I am writing to let you know that UFF has won an arbitration on behalf of one of our colleagues here at UCF who had been fired from her job with the University. The colleague was fired when UCF chose to believe accusations of a few students who were disgruntled with their study abroad program and targeted the director of the specific program. After more than one year of grievance and arbitration procedures, we are delighted to report that an independent arbitrator found on UFF’s behalf and rescinded the termination, i.e. our colleague is being reinstated in her position, will receive back pay and benefits.
These events make it clear that we cannot rely on the University administration to uphold faculty rights or to follow due process after a complaint. The arbitration win also makes it clear that being a member of UFF is a very smart move: While your local grievance representatives were involved all the way, a special UFF labor attorney was involved from the beginning and was instrumental in winning the case. And that is why we call union dues “Job-Insurance.”
The case involved several issues that may be of interest to other colleagues:
1. Know your rights and do not be intimidated.
Our colleague was called into the office where her Dean and the Provost placed her on leave and presented her with a letter of resignation for her to sign. This was before she was presented with any specific charges, before any investigation, and before she has a chance to present her perspective. She refused and filed a grievance. Make sure that you know your rights. Also see this page for the “Weingarten Rights” that allow you to have a witness in any disciplinary meetings.
2. The University has the burden of proof in disciplinary cases around misconduct. The Arbitrator rules that UCF did not have just cause.
The University Administration terminated our colleague’s employment because of what they alleged was misconduct based on her actions as director of a study abroad program. In establishing this misconduct, UCF chose to believe a few complaining students and investigated the events by talking only to the accusing students and not to any of the other students or the accused faculty. Another (secret, i.e. the accused employee did not even know it was happening) investigation by Academic Affairs was equally shoddy and filled with inconsistencies and presumptive procedures.
During the arbitration hearing (when we learned for the first time of the second investigation), various witnesses testified. The University tried to demonstrate that the faculty member had inappropriately discussed student’s academic matters with others. However, this accusation was disproven in the University’s own exhibits, testimony, and other sources. The arbitrator states “The assertion of inappropriate discussion was disproven not only in University exhibits but in the testimony of the complainant herself, nonetheless the University included this as well as justification for termination.”
Another accusation by the University was that the faculty member failed to follow a reporting responsibility. However, UCF, and the Office of International Studies in particular, never notified, trained, or otherwise informed the faculty member of this alleged responsibility. The Arbitrator writes in his decision “Despite the acknowledged lack of notification as to responsibilities … the University nonetheless considered her failure to report as a cause for discharge.”
There are more aspects of faulty reasoning and inconsistent arguments that the arbitrator cites, and in the end he finds that “the University failed to meet its burden of proving it had just cause to terminate the employment.”
3. We Won! That is great – but the situation is also disturbing.
We are very happy with the arbitrator’s decision. At the same time we remain troubled by the lack of due process, lack of competent investigation, and plain callousness, that have been evident in the actions (or lack of actions) displayed at all administrative levels.
As a Faculty Union we want to work together with all involved parties to make UCF a better place to work and learn. We hope that the University Administration will be more thorough and professional in any investigation of student complaints or other accusations and that the UCF administration will follow proper procedures and respect faculty rights rather than sacrifice a hard-working faculty member as a “quick fix.”
Please remember that as a member of the Bargaining Unit you have rights. Make sure you know your rights as stated in the contract and with regard to filing grievances. And please consider joining UFF if you are not already a dues-paying member – besides many other benefits, the small amount of dues is well worth having competent representation in situations like this. Together we are stronger!
Chair, Contract Enforcement Committee
and Grievance Representative
Associate Professor of Humanities