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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Faculty Stands Alone

The administration at UCI, following UCOP's lead, has been driving a wedge between faculty and students-staff since this whole budget crisis began. Unfortunately, according to Mary Croughan's response to the Pitt memo, the faculty seems to stand, like the proverbial cheese -- completely alone.

When the furloughs were first implemented, I remember talk that this was not going to be a salary cut, because we wouldn't be asked to do more work for less pay, we would, as a faculty be asked to work less for less, like the staffers at the DMV and the nurses of the state public health offices. If you have visited a state office recently, you can tell that the employees are overworked the lines are long, and in the immortal words of one UC Chancellor, workers are "spending more time with their families."

There will no doubt, be a great deal of comment on the furlough memo, but let me state first and foremost, that there is a class of assistant professor in the humanities, arts and social sciences who is going to be hit hardest and whose voices will not be heard, especially by the fictional "public" whose resentment of the professorial class is being inflamed by our own administration's anxiety about the "image" problem.

There are families at UCI whose sole breadwinner is an assistant professor making 62K a year. With a furlough, this prof will be making less than 60K a year. Now I know that no one is going to cry for us -- yet -- but when you consider that this person has spent eight years in Ph.D. training, sacrificing a bigger pay check for some modicum of job security and employment stability, you know that the social contract of academic employment for humanities, social sciences and arts professors has for all intents and purposes been broken. Asking a med school prof making six figures for a bit sacrifice is very different from asking an assistant professor to do so. But our Chancellor is asking for unity at this time, threatening to characterize voices of dissent as coming from the unfaithful and the traitorous. But lest anyone be mistaken, the contract was broken not by the faculty, but by state legislators, and University administrators, I name you Bob Dynes for signing away our future with Schwarzenegger. The "people" and the "public" are being used as a bludgeon...by the pseudopopulist administrative class.

An untenured professor may indeed want to spend more time with his/her family, but at what cost to the family budget?

While I was at the University of Minnesota and here at UCI, there was much hand-wringing about the lack of minority students in the Ph.d. pipeline. There are barely any working class students in the pipelines either. With the massive cuts that threaten the integrity of our very mission, I wonder what the administration will do to justify its destructive attitude toward the alleged mission of a public university and its constituents and employees. They're people too....

The administration often acts as if the faculty is a pr liability, rather than its most critical asset.


Ralph Spoilsport said...

Nice post, Catherine. And for many faculty who do have grant money, but currently support grad students with it, aren't we seeing an explicit decision by the administration to take money from grad student employment---whether current or potential students---to fill the gap created by furloughs? If not grad students (or post-docs), presumably the funds would have been spent on some productive input into research. When the contribution of the University was to pay the salary of the faculty member, the funds went to other uses. If those uses were unnecessary replacement computers or travel that didn't need to occur, no loss. That seems rather unlikely, and it's hard to believe there won't be a reduction in the quality of research as grant funds are diverted to fill the salary gap created by furloughs.

Gerry Barnett said...

Hard to believe there will be a reduction in the quality of research based on furloughs. There might be a reduction in the quality of compliance checking in research.

Perhaps there will be a reduction in quality for "training" programs for faculty and staff--though it is hard to imagine how. You know, programs such as the gawd-awful on-line "ethics" policy with the statement that it's unethical attempt to achieve things for a "higher purpose"..... Somehow, crap like that will live on, no matter the shortfalls in instruction budgets...

Ralph Spoilsport said...

The effect on research quality would be pretty tough to detect, but my point was simply to note that some grant funds will be redirected under the policy. 8% of a $100,000 salary is more than the salary of a GSR for a quarter. Where there used to be a GSR for three quarters, perhaps there will only be a GSR for two quarters. It's true I'm less concerned with the effect on research quality than with the direct consequence of a reduction in grad student funding (and its effects on graduate education), and with an administration that doesn't seem to think in terms of any harmful effects from its policies.

We can only hope for a reduction in compliance checking and ethics training.

Chris Newfield said...

Ralph's concern is borne out by a couple of emails I've received from faculty remarking that as extramural grantholders in science fields, they can and are making their salaries whole by paying themselves the difference from their grants

Catherine Liu said...

I think that there will a number of long range, unpredictable, but quantifiable effects on the quality of research in the UC. Perhaps hindsight will tell -- I plead ignorance with regard to the sciences and the difficulties faced by bench scientists with regard to such cuts, but as I have seen the despoliation in my own field, the humanities, I find that research initiative has been subtly shaped and driven by private foundations and granting agencies. Whether or not this means that there has been a decline in quality is another question, but the forces that set research agendas in the Humanities and to some degree the Social Sciences will become increasingly inscrutable.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about this point. When there was all of the discussion about why individuals who were not paid out of general funds should not be included in the furlough count one of the arguments was that grant monies could not be moved around--that they had to be spent as the grant application specified. Does this mean that money that was granted for graduate support can be spent on something else?

Ralph Spoilsport said...

Many people know the grant world better than I know it, Anonymous. Concerning the earlier arguments you refer to, I think their point was that UC cannot take grant money and spend it on an unrelated purpose. Same for hospital revenues, same for building funds, same for endowments, and so on, the President has said repeatedly.

But two effects seem likely to me, while remaining consistent with the aims of a grant. First, for existing grants that permit funds to be moved across budget categories, redirection to faculty salary replacement can presumably happen immediately. Second, for new grants, it seems likely that there will be an increased emphasis on providing for salary replacement, relative to other categories (including grad student researchers). How large either effect will be is anybody's guess.

Anonymous said...

I am a PI (principal investigator) at UC on multiple awards - I can answer all these questions -
1. Regarding taking money from students to support faculty - in a typical federal budget there should be money for both line items - PI salary and students/postdocs. The PI is allowed to move some funds between categories, however it is often not allowed or at least cause for concern if the PI moves money into the PI salary category. Moving from PI salary to other categories is more frequently done. That means that a PI managing multiple awards may in fact have "extra" salary available that they had not planned to take which can now be used for their furlough.
While you might think it still takes money away from students who might have gotten this salary - remember that a PI's funding base is not a zero sum game. If they spend quickly they can always apply for more grants more frequently. It requires time that could be spent _doing_ the research but it can be done.
2. Running a research group is like running a small business. You go out and procure revenue, do the work and leverage that to bring in more revenue. So the furloughs can be viewed as a cut to the revenue stream which requires some restructuring of funding. We encounter this all the time when agencies in DC cut back and others grow, so in some sense it can be managed just like we managed e.g. a cut in the NSF budget, which until this year was a significant fiscal reality in the sciences (in my case I went after more DoD funding during the Bush administration).
3. Regarding spending money on nonrelated activities - the expenditures are up to the PI to manage, within the regulations defined by the agency and by UC. For example, NSF allows only two months of salary from all NSF sources, per year (for PIs), whereas the DoD has no such limit on months. Some NSF grants do not allow faculty salary whereas some do. Regarding who gets funded (as in which student) it is up to the PI to decide - based on the needs of the project. At the same time, the PI has to report all the research results, so if the research does not get done, the agency will not be happy about it.
Either way, the University can not ursurp the funds because they have no authority over them; although the funds belong to the University they are in control of the PI to decide how to spend. If the PI leaves UC the agency has the option to leave the money at UC and allocate a new PI or to take the money back and send it somewhere else (such as the place where the PI relocated).

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