Monday, July 27, 2009

Faculty approve furlough idea; Perfect Storm brewing

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Members of the California Faculty Association approved the notion of furloughs (and a concomitant 9.75 percent pay reduction) in voting last week.

They also voted that they have about as much confidence in CSU Chancellor Charles Reed as England did in the late Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister whose policy of appeasement with Adolph Hitler managed to make World War II more complicated. (Somewhat of an understatement, but keep reading, please...)

But stop trying to see if Neville Chamberlain is an anagram for Charles Reed. It isn't, even if the appeasement parallels are very interesting.

Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain
Chancellor Charles Reed
Charles Reed

The details of how the 2 days per month faculty furloughs will work have to be negotiated between the California Faculty Association and Reed. But if earlier negotiations this summer are any indication, he won't negotiate anything.

What he has is cash to get through the fall semester, and now enough time to begin the process of faculty layoffs. I suspect he would have liked to have started the layoffs at the beginning of the summer, but figured it wouldn't fly politically.

Word of advice to young, untenured faculty: Tune up your resume quick - and consider what else you might do besides teach in the CSU.

Faculty reactions should be very interesting. Because a traditional furlough won't work (the result of having teaching schedules that are all over the place, timewise.), it could be that faculty will just figure out how to do 9.75 percent less work.

One formula might be easy: Faculty teaching four classes - and who also have three office hours per week - could reduce their class time (12 hours per week) and office hours (3 hours per week) and their prep time (as much as one hour of prep per class hour) by 9.75 percent.

In a 15-week semester, that would mean cutting out about 40 hours of work (class time, office hours and prep time) during the semester. (Trust me on the math, please.)

Will faculty consider something like this? Some will, some won't.

Regardless, with students paying 30 percent more in tuition this semester and faculty getting paid nearly 10 percent less, we have a near perfect storm in the California State University brewing and ready to hit.

California furlough sign
California furlough sign

Thursday, July 23, 2009

California public employees and the 'envy' factor

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - It's a tough time to be a state worker in California. In addition to being forced to take three days off per month without pay (a 15 percent pay cut), public respect seems to have slipped even lower than it was before the current budget crisis.

And to read The Sacramento Bee newspaper, it seems as if the pensions paid to most state employees (through the California Public Employees Retirement System) represent an evil as least as threatening as global warming, or perhaps a temper tantrum by Korea's Kim Jong-Il.

At the heart of all this is a tremendous shift in thinking, resulting in an envy that is devouring some people. Certainly more than a few people at The Sacramento Bee newspaper, a likely candidate for bankruptcy later this year.
  • McClatchy Heads for the Cliff

  • Just a few years ago, friends of mine who were heavily invested in the stock market and/or 401K plans crowed about their early retirement plans, how wealthy they were (or would be) and what chumps those of us sticking it out in the public sector were with our defined-benefit retirement plans.

    Fast forward to this year, and those same people are scrambling to cover the costs of their health care (doubled and tripled in some cases). They are also trying to get back into the workforce because their earnings from the stock market and/or 401K plans have tanked so incredibly they can't get by on what they are paid out. (Not a good time to be 60-plus and looking for a job by the way.)

    And who are these folks mad at? Their financial advisors who said everything would be fine, leave the money in the market? The folks who helped create the house-price crash through shaky mortgages? The U.S. corporations who have been sending jobs offshore for years?

    Nope. The problem is public workers and their damned pensions.

    In The Sacramento Bee, the favorite adjective lately when public employee pensions are mentioned is 'lavish.' Public pensions are always portrayed as lavish, though The Bee doesn't bother to publish any numbers supporting the contention.

    What is published is usually dollar figures for a high-profile case, where it can be argued a person has gamed the system and gotten a public pension that seems extreme. What The Bee always fails to mention is that the employee had been contributing significantly to that retirement while working. What The Bee does is give the impression that every dime some fire captain gets in retirement is stealing money from current taxpayers' pockets.

    Envy is such an ugly thing.

    It's certainly an arguable point that public monies have been mismanaged in recent years (as have the monies of the McClatchy Corporation), but to keep trying to make out public employee pensions as the root of all evil - without bothering to prove it with numbers - is unconscionable.

    State workers stick around despite the public's abuse (and now a pay cut) because there is some security and a relatively secure pension at the end of their employment.

    Take that away, and what's left of deteriorating public service in the state is likely to start getting even worse.

    But in the meantime, if you have to visit a Department of Motor Vehicles office (or the offices of another state agency), leave a little extra time. Between the furlough/pay cut, the public's incessant hammering and most recently all the talk about going after pensions, the workers just might be a little touchy.

    With good reason.

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    CSU faculty vote on pay cut proposal a lose-lose proposition

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Members of the California Faculty Association will start voting Monday (July 13) on a proposal from the California State University Chancellor to take two-day per month furloughs, beginning with the fall semester.

    The two-days-per-month furloughs have been suggested/recommended/demanded (pick your verb) by the chancellor as a way to lessen the impact of the $583.8 million budget cut Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) is saying the 23-campuses of the system must take this year. The $583.8 million represents the university system's share of the current state-budget meltdown with a savings of about $147 million if faculty agree to the furloughs.

    And the idea of CSU faculty furlough falls ever-so-neatly in line with the governor's furloughs of state workers. The governor has ordered three furlough days per month for almost all state workers and would really like to implement a fourth as the legislature and he debate how to deal with the $27 billion state budget deficit.

    In the CSU, perhaps the major problem is although the chancellor is calling his suggested/recommended/demanded furlough, a furlough, these furloughs will simply result in open-ended pay reductions of nearly 10 percent, with no guarantees about, well, anything, including how many years they might continue.

    To date, the chancellor - and the trustees of the California State University - have declined to say if these proposed furloughs could result in a concomitant reduction in workload (which furloughs do for state workers who are given days off). And perhaps more disingenuously, the chancellor and trustees have also declined - some would say obstinately refused - to say what the effects of the furlough will likely be.

    They will not say how many faculty jobs will be saved (if any), how many faculty might still be laid off, and how the furlough/pay cut will impact how many classes can be offered.

    In California politics, as a general rule of thumb, if voters are unsure what a ballot measure means, they simply vote no.

    And that is a highly likely outcome of the faculty vote on the chancellor's suggested/recommended/demanded furloughs, because he and the trustees have opted to keep whatever data they have amassed secret, sowing only confusion, anger, and more than a touch of resentment at all levels of faculty.

    On campuses around the system, faculty are debating what the two-day-per-month furlough will mean if faculty vote to approve it.

    Optimists spout that it is obvious that the chancellor will use the saved monies so he doesn't have to order faculty layoffs on campuses.

    The less-optimistic think he will use the money to lessen the blow, but that there will still be a significant number of layoffs, perhaps gnawing almost into the ranks of tenured professors.

    And the truly pessimistic wonder if the chancellor is using the budget problem as a wedge to get senior and junior faculty at each other's throats as they debate his vague furlough proposal. The truly pessimistic are also fearful that the chancellor doesn't really have any plan at all, but is throwing out the furlough proposal like a Hail Mary pass in a high school football game.

    Hail Marys may be in order for everyone before this budget crisis is passed.

    How easy it would have been for the chancellor and trustees to do the right thing here.

    What right thing?

    The right approach would have been to ask faculty to consider a pay reduction. A pay reduction, perhaps on a sliding scale, could help ensure that junior faculty could keep their teaching posts, that classes could be maintained, that the entire system could pull together to survive this latest crisis.

    If faculty were voting on that question - with supporting data about what a yes vote would actually mean in numbers of jobs saved - CSU faculty could have an above-board discussion about the future of the institution.

    And most senior faculty would probably suck it up and vote yes, even if reluctantly. (Who wants their salary reduced?)

    Instead, faculty are confronted with a muddle of confusion, anger, and more than a touch of resentment as they begin voting in what looks like a lose-lose election.

    Of course, the chancellor and trustees could unveil any grand plans they have this week (sooner rather than later) to help faculty in the decision-making process as they vote on the chancellor's proposal for a furlough/pay cut.

    It's not too late to get back in the game Chancellor Reed, even if it is to throw a Hail Mary pass.

    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    A lot of questions about university furloughs

    SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - The downward spiral of the finances of the state of California have come to the California State University in the form of a $583.8 million cut to the overall 23- campus system budget for the coming year.

    After years of cutting the budgets of these 23 campuses over and over, this one has pushed the university administration to jump on the furlough bandwagon, made popular by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) as he struggles with a struggling state legislature and a whopping $26 billion state budget problem.

    Schwarzenegger just added a third monthly furlough day for state workers, giving them an effective 15-percent pay cut in total.

    In the CSU, a sketchy proposal has been floated by the central administration for two furlough days per month - about a 10.78 pay cut for all CSU employees. But because the CSU has binding agreements with the three unions representing the employees, each unit must vote to accept the furlough idea.

    Two unions have voted to accept the idea of tw0-day per month furloughs, but the faculty - and its bargaining unit The California Faculty Association - have questions. A lot of questions.

    The furlough proposal would reduce the proposed deficit, but leave as much as $309 million yet to be cut. That's $309 million out of a $583.8 reduction in funds. And at this point, Chancellor Charles Reed and the CSU Trustees are not saying how they would cut the budget sufficiently to cover this $309 million. In fact, through spokesmen, they have given the definite impression they haven't pondered it fully yet.


    And when faculty have asked if agreeing to the furloughs would guarantee there would be no faculty layoffs - just for this academic year - the response has been that the administration won't guarantee anything.

    Uh-oh, redux...

    With $309 million not accounted for, it's easy to see why the administration wants to keep its options open. This total $583.8 million cut is unprecedented and will likely damage the university system in ways hard to imagine.

    Still, before faculty vote to voluntarily reduce their salaries, the CSU Trustees should come clean about how they are planning to deal with the balance of the $309 million budget reduction.

    If it is layoffs - in addition to the furloughs - the trustees need to say so. And they should be honest and put some numbers with the announcement.

    If it is massive student fee hikes (30-percent fee hikes and higher are reportedly under discussion), those numbers should announced sooner rather than later.

    And if the CSU Trustees and administration are planning both? Well, school starts in just seven weeks.