Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tales from the economic crisis: Academe edition

Well, it seems that Urban University may be headed towards furloughs for TT faculty. And they tell us it´s not a pay cut, but two unpaid days a month (where we´re not supposed to work -- yeah, right) comes out to 6% of our work days, which means that my tenure raise is effectively wiped out before I ever see it.

Add to this the suggestion from our dean that the course releases that allowed us to teach 3-3 rather than 4-4 may be going away (but with no decrease in research expectations), and you can see why I´m cranky.

Frankly, I´m getting discouraged. As someone (I forget who) recently said: "When someone is praising you for doing more with less, they´re usually about to ask you to do everything with nothing."

What about the rest of you? How have you been hit at your universities? Anyone come up with any creative solutions to make things better? Or, if not that, then any small acts of rebellion to make you feel better?


clio's disciple said...

That stinks. I'm sorry.

I think I heard of one furloughed professor who ostentatiously put a sign on his door reading "Unavailable due to furlough", just to make clear to students why he was unreachable that day.

Bavardess said...

Crap. I'm sorry you having to deal with that, and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. I like Clio's story of the sign on the door.

Ivy Climber said...

I'm at a big state school, and we haven't had furloughs, but I almost wish we had-- instead, the administration is nickel-and-diming us on expenses (no travel allowed even if a grant is covering it, ditto for computers & software, books, and more).

As an aside, I'm terribly impressed that you have managed to write a book (and more) while teaching 3-3. My teaching load is 2-2, and with grants I'm able to reduce it to 2-1 most years, and *still* I don't think I'm as productive as you are. If you ever bottle your magic potion, please let us know.

Susan said...

Well, we just got a message from the president of the system saying: we need to cut our personnel costs by 8%. We can do it three ways -- which do you think is best? (Straight pay cut, furlough, or furlough + pay cut). And I see that it matters for staff (those making less than $46,000 would only get a 4% cut) whether it's furlough/unpaid days off or pay cut, but for faculty? My salary will drop by 8%.


Anonymous said...

How do you think they would react if those two days you didn't work were on days you taught? Probably wouldn't be happy about that. But try to get away with producing less publishable research with the furloughs as an excuse...well, at least you have tenure now and could probably get away with it. Us non-tenured folks would have to find another solution. I'm sorry to hear about it though. It sucks.

Anonymous said...

A lot of places are choosing to eat away at benefits rather than furlough - I'd MUCH rather a furlough than lose a benefit or have premiums upped, etc, because in theory furloughs are temporary (as are losing research $ etc) whereas a benefit loss is forever. Which is why smart university's are using this method - they pretend it's for faculty/staff, but they're really making a cut they know will be permanent. This is the line they're taking at my husband's Public U; mine (Public U) has more $$ and seems to be a bit better insulated (it's hiring freezes and reductions in travel $, but not much else for the moment - of course many of the tenured faculty at my u could withstand a furlough pretty comfortably. It's a VERY topheavy place). I'm feeling pretty lucky considering your position and that of many others. And let me second the cry of - you totally rock for being able to teach a 4-4 or even a 3-3 and get a book published & tenure. That's fantastic. But I really hope you don't lose your course releases.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ Susan -- someone forwarded that very e-mail to our own discussion list today. God, that sucks. I mean, if your mortgage or rent were to drop by 8%, too, then maybe. People here are proposing 8 furlough days a semester in exchange for cutting 8 days off at the beginning or end. Or something like that. The consensus seems to be that we need to counteract the message that we are ready and willing to do the same work for much less money.

And as to those who said that I rock: Well, thank you! To be perfectly clear: I did not "publish a book" by the time I went up for tenure. I got a full MS under review -- and with only 48 hours to spare. The contract took several months longer. I actually consider myself a bit underproductive (you should see what friend/neighbor/colleague has done with the same resources). But this is an interesting subject for a post. So, soon.

Historiann said...

Funny--I was just talking last night with some colleagues about a similar issue. We have no raises and zero travel money for 2009-2010. One colleague commented that we may need to discuss measures to either extend the tenure clock or revise our tenure standards temporarily during this crisis. It seems very unfair to hire people (as we did last year and the year before) and then take away what small means we had for encouraging them to conduct research and go to conferences.

In my state, they decided that universities couldn't do a furlough. But I strongly support the idea of putting a sign on your office door per Clio's Disciple's suggestion, as well as putting a bounce-back message on your e-mail informing people that you're on furlough and so won't be conducting business for the university that day. In fact, I think this is something that all tenured faculty need to do, in order to communicate to your university administrators, your Governator, and your students that they can't get something for nothing. Everyone must pay the price--not just you.

(For more on this, see my "Excellence Without Money" series from last winter.)

squadratomagico said...

The suggestions about trying to bring home to students and the general public that less pay means less work is a reasonable one, and it was my own inclination when talks about pay cuts started on my campus. But, a colleague brought up what I thought was an interesting word of caution. She noted that the general public already looks at us as having three months off (or of glamorous travel) in the summer, long vacations during the year, and perhaps 20-25 hours in the classroom the rest of the year. They tend to discount class prep, grading, research and all the other multitude of things we do aside from the hours in the classroom. And this colleague suggested, quite correctly, I think, that reacting with too much indignation will only backfire, as most of the public already thinks that academics do far too little work. Such responses will be seen as borne of massive entitlement.

Janice said...

You have my sympathies. I went through a slightly milder furlough in the early nineties when I was still on the tenure-track. It hit us hard as we had salary freeze and the roll-backs just when I was starting a family, too!

The hardest part is actually getting your colleagues to honour the furlough. Since everyone takes different days, somehow your being unavailable for X day because of your furlough is treated as unimportant. Of course you can come in for X meeting or service obligation! It's just a furlough -- take it on your next non-teaching day! *sigh*

Belle said...

I second, third etc all of the above, particularly the 'crap' comments. As to making our work seem more work and less leisure, I make a point of telling all who will listen that when I worked in France, they counted working hours as 1 in the classroom = 3 anywhere else. Plus prep etc. So perhaps we should all make that more clear to our various audiences. Keep track of your own work habits (including research) and then you have documentation of our life. Our university faculty handbook says they consider our work week to be over 40 hours; that doesn't answer the trustees or the public, but at least internally we know.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I have to say that I'm very lucky. Who knew that being at a tuition-driven school that already operated on a shoestring could be good?

We have been asked to cut back, and last year, almost all of the administrators gave up raises in order to make sure that faculty and staff all got something. And faculty all took cuts in their raises (we weren't asked, but there were very few complaints in A&S -- don't even ask how the professional schools faculty took it!) so that the staff, most of whom make less than $30k a year, could have raises that meant something.

They did stop granting course releases or additional pay for us department chairs, which sucks. So I'm on a 4-3 with additional duties. OTOH, our dean is trying to balance that by reassigning heavy committee work so that chairs are not doing the brunt of committee work (this may come as a surprise to you, but the people who are most productive and have the best teaching evals on the campus are also often department chairs AND on at least two major committees ... oh no, it probably wouldn't).

I am a little worried about travel money, and it's likely that we will be paying more for health care, or possibly see a freeze on the matching contributions to TIAA-CREF this year. But compared to colleagues at state schools, or the big endowed privates, I can only count my blessings at the moment. I'm just looking at ways to cut back myself, just in case.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

More later, but I wanted to pass on a good response to the "3 months off" BS that we all hear from time to time. As my colleague E. once said: "I don´t have 3 months off. I´m UNEMPLOYED for three months every year." For those of us paid for 9 months (rather than 12), this might be a good way to communicate things.

Jess said...

Ugh, I'm sorry. My school is too poor to be hit hard yet (no endowment = what economic crisis?), but we'll see how things go.

Doctor Pion said...

You need to know that it is against the law for your employer to require you to do any work during a furlough. If you are required to take the furlough on "research" days, I believe this means they must reduce their research expectations.

You state labor relations board can clarify this for you based on your state's labor laws.

I like the idea of a sign. Our college tries to hide the effect by putting more students in classes, creating the illusion that they are not impacting the students.

FrauTech said...

No raises and furloughs? What is this, private industry? But seriously. Academic institutions can't necessarily lay people off the way a private company would, getting tenure without a raise may seem disappointing, but this year I'd be happy you've got a job you can count on. Almost everyone I know has had layoffs at their companies, and some of my friends/family been victim to those.

My husband's work (publically traded company) is recently requiring that somewhere in the range of 85% of their employees MUST take a weekly furlough, one day a week, resulting in a 15% paycut. Can you imagine with mortgage, car payment etc? 15% could easily drop you below just getting by. Not to mention they are inbetween rounds of layoffs and who knows when the next will come. I am lucky to be at a company that is government supported, but even for us they really cut down on raises this year. Why, was our profitability suffering? No. But the economy means employees have fewer means. I also don't think "rubbing it in" to your students is really fair. I know where I go to school I am dealing with a 10% increase in tuition next year and as someone who pays that all out of pocket it's very tough. I understand faculty furloughs are not really furloughs, you usually end up working anyways, but isn't that the give and take with an academic job? You're not clocking in/clocking out, so in some ways more freedom means more responsibility.

theswain said...

That sucks. I feel your pain.

BUT on the other hand, you have a TT job. There are many of us out here who don't. From where I sit, I'd be happy to have a furlough, or a mere 4-4 load.

So...its a matter of perspective. You are being cheated in a way, no way around that. But better that than unemployment.

Anonymous said...

My sabbatical was canceled for this year, and most of our adjuncts let go (fired), so while our class caps have not been raised, they are all full, with students trying to get in. We don't have a state budget yet, but will be nickeled and dimed to death once we have one, oh and they shut down our nursing program. Several of my neighbors who are not academics are out of work, so I feel guilty complaining.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if anybody reading & responding to this issue works at a university where the faculty are unionized, and if so, how this is affecting what's unfolding there. We aren't unionized, and my partner's u is in process. I'm wondering if the unions are softening the blow at all.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Actually, anon, *we* are unionized. Right now there are frantic discussions going on between the union and the faculty trying to strategize how to handle this without sending the message that we should be expected to do more work for less pay. It´s going to be tough.

And yes, I am aware of how good it is to have any job, much less one with tenure. But when working conditions deteriorate, I´m not going to just say nothing.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(And my apologies for not responding to all your comments, but my internet access is very limited right now. But this is turning into an interesting discussion, and I hope we can keep it going.)

Anonymous said...

I'm at a unionized school, and we are currently under contract. The governor wanted to open up the contract of all state unions, but failed to do so, so we will get our pay raise and even merit pay (I do feel guilty about this). The Union claimed, and they may be right, that you can't renegotiate part of a contract; there was some sympathy with forgoing the pay raise for the time being. So we will have a tough time of it in the classroom and with travel money and other things that make the job doable on a daily basis, but so far no furlough and no lost wages. I'm not sure just how much to attribute to the union and how much to the fact that my state's govt. is in TOTAL meltdown and crisis.

Anonymous said...

Move to South Carolina if you want to see some real pain. Our college cut the budget by about 25%. We had to "let go of" numerous people. One community/technical college in S.C. reportedly had to take a 30 day furlough. While it is never good to have a furlough day or pay cut, it beats standing in the unemployment line. You guys kill me... complaining about not being able to travel and such. You still have a position. Be thankful.

Anonymous said...

@ anon 2:39. I am *very* sympathetic with the situations of everybody facing this economic crisis, within and without the academy. Anybody who has lost their job and doesn't know how she will pay her bills or feed her children - this is a real crisis, deserving of everyone's attention. But I think we shouldn't play the game that because MY furlough is bigger than yours, you shouldn't complain. The issues put forward by notorious and others here are serious (even if those who are tenured don't face the same uncertainties as untenured and the untenured don't face the same as adjunct, etc). We still need to have conversations about what's going on and the ways that universities are trying to deal with the crisis by penalizing faculty while expecting them to continue their same level of performance. While the issue of travel may seem cushy on the outset, at many state universities (like mine) the ability to earn a raise (ie "merit-based raises") directly corresponds to our productivity in research and participation at expensive conferences. Omitting these activities can have serious consequences for us in the short term (for potential raises) and the long term (career competitiveness). If one can't afford to travel to conduct research, it basically makes all future research projects impossible. Having to pay out of pocket for all such expenses can bring people to their financial knees. So if we're being stripped of being ABLE to do our jobs, we shouldn't be held responsible for that inability.

theswain said...


I didn't mean to suggest that you say nothing; it does suck and it isn't right (what's happening at your and other universities). I'd just love to trade places with you is all.

jodi said...

(De-lurking to add....)

Sorry to hear about your furlough (and belated tenure congrats!) I teach TT (3-3) in the University of Wisconsin system, and we're going to have furloughs here, equaling about a 3-5% pay cut (I think-- it gets confusing for those of us who are 9 month employees). They haven't yet defined precisely how this will work for faculty, but the last I heard we're supposed to "take the days when we can on non-instructional days." Which means-- either cutting prep, which I just wouldn't do, or cutting research, which would only hurt me, not the school. (Or cutting service, I suppose, but then nothing functions at all)

Really, it's just a pay cut. But yes, I have a job, and there is that. We are not unionized in the UW system, though I'm hoping this might change that...

(I don't currently have an academic blog, but my silly WI blog is linked here)

undine said...

We're still waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of being informed about what's happening. All that we know is that it won't be good.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ anon 2:39 -- I can´t imagine that anyone here is not happy to have a job (and even tenure, in some cases!) in these uncertain times. And I´m sure that all of us know at least one person who *should* have a job, but doesn´t.

That said, I don´t think anyone in any job is inclined to be sanguine about a 10% pay cut through no fault of our own. Some of us also have an eye to our non-TT colleagues, who do much critical work in our departments, yet are facing layoffs, again through no fault of their own.

For myself and my colleagues, one of our concerns is that we have seen how this works in the past (both in universities and in private industry): The workers agree to share the pain with the larger business, university, system, etc., but when times are good, little or none of what we lost is restored to us. To accept what´s being proposed without any protest in these circumstances is unthinkable. In the end, we will all probably have to suck it up a bit, but our goal is to negotiate for the best of bad options.

Anonymous said...

While it may be too much to hope that this could be our finest hour, I'm less sure that encouraging acts of rebellion is a move in the right direction.

I'm in the UC and share the visceral response to the 8% whatever. I mean, ouch. But rebellion to what? Less pay for more work? Sure, I agree the opposite is better but as a couple of comments point out, being paid less is not a distinction in this economy.

With so many smart informed folks available, better yet would be some constructive thinking about what to do instead, or ideas for superior yet realistic forms of distributing the hurt.

For example, the UC proposal enforces equal salary sacrifice, even among those not at fiscal risk or with realistically reducible work loads. That attempt to rope us together during dire straits, shoulder to shoulder, hasn't gone over so well with those not paid by the general fund.

I kind of like it though, since it underscores our collective stake in this disaster movie. But maybe the majority preference is to leave a sign on the door saying the dr. is out, whether it helps or not.

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