Monday, February 07, 2011

Now What?

We've gotten bad news from the powers that be this past week.

According to all sorts of reports from and to those very powers, the faculty of the state institutions are underpaid relative to faculty in our peer institutions in neighboring states, and when I say underpaid, we're talking 10-20%.

The redeeming thing is that we've had pretty decent benefits, including a pension plan and health insurance. The state has put aside some 5% of my pay (but not taken out of my pay) for the pension; it didn't have to, but it did. I pay less than $100 each month for my part of the health insurance, and the state pays something like $650.

So now, it looks like the benefit part is gone from the pension, and that 5% will be taken out of our pay. So that's an effective 5% paycut.

And it also looks like we're going to be asked to pay for most of our health insurance, which is also works out to a significant paycut.

Between those and the furloughs, which we're supposed to expect to continue indefinitely, we're looking at basically ~10% paycuts.

Now, of course, if you're one of those who's unemployed, you're probably thinking that a 10% paycut would be a privilege, as opposed to unemployment. But most people, even in this sucky economy, aren't unemployed. And I'm willing to bet that most employed folks have seen a pay raise in the past 6 years. (We haven't gotten even COLA adjustments.)

So what's the ethical response? Yeah, I mean our brand new campus (not state-wide) union will probably make some noise, but are we willing to go out on strike? Would the whole faculty of the state be willing to go out on strike (not just our one or two unionized campuses)?

How many people who are barely holding on in terms of mortgages and such will lose that grasp?

We know academics in many fields are pretty desperate in terms of jobs, but our first choice candidates often have more than one offer: do you think ours will be less competitive now? (One of our departmental candidates turned us down already this year because we couldn't compete. That was before this particular round of bad news.)

In communities such as ours, a fair portion of the population works for the state, either the university, the resources departments, or the state offices of legal stuff. How much of an impact will a 10% reduction in incomes to this population have on local businesses?

Again, what's the appropriate ethical response? I'm not going to refuse to go out to dinner with the job candidate this week, because punishing him/her for something out of his/her control makes no sense, nor does being less able to contribute to the hiring decision make any sense.

I'm not going to grade 10% less carefully, or teach 10% less. I'm not going to be 10% more cranky at students, or do 10% less in other aspects of my job.

I might start looking for another job, but not until I come back from my study abroad next fall, because I'm not willing to shoot myself in that particular foot and miss that opportunity.

But I am 10% more frustrated at the people of this state who voted in this administration. As a reader of Roxie's World, I'm familiar with the idea of "Excellence without Money." I'm guessing the people of this state think they can have good enough schools, roads, and such without money, too. I hope they really aren't honestly thinking they're going to get "excellence" without paying for it, though.


  1. richard11:05 AM

    You left out the 8-10% departmental cuts we are facing as well. My unit is almost entirely funded by the federal government--with the exception of a little supplies-and-expense line, the only real state money is half of my salary. Between furloughs and all, I'm already down 8% in gross salary from 2 years ago; this will make it closer to 15%.

    Meanwhile, the new Governor spends more than that every month carting his entire family around in a rented SUV rather than use a fleet vehicle.

  2. This is sad. Kind of makes me relieved that the UW school I applied to passed me up for an interview though. :(

  3. Ah, Bardiac, so very sorry to see that the gospel of "Excellence Without Money" has found its way to your neck of the woods. I appreciate your concern for finding an ethical way to respond -- though I worry that such concerns mean we will continue to take on more and more work for less and less money. At some point, I think we will have to take some tough stands and say, "No, I will not do this." Are strikes the answer? Not sure, but I'm not sure grinning and bearing it is the answer either.

  4. My sympathies. I sigh with frustration every time I think about how one would actually impress this point on voting publics who think that everything good comes from independence and hard work, and that things like infrastructure, good governance, and higher education just sort of happen, and why should we give them even more money when we have to work all day, yadda yadda.

    Enjoy your study abroad, and then dust off your CV. Don't take that crap lying down.

  5. Anonymous8:14 AM

    Hey, I'll take the job. Hire me! I teach 7 classes a semester. Your gig has got to be easier than that, and for some form of health insurance, I'd take the lower pay rate.

  6. my state is in a really crappy mess, too, and it seems like the budget problems always get taken out on students and government employees. like they're the high-rollers who caused the mess; like there is a lot more to take out of their hides.

    i absolutely believe in funding education; it is a public good, helping us collectively, and i don't trust the trend toward treating colleges and universities as purely business operations.

  7. Oh dear, I'm sorry, Bardiac. I thought from the beginning of your post, in which the powers that be said that you all were underpaid relative to other states, that there might be some positive news in the offing, since powers that be usually don't acknowledge such dismal facts unless they're prepared to do something about it, but I guess that's not the case here. Sorry to hear about the further pay cut.