Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We interrupt this series to talk about furlough

I was planning on writing the last contraception series post today. Instead I need to talk about furlough days. What I write below is my opinion (KBHC) and my opinion only, and is not necessarily shared by members of my laboratory, department or university.

The University of Illinois has just announced an Interim Furlough Policy. An email from President White states:

Reflecting the interim policy, the Notifications of Appointment (NOAs)
that will be issued effective August 16, 2009 (new and renewal), and all
NOAs issued after that date, will include a provision allowing for unpaid
furlough days for faculty and academic professionals. The revised NOA form
will also include language shortening the appointment period for grants
and contracts-funded positions in the event of a loss of such funds.

In line with our commitment to shared governance, we will consult with
representatives of faculty and academic professionals should the need to
declare furlough days arise. We will also confer with them as we consider
making permanent the interim policy.

We reiterate that we are not, at this time, declaring furlough days for
fiscal 2010. We hope that they, and other actions to reduce personnel
costs, will not be needed. But we must be prepared.

I will make a hasty attempt at a reasoned response: many other academics have already made this point well, but it bears repeating: furlough days will not, in the end, save money, and they will only harm the educational goals of the university.** The amount of planning, infrastructure, and coordination to implement furlough days will cost money, as will working against those of us who disagree with their implementation. Further, furlough days for academic professionals manipulates a workforce that tends not to have a defined set of hours, and wears many hats over the course of a day. For instance, I have heard of furloughs at other universities where academic professionals are asked to take their furloughs on non-teaching days. However, during the semester there is no such thing -- there are emails, office hours, and course prep to account for even on days when one is not directly teaching a course. Administrators are counting on us to do the work anyway on those days to prep for class; they are counting on us to work for free.

What is most disturbing about the email we received and this interim policy, is that we have been told that the new governor "likes" us and that the recisions we had been facing were not to be. The Illinois administration is using this time of recession as a chance to jam some questionable policies through, because they think we are more likely to lay down for it. I find it interesting that Illinois would make this announcement right after the UC system, one of the most impressive public university systems in the country, got bled dry by the state of California. An interim furlough policy sounds so tame next to what happened to them, yes? I think the students, faculty and staff at Illinois are too smart for that game. I do not think, given the Clout List and online ed scandals that are already on White's plate, that this is the time to try to sneak in a policy that could become permanent.

However, I foresee several wonderful things coming out of this: an increased campus presence and membership in the local AAUP chapter and Campus Faculty Association*, budding relationships between existing campus unions and the CFA and AAUP, and students, faculty and staff on this campus building a stronger sense of self. This is an excellent campus with truly innovative, creative, caring and brilliant workers and students. Coming together to stop furlough days could be the beginning of a more aware campus body that values itself highly like it deserves. I'm tired of hearing the "but we live in a corn field" trope. This is the best campus I've ever worked at, with the best colleagues. It's time for us to realize our value, amplify our voices by organizing together, and stand against injustice, starting with furlough.

*Here is how to join these two organizations. For the AAUP, call the IL Chapter at (618) 235-2700 x4199 or just go here. To join the Campus Faculty Association, you can contact me and I'll get you a card, or download the pdf card by clicking on "join now" on the front page of their website. If you get the card from me I can just send it for you, or send it by campus mail to this address:
Campus Faculty Association
1001 S. Wright Street
Suite 14, MC-390
Champaign, IL 61820

**According to this story on WICD each furlough day would only save $3 million. We would need 100 furlough days to account for the mess that was Global Campus!

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