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.

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