Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Doing the Math

The meeting today was surprisingly pleasant, considering the bad news. It was more of a "the state informed us to inform you folks" meeting than a "what do you want to do?" meeting. And the administrators seem every bit as beaten down by the economic news as anyone else.

I was sort of surprised by the turnout. There were 13 of us in the room, from the headmaster, a couple assistant and associate submasters, some human resources and legal folks, and the faculty from the committee. I think one faculty member was missing of the committee members, and I don't think any of the faculty folk are on contract now, so we were there on our own time.

Part of the meeting was to talk about how many different sorts of employees we are on campus, and what groupings such as classified and unclassified, exempt, non-exempt, and so forth mean in terms of the legalities of labor law. It's messy, and the legal eagle and the human resources folks are putting in a load of extra time these days trying to figure out how to work things out.

For teaching folks, furlough days are supposed to be taken on days that don't impact instruction. For our adjuncts, who are teaching 15 credits, teaching 5 days a week, how does that happen?

And for me, okay, say I have a Thursday non-teaching day, no scheduled classes. So legally, I'm supposed to take a furlough that day and NOT work. The state is very specific about this. You aren't supposed to work, or at least you're supposed to sign a piece of paper saying you aren't working, on the furlough day, because otherwise the state is worried that someone will sue.

So on Friday, do I just walk into my classes, face down 30 or more students and say, "I'm sorry but I didn't prep today"? Really? Do you think that's going to happen? Do you think any teacher is going to not prep or grade or whatever needs to be done because it's a "furlough" and s/he isn't being paid?

You know how I mentioned that all but one of the faculty members was there today, on our own time, NOT on contract? That's how being a faculty member works for most of us. We work pretty darned hard because that's been our habit; that's how we got our PhDs, our jobs, and (if we're in the right place at the right time and all), tenure. We mostly respect what we do and try to do good work; we mostly respect our students and colleagues and try to work well.

A DMV worker who stands in front of the public to do his/her isn't going to work from home on furlough, but teaching folks will prep and grade and so forth.

The headmaster wanted our responses, and I said that I want the university to keep track of all the extra time people are spending on trying to figure out how to make the furlough thing work, and see how much that costs us, and let the state know.

There were 13 of us there, all for an hour, and let's pretend several people had spent an hour prepping (the legal eagle had, the headmaster, and the human resources head). So 16 hours. That's two furlough days worth of work. But the state wasn't paying some of us! So does that mean we owe the state for letting us come to a meeting over the summer without being paid?

I bet that the costs to the state of figuring out all the legal mess of furloughs for all employees cuts pretty deeply into the "savings" from the required furloughs. And the hurt of the paycut for some state employees is going to be deep.

I'm not badly off in any sense of the word, but the sample math I saw today made me really realize that the money off the top of my paycheck is going to be noticable.


  1. We had a somewhat similar meeting yesterday with our top brass. The system is trying to figure out how to cut payroll by c. 8%. And as far as I can see, the question is, is it furloughs, or a straight pay cut. Since the principle -- for us as you -- is that faculty take furlough days on the days we don't "teach", it seems irrelevant. (It makes a HUGE difference for staff though, some of whom may be trying to get antoehr PT job etc.) Part of my problem with this is it reinforces the notion that we only work when we are teaching.

    One of the questions from our meeting was, essentially, SHOULDN'T the public see/feel the impact? I'd be inclined once a semester at least to delay returning paper because of "furlough" days, though I wouldn't dare turn up unprepared for class!

  2. Holy crap. They're actually doing this? Arkansas used to threaten us with this from time to time, but it never actually happened.

    Won't this fuck with your accredidation? You loose X number of teaching days/hours per semester this way, won't that be an issue?

  3. If you can't take a furlough day on an instruction day, the state really is saying that teaching days are the only days that you work, regardless of the papers you have to sign.

    Furloughs are preferable to pay cuts, because they're supposed to be reversible, but the cynic in me says that once the crisis is over, some way will be found to keep a "reduced" schedule (furlough schedule), since because of our work ethic, there won't be an appreciable difference in the amount of work that gets done (because we'll work on those days anyway).

    If they do this at our school, I'd like to see in writing a set of reduced expectations for publication and teaching that go along with the furlough. It'll never happen, but I would like to see it.

  4. richard11:49 AM

    Furloughs make no sense for salaried personnel, in so many ways. But they really make no sense for specific classes. For example, people on federally funded projects (furloughs don't save the state a penny, and violate the terms of the grant, which may be a felony), non-citizens on H1-B visas (furloughs may force the person to violate federal immigration law, which may be a felony). I could go on, but why bother? The politicians don't care about making sense. They only care about looking like they're saving money without raising taxes.