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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Emerging Furlough Standards and Goals

One of the big midsummer issues is what to do with the furloughs. A large majority of the email I've received advocates "making the cuts visible" by putting furloughs on teaching days. Many writers report some faculty opposition, mostly invoking fear of a public backlash that will hurt the university even more than it already has been.

The systemwide Academic Senate has now posted the recommendations for furlough implementation that emerged from the July 29th Academic Council meeting. Their two key statements:
  • "While Council members acknowledge that students are already being negatively impacted through increased fees, staff reductions, and loss of services on furlough days, the Academic Council unanimously supported the concept that furloughs should affect instructional days."
  • "following a lengthy debate, the Academic Council makes the following request and recommendation: (1) that the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs institute a systemwide standard of six furlough days assigned to days of instruction over the nine month academic calendar; and (2) that he approve campus requests for changes to their academic calendars that place furloughs on specified instructional days for up to ten days."
I read this to mean that 6 instructional furlough days would be the systemwide floor, with some campuses going as high as 10. This sets a range of 2-3 days per quarter of instruction canceled because of furloughs. The administrative proposals I've seen all stick with six in total. However, proposals from some departments, councils of chairs, and other groups on several campuses have called for stronger medicine. One proposal was to cancel all three "dead weeks" at the end of each of the year's three quarters, meaning all of a faculty member's 14 furlough days (if on a pre-cut salary of $90,000 or up) would fall on those days.

Conflicting views of furloughs stem partially from two different audiences for this visibility. One is students and their parents, and here the goal is to clue Californians in to the fact that you can't keep expecting the same or better for UC while letting the state pay less and less. The other audience is UCOP and the Regents, who seemed to take their faculty and staff for granted and put up no obvious fight for them.

The visible furloughs are thus likely to be deployed for two overlapping but distinct projects: public education (for students and parents), and a partial strike (for the President and the Regents).

The work action is important for putting "shared" back into "shared governance," and for encouraging UCOP to fight harder for UC. Many faculty felt betrayed by UCOP's actions and the Regents lopsided support (see Option 4 spokesperson Lisa Hajjar's forceful expression of this point). As it is, UCOP assumes on the basis of past experience that the faculty will grumblingly comply even with cuts as disastrous as 25%, and has no urgent reason to risk anything to fight for their interests in proper salaries, teaching conditions, research time, etc. My experience convinced me that in the abstract UCOP wants to do the right thing, but is timid if not intimidated, has no strong vision of its own, and is buffeted by the state's many contradictory pressures. Thus it won't respond to the faculty until their pressure on UCOP is on the same scale as that of others in the state, starting with the governor.

The public education side is even more important. In spite of repeated requests from me and many other systemwide Senate leaders past and present that UCOP advocate long and hard for correct levels of public funding, they have never done this. Can faculty and staff step in and do a campaign on their own? The success of the visible furloughs will depend on embedding canceled classes in an explanatory context that describes the operating cuts, their impact on UC education, and a vision of public education that explains the direct link between proper funding and a better future for our students and the state. The campaign should be in place before the first class is canceled.


Catherine Liu said...

At UCI, Chancellor Drake called a Town Hall meeting regarding furloughs and their implementation last Thursday. The majority of attendees were staff members. The proposal on the table at UCI entails "hiding" the furlough days during the Winter and Spring breaks. This is advantageous to staff since they have had to take these days, Dec. 21-23 or Dec 28-30 as holidays. Faculty were under-represented, but Jutta Heckhausen did read the Academic Council's recommendations, which argue forcefully for making a number of furlough days "visible" -- that is on instructional days. Some faculty in the sciences at UCI oppose taking the furlough on instructional days and the admin sees a chance to show once again, how divided we are. Unfortunately, elected representatives of the faculty, the Academic Council think otherwise, but admin is extremely sensitive to ad hoc plebescites -- this is California after all -- and not so attentive to representational democracy. Although Drake has argued that the furlough is a pay cut, it is my understanding that the furlough allows us to work with the idea that all state employees are confronting now, that our work is still as valuable, we are being paid less, so we are working less. This protects the level of our benefits, etc. A small group of faculty met after the meeting to discuss strategies of engagement. Building solidarity with the staff seemed to be a top priority since the admin seems to want to drive a wedge between faculty and staff. Some organizational imagination seems necessary here, but many of us are away, or taking advantage of the summer to do research.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to see the effect of hiding the impact of past cuts should take a look at the California Legislative Analyst's budget analysis (available at
). The analysis recommended reducing the benchmark funding
per student, on the basis that UC increased enrollment during 2007-2008 and
2008-2009 without receiving enrollment growth funding. Those who support hiding the effect of this year's budget cuts from the public may want to consider this...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is spot on. This is how bureaucracies work: you have to ask for more than you need to get what you need; if they see you can do the work for less, they opt for reductions instead. So, yes, absolutely, furloughs should be visible to both the public and UCOP/the Regents, not hidden between Christmas and New Year, as my campus is attempting to do (without consultation with staff and faculty). Our dedication has been taken for granted long enough.

Anonymous said...

With reference to the last paragraph, I think it would be useful to develop a set of talking points to be used in discussing the situation with undergraduates. If the furlough days do not come until November or December, I would think we would have wanted to start the conversation earlier. Indeed, if furlough days have been scheduled in time for us to include them on our syllabi, these issues could be raised on the first day of class. I'm sure not all students have been following this closely, and we will need to explain what is going on, why it matters, and hopefully nudge them to action.

Anonymous said...

Depending on how this all shakes out, even if we know beforehand when the furlough days will be scheduled, we should not include them on our syllabi. If the entire campus is closed, then there's nothing we can do, but if it's not and we write "furlough day!" on the syllabus, students will not show up and the whole thing turns into a vacation day for everyone.

The consequences need to be visible, and reducing the amount of work students need to do and adding in a scheduled, but ultimately optional teach-in isn't really consequential.

Thus our syllabi should remain as they would and students should be held responsible for the material that would otherwise be covered on a furlough day. That means they do the readings (which they're supposed to do anyway) and come to office hours or talk to TAs if they've got questions, but they will miss the lecture on that material because we were forced to take time off. This is overall a bad thing, and entirely a direct consequence of the furloughs. If necessary we can adjust for this loss in other ways (revamping exam questions, for example, though I don't think we should), but simply reducing what we teach sends the clear message to the administration that it's very easy for us to teach less with no discernible impact.

Objections that this will unfairly harm the students are not very strong. Yes, they will feel some sting, but missing one or two lectures a quarter and possibly getting a slightly worse grade is, for most students, far less consequential than increased class sizes, reductions in course offerings, the shutting down of programs and canceling of services, and, obviously, increased fees. Don't forget, we are the ones who show up everyday and actually interact with students, take an interest in their educations and their development as students, citizens, and people. We are the least likely to harm them by our actions.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, same Anoymous as the previous one...

I should add, in my dream scenario the furlough days are not announced on the syllabus, so students show up to class, and we use the time (or some portion of it) to inform students about the crisis and its effects instead of teaching our planned lecture or seminar. Nothing over the top, just a short explanation of what's going on, and maybe time for questions and discussion. What would also be good is if faculty had shared, coordinated messages, so students aren't getting lots of conflicting information. It would require planning and some amount of consensus. And, unfortunately, time, which we don't have much of.

Anonymous said...

Good point. I also think that objections that such furloughs will unfairly harm the students, who are already forced to pay more, are fairly bogus. It is my understanding that the CA car registration fees will go up this year. Can you imagine the DMV personnel advocating for working during their furloughs based on this fact (the population of CA is already hurting enough!)
Besides, many of us *will work* during our furlough days doing research. However, *teaching* is our paid service to the state, and it should be cut back in response to the state funding cuts.

Gerry Barnett said...

It does not help the case for making furlough days "visible" as instructional days to say the idea they will hurt students is "bogus". Doing so supports the argument the lectures are not helping students all that much, anyway, and if so then Dean Edley has a really great idea if that's so.

Pick good reasons to justify suspending instruction to make a point... that it doesn't matter all that much isn't one of them...

Anonymouse said...

Come on, Gerry. There is no real argument that furlough days will bring the university to its knees. No one actually believes that the furlough days will, no matter how they're implemented, have anything other than minimal impact. However that's not the point. The rhetoric coming out of my particular UC's administration, and I imagine others, is that by our taking furloughs on instructional days we're unfairly impacting students, with the strong implication that it will have long-term effects, we're being selfish, etc. We're being told, essentially, to do it for the kids. This is the bogus argument. What this rhetorical move does is shift the debate away from the structural problems that the administration is ignoring and is ultimately responsible for, and instead places the onus of the crisis in the student/teacher relationship -- in the classroom instead of in the boardroom. Amidst all the talk of "shared pain", they evade moral accountability, we deal with the mess.

Lectures DO help students, and that's the point of holding them responsible for the material that would otherwise be covered. Bottom line, if faculty are asked to work fewer hours, this will cut into instructional time. Fewer instructional hours means less learning for the students, which means a decrease in the quality of their education. The only way to make this point crystal clear is to be very explicit about what we're doing and why we're doing it. Students will grouse, and rightfully so, but we have to think carefully about how to help them channel their anger appropriately.

BTW, this is Anonymous 4-5 from above, now known as Anonymouse, for clarity's sake.

Gerry Barnett said...

The faculty are leading the effort to make sure student experience is affected by loss of instructional days. The reasons for it are well founded in job action strategies and sending messages to the public about services and taxes, and shifting the debate in a subtle way, and the like. It is to be expected. Have at it.

That this will actually hurt the students was called "fairly bogus". My point is certainly not that loss of instructional days will bring UC to its knees. Far from it. No one expects that. And that's the point, and it plays to Dean Edley's vision of making UC go to 11, as it were, with a digital campus.

I don't believe for a moment that UCOP will pick up on this messaging in any meaningful way, and probably sees this shift in the debate as a useful way of occupying venting the faculty while committees for the future are orchestrated for other outcomes.

Anonymous said...

Gerry: no, please read again what I have written. The *objections* to cutting the instructional time based on the fact that the students are hurting have been called bogus. The students will be hurting as result of increased fees, no doubt about it. They will also suffer (albeit minimally, as Anonymouse has pointed out) from the loss of instructional days. But this should be expected, and understood as a result of a long-term neglect of those students' needs on the part of the legislature rather than some frivolous actions by the faculty. It should be our goal to make sure it is indeed perceived that way.
Back to my DMV analogy: when your car reg. fees go up AND your local DMV office is closed on Friday due to furloughs, it would not occur to you to blame the DMV personnel for being insensitive to your already taking a financial hit from the increased fee. An attempt to argue the opposite and hold the DMV workers responsible would be bogus in my opinion.

Catherine Liu said...

The Edley proposal already has gotten some seed funding. I am afraid that arguments against this 11th campus are going to sound as if they come from Luddites...but Edley is offering it as a solution to the problem of over enrollment and underfunding of student enrollments. We must show that on line interaction can enhance, but does not replace face to face teaching, lectures, discussions, etc.

Jack Chen said...

I think what Gerry's pointing to here is something that he's also brought up earlier -- namely, what if faculty efforts to protest UCOP/state legislature plans is co-opted by UCOP/state legislature to show (1) how out of touch/selfish faculty are; and (2) to allow faculty energy to be directed at symbolic, but ultimately futile, ends, so that they can implement structural changes behind the scenes. While I agree that furloughs on instructional days serve an important purpose in letting students (and their parents, the voters) see how cuts to higher ed hurt everyone, this has to be coupled with other actions. UCOP and the state legislature have structural advantages -- they have the bully pulpit and can saddle faculty with a very negative image (particularly those vulnerable humanities and social scientists who don't bring in that important extra-mural funding). Faculty are, by their very nature, scattered and disorganized. I don't see the Academic Senates moving very quickly in this regard. It's time to get organized the way that UCSB has gotten organized. This does mean joining the Faculty Associations and coming up with talking points. It certainly means being proactive on our campuses, perhaps by getting in touch with people we know who are on senate committees and getting them to represent our views; and perhaps by organizing para-senate groups. My home campus, UCLA, has been slow to do this, though there is a group forming; hopefully we'll pick up speed once everyone is back from July/August breaks.

But my point is that how campuses handle the furlough issue is important, but it's not the goal.

Ralph Spoilsport said...

Well said, Jack. The faculty should be saying that we need ten 'Michigan' campuses, not one, instead of worrying about who gets to be Michigan (to mix this discussion with the more recent post on whether Berkeley should be Michigan). Furloughs have become a distraction, while UCOP has flaoted $1.6B in bonds in recent days. There are bigger issues before us.

Only we will be able to make the case for ten strong campuses, and against stratification and a much less ambitious future for all of UC.

Anonymouse said...

Right, but since the original post was about furloughs, we were talking about furloughs. I'm not sure anyone's arguing that our strategies should begin and end with furloughs. How they are implemented is one of many problems we have to figure out. Luckily, most of us are good multitaskers.

Yes, as Jack says, we desperately need organization, and I think we also need leadership. I think we're all hoping that once the school year starts things will coalesce. But for most of us, that's a long way away. Until then we need to keep brainstorming ideas, options, solutions, and we need to try to foresee what could happen as best we can. Let's try to target particular areas that we can exercise control over -- furloughs are one, but what else can we do? We can push the Academic Senate to do various things. What else?

This is a serious question that deserves serious consideration. There are proposals that we should be saying X or Y, but *how* do we do that, and *to whom*? Lots of options (op-eds, press conferences) face the same public relations problems that visible furloughs face. There are many other things that we may wish we could do, but we can't (recall the Regents). So what kinds of stuff falls within our ambit and can actually yield positive effects? I'm not trying to be pedantic, I'm genuinely unclear on this.

Gerry Barnett said...

aphorisms of politics:

if you have to explain, you are losing

nuance is for diplomacy, not politics

it's not politically useful until it is over-simple

it's not your reasoning that matters, it is the event

if you are not the majority, become the swing

do you own the headline and the first quote?

And I am talking about furloughs.

Ralph Spoilsport said...

Second try at a follow-up to Anonymouse. Briefly reconstructing the first try: I like your furloughs idea; don't compromise our standards, and don't put "Yay! Furlough Day!" on the syllabus. The material that would have been covered needs to stay in the course, and we should explain to our students what the state, UCOP/Regents, and campus administrations are doing to them, in spite of the faculty's best efforts to stand in the way.

What else? I'd like to think we are starting the effort here; email your colleagues and tell them to read Chris's informative posts, and everything on this page. Don't wait until fall. Ask chairs and deans, at every turn, for transparent budget information, and ask what they are saying to the administration about the harm cuts have done. If the PR from deans continues to emphasize only their millions in grants or donations, and the fact that all our students are above average, the public will continue to wonder what the fuss is about. Let's ask them to get real about the consequences of cuts. Ask Academic Senate representatives what they think of the material on this blog, do they agree, and what are they telling the administration, locally and systemwide?

I hope Chris is right, that UCOP and all administrators want to do good, but are sometimes timid. Pressure from faculty is apparently needed, for them to represent our concerns, as he said in the furloughs post beginning this thread. We have to hope that they will push back harder as we push back harder.

Gerry Barnett said...

A more complete rephrase: "And explain to our students what the state, UCOP/Regents, campus administrations and now the faculty, too, are doing to them, too, and why."

It would appear that the UC staff are the only folks coming out of this not implicated in putting the hurt on students. Hmmm.

I'm not persuaded putting up a fuss over timing of furloughs is where UC faculty should make their stand--it seems like a wasted application of talent, too nuanced to be taken as intended, and easily plays into the hands of UCOP and a potentially unsympathetic press. So take care.

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