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Solidarity Forever?

November 6, 2009

Now that the regents have approved the university’s plan (mandatory furloughs and a 20% reduction in the university’s contribution to retirement accounts) to deal with the 10% budget reversion, we are left with a number of nagging questions:  What does this all mean?  Where to do we go from here?

What does it all mean?  This is obviously a multifaceted question.  For most faculty, this question translates into what will happen to my department or its academic programs or to me?   At the moment, we don’t know.  Decisions about departments and academic programs at being made at the college level.   Most faculty have heard rumors and speculation and not much else.  Administrators claim that this secrecy is needed in order to avoid unnecessary pain.  What this secrecy has actually done is create almost universal paranoia and fear.   The faculty would much rather have public discussions of various restructuring options than back-room discussions of re-reorganization by a handful of senior administrators whom most faculty do not know or trust.

One of the  most common complaints of faculty is that the university seems to have no plans, no policies, and no procedures for dealing with current, previous, and anticipated budget cuts.   No university-wide committee has been set up to make recommendations about how to restructure or refocus the university.  No guidelines or principles have been developed that could be used to evaluate potential restructuring plans.   Consequently, many faculty feel that the sacrifices that they have been asked to make may be in vain because administrators seems unable to make the difficult decisions needed to restructure the university that are required bv new budget realities.    In any case,  faculty believe that they are being left out of whatever discussions are being held in the fancier conference rooms around campus.  Faculty should not give up pay without getting in return a greater voice in analyzing and making recommendations about budgets and strategic initiatives for dealing with budget cuts.

One thing we did learn in the last few weeks is how powerless the faculty and staff are.   We were never seriously consulted about how best to handle the latest budget cuts.  Even the university committee that advises the provost on budgetary matters was not fully informed about what cuts the university would recommend to the regents.   There was no emergency meeting of this committee to get faculty and staff input before the Regents’ meeting.  We also learned that the university’s commitments to faculty and staff about salaries and benefits were meaningless.   In fact, administrators seemed to pick and choose arbitrarily which commitments they deemed legitimate and which they could ignore.  They used no obvious or consistent criteria —  legal, moral or ethical — when deciding what to cut, expediency excepted.  These are worrisome lessons that the faculty and staff will need to ponder and to which they will need to respond.

One question that remains unanswered for us is why we have mandatory furloughs while faculty and staff at another regents’ institution do not.  The simple answer is that federal stimulus money was used  to cover about half of the 10% reversion at our sister campus.   What happened to our federal stimulus money?  The administration knew that a budget reversion would occur in October or November because of declining state revenues.    Why were no federal funds set aside?  Being asked to give up part of one’s salary and benefits because of a legitimate budget crisis is one thing, but, because of poor fiscal management by administrators, is another.

The faculty union at the only campus in our system that is unionized is questioning the legality of  the regents and the university unilaterally reneging on their contract.  It is unclear at the moment whether the union will prevent mandatory furloughs from being imposed on faculty.   If they are successful — and I hope that they are — this would send a powerful message to faculty at non-unionized institutions like mine.   One of the immediate consequence of the events of the last few weeks has been a significant increase in the number of faculty formally joining this union as a sign of solidarity (or perhaps fear).

Where do we go?  We need to make sure that faculty get a larger voice in decision-making about budgets and the future direction of the university.  Our faculty are entitled to that much at least.  If administrators are not willing to consult with and get the approval of faculty for salary and benefit cuts and if they are not willing to engage faculty in meaningful discussions of restructuring the university, then the faculty need to begin to think seriously of how best to protect themselves from administrative indifference and caprice.  The obvious way is to unionize.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mavs permalink
    November 7, 2009 12:30

    The secrecy followed by shock and awe budget cuts just happened at my university. I believe that this is a shared strategy by university administrators across the country. Then the cuts go into academic governance which at our university has very little power. There’s a big show of faculty consultation when in reality, the deed is done.

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