Sunday, November 16, 2008

update on university budget cuts

Friday afternoon, November 7, I first heard about the local CSU campus administration's announcement of budget cuts, mid-year, that would cancel hundreds of classes and put dozens of part-time lecturers out of work. I assumed that this was related in part to the $31 million cut offered by CSU Chancellor Charles B. ("Chuckles") Reed, but it turns out that it really didn't have anything to do with that.

Our campus has been running a deficit, off and on, for several years, and the budget cut was to deal with about 2/3 of that deficit. Now, this seemed odd timing for dealing with a deficit that we've had for a while. Why take this moment, with the CSU system preparing to cope with, and to fight against, the Chancellor's giveaway? One answer that seemed plausible, and which I shared with several people, all of whom thought it was not only plausible but likely, is that the local administration was using Reed's action as a pretext. If that seems paranoid, then you must not be a faculty member at this university, where we have had, for a variety of reasons, an extremely antagonistic relationship with the provost.

[Side note to the provost, or to any of his agents: I acknowledge that I'm part of that antagonistic faculty. While the provost has publicly stated his resentment toward some oppositional action by faculty, and has seemed to me to take much of it personally, I do not acknowledge that anything I've said is meant as a personal attack. I don't know the provost personally. I know he plays the accordion, wrote a book about rhetoric, is good at word play, and has a predilection for suspenders. But I don't know what's in his soul, and wouldn't claim to. I represent lecturers on our campus. An adversarial relationship to administration sometimes comes with the job.]

Anyway, faculty were understandably upset by being told to cut classes from academic departments in the absence of any directly informative demonstration that this was necessary - either in general, or in the incredible urgency of the moment. Departments were given a directive to cut a certain number of dollars from their instructional budgets, given a week to do it, and that was the end of the story.

This is the same strategy employed at Humboldt State a few years ago - which I referred to on our campus as the "Blitzkrieg" model of budget management. (There's room here for using the metaphor of Poland annexation, but I'm not sure how to work it.) There was a big push by faculty, students and staff to demand the administration find another way to fix its fiscal problems, other than cut so much from instruction as to damage the institution's ability to educate, and to damage the institution's ability to make enrollment targets and thus to retain its budget allocation from the CSU system.

I spent a lot of time and energy in the faculty part of that effort on our campus this week. One thing I've done, which I always do, is inform my students what's going on and encourage them to get involved. I saw one of my students at a meeting our dean held, but otherwise I have no idea whether anyone has gotten into the push back.

One key difference between our campus and the Humboldt State situation is that our campus president announced to the meeting of the general faculty in September that the university had a $3 million reserve fund, and that a deal had been made with Clearwire to lease them our TV channels as broadband for a $4.5 million one-time payment plus around $1.5 million a year. At Humboldt, the campus president eventually "found" $500,000 to help reverse cuts. And what do you know, but since Friday our campus president has agreed to allocate an additional $500,000 from the Clearwire funds.

The committee that advises the president on budget issues met the first time in the midst of all this tumult, was given no real information about the budget, and issued a memo to the campus community arguing against the cuts and, especially, the do-it-yesterday urgency.

We still face the proposed cuts totalling $97 million, and a partisan legislature generally incapable of compromise, that must reach a 2/3 majority to pass either a budget or any tax increase (like the sales tax increase proposed by the governor). We also continue to face a university administration which seems hell-bent on acting unilaterally, and then, when faced with strong opposition from faculty, modifying or reversing itself - which strikes me as a very strange way to run a public institution.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

That's some catch, that Ca . . . Ah, screw it.