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Saturday, March 02, 2024

UF's authority to change the agreement under which faculty are hired without their consent was questioned Thursday in a six-hour arbitration hearing.

UF and the faculty member in question each presented evidence concerning the university's right to adjust her course load without her permission.

When Florence Babb, an endowed professor and graduate coordinator of UF's Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, received her agreement letter in March 2004 outlining the terms of her hire, it determined she would teach one course per semester and promised her a research assistant.

Endowed faculty are expected to increase the university's prestige with their contributions and research, and thus they often have lighter teaching loads.

Last March, Babb was informed via a letter from then-interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Joe Glover, that her teaching load would be increased from one course per semester to two courses per semester "because of the state's fiscal difficulties and the severe budget cuts applied to UF." Babb said to her knowledge she was the only endowed professor to receive such a letter at that time. She was also relieved of her research assistant. Babb said the lower course load allowed time to conduct research.

She filed a grievance in April 2008 and said that UF violated an agreement it has with the United Faculty of Florida, or UFF, the faculty union. According to Babb's grievance, because she is the only female and lowest-paid CLAS endowed professor, UF's actions were "generally discriminatory."

An arbitration hearing is the last of three steps when a grievance is filed. After step one, Babb was reassigned a graduate assistant, but her course load has not been reduced.

Charlie Deal, UF associate general counsel, represented the university in yesterday's hearing. Deal said that within the Center for Women's Studies and Gender Research, Babb is the highest paid endowed professor, she has received a salary increase and her teaching load has been lower than that of other professors in the center.

"There is no evidence of discrimination possible," he said.

Deal also argued that because Babb's salary increased since the time she was hired, she had to have known that the terms of her agreement were subject to change.

Jane Brockmann, chair of the UFF Grievance Committee, was called as a witness for Babb. Brockmann said UF only has the right to adjust the details of teaching, not the course load.

Angel Kwolek-Folland, who was the director of the center when Babb was hired and signed her agreement letter, did not agree with Brockmann and spoke on behalf of UF.

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"It was an offer that would always be contingent on circumstances that might change," Kwolek-Folland said.

Decisions usually come within 60 days of the hearing.

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