Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shared Sacrifice

Triggered by comments posted by Dean Dad (at a CC of unknown size) about a discussion between Tenured Radical (at "Zenith", aka Wesleyan, a SLAC) and Dr. Crazy (at a 4-year regional state university) concerning faculty involvement in budget cuts at their institution. [See also a followup article from Dr. Crazy and the links she includes to comments from others, particularly these two.] Rather than hijack any of those threads, I figured I'd write my own thoughts here. [Note: Although drafted soon after reading those articles, this isn't actually being posted until late on Christmas Eve. Too much time preparing for my overload next semester and doing all of the errands and such that cannot be done during an overly busy semester, not to mention getting ready for Christmas.]

This issue is nothing new to us at Ishkabibble CC, where budget issues have been dealt with rather unevenly. At times the process appeared very open, at times it appeared dictatorial. The truth is that we were probably never actually involved in making any of the key decisions; the difference was the degree to which the options under discussion were communicated to and discussed with the faculty prior to the decision being made. I'll give the context here followed by my comments.

Our situation is not unlike those described in those two blogs. We have not had a salary increase. We have been told (not asked) to carry a significant extra load compared to the past, much as Dr. Crazy put it in her item 4:

Course releases seem to have gone the way of the dodo, for in these tough fiscal times we should find a way to do all of the extra things on top of everything else. Sleep be damned!
However, our college has "eaten" the health cost increases (her item #3), which do not require contributions from our salaries. Further, all layoffs, so far, have been of vacant positions. Since "vacant positions" includes faculty lines previously held by some of our best teaching faculty, there have been more adjuncts teaching than in the past and they do not replace what has been lost. (We are in a location where it is hard to hire good adjuncts because of our salary structure compared to that at nearby Wannabe Flagship.)

My first comment about what Tenured Radical wrote is that I personally have no resentment over my flat salary, although I do find it irritating that "shared sacrifice" does not include the President's performance bonus or his non-salary benefits like a housing and car allowance. Seriously. He makes more than anyone and he needs help with his house payment? If summer teaching requests are any measure, and I think they are a great measure, our new faculty desperately need help with their house payments. I think they are getting screwed. I resent hearing people complain who are making 25 or 30 grand more than those faculty.

A major issue for us is that the starting salary for new faculty has not been adjusted for several years. Combined with no pay raise this year (but good ones in the past few years), there has been a sort of anti-compression going on. We don't have special promotion pay raises, and, personally, I think the long-term promise of tenure is a significant pay raise. We have been treated really well in the recent past, but those increases don't help the new faculty. Of course, those people might have trouble because they don't watch Suze Orman (we are huge fans) and have never lived through a recession before. Maybe they were not as conservative as we were when we bought our house and have a huge student loan, credit card, and automobile debt. Not many people live on cash the way we do.

Shared sacrifice? Only if it is shared. As Tenured Radical put it rather well:
Agreeing to a salary freeze, when it is explained as part of a well-reasoned plan is sticking out your hand and playing your role as a partner in the enterprise.
Quite so, with emphasis on "well-reasoned plan". The strong point of our President has been coming up with a well-reasoned plan, one that has anticipated cuts (thereby reducing their impact) and put most (but not enough) emphasis on the classroom. But the partnership has only gone one way, and at times the decisions were made without any knowledge at all of what goes on in the classroom. None, since the President knows little about the classroom. (To his credit, he has attended my class - and learned something about momentum and safety belts in car crashes as a result - but that is not the same as teaching in one.) They wasted money on new computers for our lab, computers that did not work as well as the ones they replaced! No one, and I mean no one, asked if that was needed.

A major part of the problem at our CC was that a significant round of cuts were worked on during the summer, in near isolation. As near as I can tell, only one faculty member (the chair of the Major Committee that I serve on) was consulted in any way about what they implemented this fall. No one else on the committee, or any of the other advisory panels, was involved at all despite the fact that many of us were on campus teaching during the summer and most of us read e-mail regularly. A previous round of cuts was done in the same way, but had minor effects. I suspect the President interpreted our reaction then as support for his unilateral decisions.

The result of the President's idea for fall has the effect of devaluing our work, the same point Dr. Crazy made in her final comments. This has been a common concern of our faculty. Like her institution, we are at the bottom of the funding barrel and our President does nothing, absolutely nothing, to speak Truth to Power (the legislature) about how little we get from the state for each class of freshman comp (not to mention physics) compared to what they get at Wannabe Flagship - and what our students get (excellence without money) compared to theirs when you consider the SAT scores they start out with. Particularly when you consider that our faculty are more qualified than the adjuncts they use to teach those freshmen. Would that university get those tons of money if they were appropriated for research (which is what they mostly go for at a 1/1 institution with adjuncts teaching the intro classes) rather than instruction? Would they be held to a different account if the legislature actually knew it was not being spent in the classroom?

Side comment:
A friend of a colleague is a professor who lectures to a really large class at Wannabe Flagship. The prof generates over $750,000 for the university each semester in tuition and state "instructional" funds. Talk about profit! Where does it go?

Our President's decisions devalue our work in the classroom. When you simply add extra seats to a room, eliminating aisles so it is impossible to walk around the room and do "active learning" exercises, are you really putting the classroom first? Granted, Wannabe Flagship uses all of that extra money to put even more students in a giant lecture hall and stuff almost as many students as I have in one lecture into their "recitation" section, while dumbing down their physics curriculum to a shocking degree, but that does not make it right. Like Dr. Crazy, I enjoy teaching here because my students work hard to be better than their competition. I've blogged about that before. Many of their decisions seem to reflect an assumption that anyone can do our job, and that we can do it just as well regardless of the number of papers we have to grade. That might be true when you only give multiple choice exams, as some of our faculty do, but our students deserve - and used to get - more than that. I don't bring to this what Dr. Crazy does, but I take it just as seriously.

When we get cut by X%, we lose less money per student than Wannabe Flagship does, but what we lose has a much bigger impact in the classroom - because all of our money goes to the classroom. Our President needs to make that case. I don't think our CC's administration, despite giving it lip service in pursuit of grant money or marketing the college, takes our role in the community as seriously as the faculty do.

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