality Check

According to legend, Cnut the Great, King of Denmark, England, Norway, and all places north, had his throne set by the sea and commanded the incoming tide to halt. Which it did not. Accounts vary as to what Cnut (and his publicists) said next, but as Theodore Dalrymple observed, "Political power or office often gives those who possess it the illusion that they control events." Which brings us to a pandemic perpetrated by a virus indifferent to political desiderata.

According to Johns Hopkins, the USA has already suffered forty COVID19 deaths per 100,000 people, second only to the United Kingdom. And according to the Tampa Bay Times, Florida has suffered nearly twenty COVID19 deaths per 100,000 people, not as bad as Mexico but substantially worse than Iran. (For context, Pew says that in the USA, twelve people per 100,000 died of gunshot during the entire year of 2017 - and the death toll for COVID19 is just from March to now).

As for where we are heading, 538 has put up a sort of coronavirus spaghetti model, with projections of the major models; for July, the projections disagree (substantially) on whether we will significantly flatten - or raise - the curve.

But turning to what politicians and pundits call reality - i.e. politics and finances - reopening higher ed has become a political issue, and Tallahassee is committed to reopening. There are financial pressures as well: many students want face-to-face classes, and colleges and universities have residential and dining facilities that are either assets or liabilities, depending on whether students are on campus. On the other hand, quite financial pressures arise from the anxieties of parents. (Of course, many pundits and politicians who talk about economic reality aren't really concerned about economics: if they were, they would press for higher ed funding for adults to boost the economy while providing further training for subsequent employment.)

Except for anomalies like Japan, the nations that most effectively kept the virus at bay launched major (and occasionally invasive) efforts like tracing, testing, and quarantines. The United States has not done much of this sort of thing, and unsurprisingly, the first wave that politicians had hoped was receding is still going strong. USF's Plan for Autumn 2020 emphasizes "Virus Testing, Tracing and Surveillance," but considering the current testing debacle, this desideratum is easier said than done.

Across the country, faculty were out of the loop when plans for fall were composed. Here, the state Board of Governors and the university Boards of Trustees solicited input, but composed plans without stakeholders in the room. That may have been a mistake: soliciting input is different from getting stakeholders to agree to something, which means that the onus for whatever happens is on the Boards' heads. There are almost as many lawyers as alligators in Florida, so we know what happens if there are a lot of seriously sick people on campus. There has been some talk of having people sign waivers, but even if people sign, the real political reality is that in a political firestorm, waivers are about as useful as teddy bears.

The public health priority would be to prepare for what is likely to happen, not what some politicians would prefer to happen. While some institutions are playing it safe by going online in fall, and others are gamely going ahead with on-campus classes with precautions, there is little consensus about what to do. Cornell has an interesting plan, which was composed after a study concluded that over five times as many people would get infected if Cornell went online than if students went to class (with precautions). If students were on campus, they could be monitored closely and nagged into following precautions. But there is a whiff of in loco parentis in Cornell's thinking, and someone (no doubt staff and faculty) will have to enforce Cornell's scheme, and it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, the recent resurgence in infections (and hospitalizations and deaths) have moved some institutions to reconsider their plans for reopening.

The Latest on the Budget

As the UFF/FEA Higher Education Re-Opening Committee Guidelines observes, a responsible reopening effort will cost money, which brings us to the budget.

Florida is not the only state that needs money to meet its needs, and the House of Representatives recently passed a Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act to address these and other COVID-19-related issues. But it would need to be passed by the Senate and signed by the President to become law. Lacking that...

Florida's government gets most of its income from the sales tax, which led some pundits to anticipate that Governor DeSantis would make major cuts in order to make the budget balance (as required by the state constitution). He cut a billion dollars - nowhere near enough to balance the budget - and did not raise taxes. Education was mostly unscathed, and universities were dinged only a little bit (although a few vital programs are scrambling for funds). Fox News speculated that the governor was trying "...to keep lawmakers from having to come back to Tallahassee ahead of the November elections to address revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic." If Fox is right, then we might have blood on the floor during a special session after the election. So at this moment, funding for the fall semester seems okay, but as for spring...


Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, July 10, at noon, via Zoom. All UFF USF members are welcome: for the Zoom link, contact the Chapter Secretary.

All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. To get the link to Zoom, contact the Chapter Secretary. Come and join the movement.

Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.

NOTE: The USF-UFF Chapter website is http://www.uff.ourusf.org, and our e-mail address is uff@ourusf.org.

About this broadcast: This Newsletter was broadcast from uff.ourusf.org, hosted at ICDsoft.com, and is intended for all members of the UFF USF Bargaining unit (USF faculty and professionals at most departments). A (usually identical) version will be broadcast to USF-News and USF-Talk from mccolm@usf.edu.

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