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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

UCOP Mandate Morally and Politically Unacceptable

UCOP’s decision to ban taking furlough days on teaching days is entirely unacceptable, comprising one more egregious assault on the mission of the CA public universities. The most unsettling piece of Interim Provost Pitts’ statement is contained in the quote below, which displays a shocking misrepresentation of the mission of the state's research universities.

Asking the faculty to carry a full teaching load during furloughs is a large request, but in my mind is justified by the University's paramount teaching mision. Research is permitted on furlough days, but for many faculty this extra research will not be remunerated unless they have grants in which there are funds that can be reallocated to pay for increased effort. And since furlough days are not "service days", they can be used for outside professional activities that may be remunerated.

To say that teaching is "the paramount mission" belies the fact that these top-tier institutions exist in order to produce scholarly research as well as to teach undergraduates and train future scholars and professionals. Any reasonable awareness of the merit evaluation process in the UC system should convey the message that research weighs even more heavily than teaching in the achievement of promotions, tenure, and step increases within rank. Pitts' statement that "research will be permitted on furlough days" is almost laughable. University faculty do not do research "on the clock." They do it constantly, and it vitally informs their teaching. Service assignments that make up a small part of our assessed "merit" (committees, professional offices, etc.) will have to be sandwiched in somewhere. as they always are; for the most part they will continue to be done, as at present, out of sense of duty to the university and the professions. The only fair and reasonable assignment of furlough days would allocate approximately half of them to instructional days, as instruction comprises about half of the expected--and evaluated and compensated--workload of faculty.

It is reassuring to learn that the Academic Council opposed the plan embodied in the Pitts directive. So much for shared governance. Apparently all of the chancellors were consulted in advance of this announcement, according to Senate Chair Mary Croughan's accompanying memo. It is not clear how the individual chancellors stood, or whether they were united or divided in advising on this decision. Nor is it suggested that individual campus senates were consulted.

The Pitts and Croghan memos indicate that the main impetus for requiring that no furlough days be taken on instructional days was the fear of adverse public reaction to inflicting harm on students who have already suffered a string of recent tuition increases. Yet obviously this "harm" would not have been perpetrated by faculty, but rather by the governor, legislature, and regents, who together chose this draconian method of reducing expenditures. On the contrary to their reasoning, one important reason for taking a fair portion of our furloughs on teaching days--a reason already well and repeatedly articulated in faculty town halls and other gatherings across the system and supported by hundreds of faculty--is precisely to make the public aware of the consequences, not only for this year's students but for California higher education in general over the longer term, of the unwise and irresponsible revenue and fiscal policies that the state has too long been pursuing. The UC system is in jeopardy already. Not only are students asked to bear an ever higher portion of instructional and other costs; privatization is underway as more and more of the universities' budgets are coming from external sources. On top of being unable to hire replacement faculty, we can expect even more departures from all of our UC faculties for other jobs as a result of these arbitrary and unreasonable policy decisions.

UC faculties should strenuously object to the Pitts furlough policy. We should be prepared to organize on individual campuses and system-wide to follow the reasonable plans already well advanced around the system to apportion a fair complement of teaching days as furlough days, while making alternate educational experiences available for students. Also, in light of this latest development, faculty should seriously consider organizing in some independent manner in order to have adequate representation. We should communicate our objections to this UCOP policy by individual emails to our chancellors and urge them to explore immediately the extent of possible individual campus autonomy in crafting furlough days policies.

by Mary Furner


Julie Van Camp said...

The language that permits, indeed, which seems to encourage UC faculty to conduct uncompensated research on their furlough days is very puzzling.

One element of the CSU furlough implementation might be of interest to you. We were all required to sign forms certifying: "I will not work on mutually agreed or assigned furlough days." We understand from various on-line discussions with union representatives that the CSU has no intention of sending out "furlough police." We also understand that "work" includes all elements of our job description, viz., teaching, research, service.

As we understand things, the reason for the certification is that the CSU Chancellor was worried that CSU faculty might sue for uncompensated work under state law. I don't know whether such a law suit would have been successful, but the required certification was the CSU's way of heading off any such law suits.

I have not seen any forms on-line for UC faculty furlough implementation. It's surprising that the UC provost seems (in the announcement of a few days ago) to have created a legal risk that the CSU Chancellor is trying to avoid.

The form we had to sign at CSULB, if you're interested:

A related matter I see being discussed on this blog are expectations for tenure and promotion. One thing that has already been settled in our MOU this summer: probationary faculty can request an extra year on the tenure-track if they believe the furlough has hindered their efforts to meet tenure expectations. I don't know if many will pursue that option, and they can decide any time in the next year. Once again, this appears to be an effort by the CSU Chancellor to head off lawsuits by faculty denied tenure down the road who use the furloughs as an excuse for failing to meet standards.

Julie Van Camp
Professor of Philosophy
CSU Long Beach

Gerry Barnett said...

Sounds like a CSU lockout.

Julie Van Camp said...

The CSU faculty union voted to accept the furloughs this summer (although it was close), so it's not a lockout. We also have a clause in our contract that prohibits strikes, so that's not an option either.

Our bargaining unit includes both the tenured/tenure-track faculty and the lecturers. The assumption is that the former were likely to oppose furloughs, while the latter favored them, as lecturers are the first to be laid off under the contract. On many smaller campuses, with few lecturers, probationary faculty would likely be laid off, so they also presumably voted for the furloughs.

Deborah Wills said...

What particularly bothers me about the Pitts letter is not so much the ruling itself, but the rationale for it--"bad optics." Mary Furner's posting points out that legislators, regents, etc, are the ultimate source of the "harm" of adverse public reaction. To this I would like to add that "bad optics" have not stopped UC from paying top administrators high salaries and even giving them raises and other perks; it has not stopped them from continuing construction projects on campus; it has not stopped them from adopting new eligiblity standards for admissions or limits to enrollments. All of these (especially the first), come with major "bad optics." Presumably our administrators support these policies because they think they are worthwhile; the solution is educating the public, not catering to uninformed or irrational public opinion. So why are they singling out faculty to screw in the name of "bad optics?" Aren't we the "seed corn," the "life-blood" of the university?

Our administrators need to do something to show they have some respect for the value of faculty labor. If it's not going to be furloughs on instructional days, how about giving us extra sabbatical credit during the quarters with pay cuts? Or a new "Capital Accumulation Provision" for retirement? I'd like something more than hot air.

Anonymouse said...

Right. Regents will go to the mat and write op-eds to push back against the bad optics of high executive pay, but working to counteract whatever bad publicity might arise when furlough days are taken during instruction time, well, that's just too much to ask. The logic of the making the furloughs visible is far less tortured than most of what's trotted out to justify the kinds of expenditures Deborah points to. It kind of make my brain hurt.

Anonymous said...

Let's send the Pitts letter to everyone we know in the academy...the lesson being: this could happen to you. What is "this"? Loss of normal rights and privileges to persons with absolutely no understanding of the purpose and function of a university. As Mary suggests, the ignorance on display in the letter is jaw-dropping, so egregious that it's hard to conceive of the letter as strategy. Spread Pitts' words far and wide to academics and *well-informed* administrators. We're dealing with ideologues AND incompetents.

Andrea Bertozzi said...

If I am allowed to buy out my furlough days on research grants, it would seem reasonable to me that someone without grants should be allowed to use those days to do off-campus research that might require travel, even if it does not involved sponsored research. To do this effectively, it might require missing some classes - and I expect that a responsible, smart, Professor with a PhD could find a way to provide an effective course while still missing a few classes for furlough days. It would seem a bit of common sense applied in each situation could allow us to still providing quality education. I also note that UCLA, where I teach, has one of the largest number of teaching days in the US (the stats were put together by a colleague of mine at Toronto - I will see if I can get her to repost them on her web page). That said, we do have an image problem with the public. The recent sac bee article was way over the top. I was heartened to see many comments posted there supporting UC and CSU faculty.

Andrea Bertozzi said...

D. Willis wrote "how about giving us extra sabbatical credit during the quarters with pay cuts?"

I brought up the issue of sabbatical credits at the last UCLA faculty assoc meeting with the administration. I was told that people on sabbatical still have to take a furlough. I pointed out that someone taking a full quarter at full pay has 100% of required credits deducted from their sabbatical account yet do not get paid a full salary. Thus it would make sense for e.g. an 8% furloughed person to have only 92% of the sabbatical credits deducted (in this case it would be 8.28 credits deducted rather than 9 credits), after all this is how it is done for sabbaticals with partial pay. I was told it would still be 100% of credits but not 100% of pay. Something seems off with this math (note: I'm a Math Prof. at UCLA). When you consider we can buy out time on grants, it would seem that equivalent math should likewise apply to sabbatical credits. I also note that the current sabbatical/furlough policy is quite the opposite of what Deborah Willis suggests - they are, in essence, devaluing sabbatical credits rather than adding to them.

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