Policy Board Minutes—Dec. 7, 2016
3:30 p.m.
UC 402/403

Present: Nola Agha, Brandon Brown, Robin Buccheri, Suparna Chakraborty, Jennifer Dever, Joe Garity, Malik Henfield, John Higgins, Richard Johnson III, Gabe Maxson, Elliot Neaman, Gleb Nikitenko, Mary Jane Niles, Meera Nosek, Julia Orri, Sonja Poole, Stefan Rowniak, Steve Roddy, Claire Todd Sayre, Sharifi, Calla Schmidt, Brian Weiner, Maggie Winslow, Todd Sayre

Guests: Ron Sundstrom, Candice Harrison, Evelyn Ho, Evelyn Rodriquez, Stephanie Sears, Lillian Dube, Rachel Brahinsky, Annick Wibben, Kathy Nasstrom, Kouslaa Kessler-Mata, Paul Lorton, Jr., Kathy Coll, Gretchen Coffman 

The Minutes of November 16, 2016 were approved.

Announcements: No announcements

  1.                 New Business

Ron Sundstrom and Candice Harrison had asked to speak to the PB about a recent issue with a College-wide Peer Review Committee (CPRC) concerning a request for recusal. The Policy Board put the item on the agenda because it may require a new policy be formulated for peer review committees across all schools and colleges at USF.

The background to the agenda item was laid out in a memo sent by the Executive Board to members of the Policy Board before the meeting. In summary, these were the events that led up to Wednesday’s meeting: 

A faculty member had submitted an application for promotion to full professor. The applicant requested that one member of the Peer Review Committee not vote on this particular promotion file because of a past history of interactions between the applicant and the member of the peer review committee, which, in the view of the applicant, made a neutral assessment of the file questionable. 

As the November 15 deadline approached, that is, the date on which an applicant must submit any remaining research items that were listed on his or her CV, the President of the USFFA called the chair of the CPRC, and through the chair asked the committee member if he/she were willing to recuse him/herself. The member of the CPRC responded that he/she was unwilling to do so.

The USFFA President told the CPRC chair that normally under these conditions the peer review committees have a great deal of autonomy to decide issues that affect their deliberations. The chair then asked for a directive from the USFFA Executive Board as to how to proceed. The EB met and decided to send the documents sent by the applicant (a PDF file of thirty pages which contained emails that had gone back and forth, going back years, between the applicant and the CPRC committee member) to the USFFA attorney and ask for an opinion, about what would happen in the case of grievance and arbitration, should the applicant be denied the promotion. The EB also decided to send the case back to the CPRC along with the recommendation from the USFFA attorney. The attorney responded that given the documents in the file, it would be prudent for the committee member to recuse him/herself. The committee member, upon reading the lawyer’s email, decided to recuse him/her self, but was upset about the procedures that led to the request for a recusal in the first place. In this manner, the issue came before the Policy Board.

Ron Sundstrom led the discussion for the group of faculty who had joined the meeting as guests. He wished to make two motions. Even though he is not a member of the Policy Board, the motions were allowed to move forward. He moved that the Policy Board initiate a discussion in order to put new guidelines and procedures in place for future cases on the question of recusal. The motion was seconded and was approved unanimously.

Ron then moved that the Executive Board issue an apology to the CPRC committee member because of a lack of proper procedures and for the public embarrassment. A discussion ensued about the Executive Board’s decision. 

Ron and other guests argued that the Executive Board should have handled the case in a similar manner to when a faculty member goes to HR with a claim of bias. Neaman responded that this case was different because the applicant was not claiming a hostile work environment or bias but rather was making a narrow request for recusal based on the assertion that an objective review of the promotion file could not be carried out. Neaman also pointed out that the peer review committees are standing committees of the USFFA and therefore this was a matter for the union, not the administration.

Other guests argued that the directive by the Executive Board was coercive and that the legal brief forced the hand of the CPRC member. Neaman and Weiner defended the actions of the EB, by saying that the EB felt it was imperative to send the documents to the lawyer for a judgment on the narrow question of what would happen in the case of arbitration. In sending the documents along with the attorney’s recommendation to the CPRC, the intent of the EB was to give all CPRC members a chance to examine the documents and engage in a discussion, which the EB assumed, would include a response from the committee member who had been asked if s/he would recuse him/her self. 

An animated discussion followed with many of the guests expressing dissatisfaction with what they perceived to be the ad-hoc manner in which the request about the recusal had been placed. Neaman responded that there are many instances in which the USFFA bylaws and/or CBA are silent. In the past, peer review committee members, when asked to recuse themselves have done so without incident. Because in this case the CPRC member initially refused to recuse him/herself, the EB had to use its best judgment to decide what it regarded to be the proper next steps. But Neaman pointed out that it is not unusual or improper for the Executive Board to decide on procedures when no official guidelines exist. 

A vote was taken on the second motion, for an apology, and did not pass. The vote was 4 in favor, 9 opposed and 5 abstained.

The discussion continued about whether or not the decision by the Executive Board was correct and how it could have been done differently. Sonja Poole then offered a second motion, that an arbitrator should hear the case and decide whether an apology should be issued. This motion did not pass. The vote was 3 in favor, 11 opposed and 7 abstentions.

A further discussion ensued about whether it was proper for the EB to send the applicant’s documents to the CPRC. Some of the guests criticized the EB for violating the privacy of the CPRC member by sending the documents to the committee. During the discussion the point was raised that the applicant himself had sent the documents either to the chair of the CPRC or to the whole committee beforehand. It was clarified that the applicant had sent the documents only to the chair of the CPRC, not all of the committee members. Neaman then further clarified that the EB had sent the documents to the chair of the CPRC and asked him to distribute them to the other members so that the whole committee could have the documents as well as the recommendation of the USFFA’s legal counsel to make an informed decision as to the question of recusal.

Since the question of who had received the documents was new information, a third motion was filed by Jennifer Dever requesting that the EB apologize to the CPRC committee member in question. This motion was not approved. the vote was 5 in favor, 7 opposed and 5 abstentions.

At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that the Policy Board would take up the issue of writing new language for either the bylaws or the CBA, in order to establish new procedures in future cases of a recusal request. A consensus seemed to emerge around the idea of a separate committee, made up of either three or five members, which would hear similar cases—that is, requests for recusal—that would either make a recommendation to the appropriate peer review committee, or make a decision directly about the recusal request.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:09 PM.
Submitted by Julia Orri
USFFA Secretary