Monday, June 29, 2009

the CSU's furlough proposal

The CSU has proposed a "furlough" plan to their employee unions, as part of a program for dealing with the net half-billion dollar cut to the CSU budget for this coming academic year. The Chancellor's office plan is similar to plans proposed by other state agencies - cutting two days a month from employees' work schedules, without compensation obviously. The Chancellor's office informed the union leaders that the furlough would save about $275 million for the whole CSU. The proposal is to cut two Fridays from each month.

On its face, a furlough plan for the CSU is absurd. Anybody who knows anything about higher education knows that classes are almost always grouped by days of the week. Some classes are taught on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, some are taught on Tuesday and Thursday. On a few campuses, classes are taught only Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday, with special all day classes, labs, or other activities scheduled on Friday. In short, cutting two Fridays a month for the academic year would make gobbledygook out of every academic calendar.

My first reaction to this, about a week ago when I first heard about it, was that this was typical of the Chancellor's office: they have no idea how higher education works, and no idea what academic calendars are, or really, what faculty labor is like. For instance, let's compare three faculty members. Faculty member A teaches four classes each day Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That faculty member would have Friday classes cut two times each month, for around 6 void Fridays a semester. Faculty member B teaches three classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and one on Wednesday night. For that faculty member, the cut to the Friday work schedule means - well, what? Faculty member C teaches only night classes, including one that meets every Friday night. The two-Fridays-a-month furlough means that that faculty members Friday class will miss six sessions over a semester. On our campus, that's nearly half the course.

But this week, I've been getting email updates about meetings between union leaders and campus presidents, and now the CSU administration's strategy for the furlough is more clear: it's a way to cut pay without calling it a pay cut.

The furlough would mean that faculty would have their pay cut relative to the amount of work they do while they are working - during the 10-month academic year. Two days a month from that 10-month year results in around 10.75% cut in salary for faculty. But there can't be any effective way to cut the actual work, and what we're hearing is that the CSU has absolutely no intention of identifying or giving account of the cuts to the faculty work.

Let me put this in context: like most faculty I know, I actually work, during the academic year, at least 6 days a week. That's because I teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and need to prepare to teach those classes on days when I'm not teaching them. (Contrary to what some people, notably the Chancellor of the CSU, seem to think, faculty work outside the classroom in order to be able to teach while in the classroom.) They might cut Friday classes twice each month, but there's no way they can meaningfully cut faculty workload during an academic year.

They're simply taking the opportunity of the budget catastrophe to extract more work for less pay. If I was a little more paranoid, I'd suggest that this is also helpful in attempting to undermine the power CFA generated by successfully organizing a contract fight in 2005-2006, or furthering a union-busting effort.

Oh, and what is the carrot in this proposal? The Chancellor's office threatened the employee unions that if we didn't accept furloughs, there would be mass layoffs. And if we do? No guarantee that there won't be layoffs. Meanwhile, of course, the CSU is still not subject to meaningful public scrutiny of its books.

I would have written about this earlier, but I've had this hideous chest cold all week. I haven't had real sleep in two days. But I figured, if I don't write about this, then the chest cold will have won.


Anonymous said...

Here are some realistic options to reduce your workload:

Numerically score all assignments--evaluating them only for a grade, not with comments.

Reduce the number of texts taught, papers/projects assigned.

Remove yourself from service committees and place service programs on hiatus.

The larger problem is this: if faculty do not reduce their workload by 11%, the state has no incentive to return professors to their full base pay. Lower pay must mean a lower quality of education; otherwise, professors will be the last state employees to be removed from furlough.

Doc Nagel said...

Well, Anon, these are ways one could. I have pedagogical, if not moral, objections to the first option. The third option I hope will be broadly considered, but the risk there is that faculty governance is a key avenue (at least on my campus) for resisting administrative power-grabbing. I agree with the premises of your last argument, but I'm not sure the conclusion follows.

For one thing, the very strategy of conflating furlough, pay cut, and uncompensated workload increase exposes us to this risk regardless. It doesn't matter what they call it. So we could be the first to be removed from furlough, but it may not matter, if the furlough is a sham covering something else.

I didn't mention in the original entry that the CSU has not been mandated to furlough anyone - and I believe the state can't mandate that because of the quirky way higher ed law works here. The CO just likes the idea.

Anonymous said...

Well, there are ethical concerns here. I am ethically and professionally obligated to my students to deliver an adequate education. The health of my community demands no less. I am also obligated to support my program which I believe in. I am also obliged to support my family. the CFA vote was meaningless, really. In the end I will work at home on the furlough days so my students-and community-don't pay a further price for the incompetence and greed of our state government and our CSU leaders.