Monday, February 22, 2010
posted under 15 Ways , budget crisis , furloughs , University of Illinois , Valente , voluntary pay cut by Unit for Criticism
[The next in our "15 Ways" series on the condition of higher education offers a reflection on the choice between furloughs and voluntary pay reductions.]
Written by Joseph Valente (English)
On January 20, our Interim Chancellor, Robert Easter, sent us all a message: “we are pleased to be able to offer... to our faculty and academic professionals... a voluntary and temporary salary reduction in lieu of a furlough if they so wish.”
That’s right, they were “pleased to offer” us hell or high water as a consumer choice. Those who acted quickly, signing up by February 8, were offered the “choice” to bypass the mess, hassle and indignity of being furloughed by simply submitting to the no-fuss option of voluntary servitude! Who could refuse a deal like that? And aren’t we all grateful for an administration benevolent enough to permit us such license?
Seriously, given the overeducated, hyper-credentialed audience he was addressing, you might think Bob Easter would be especially careful about adding gross insult to our collective intelligence to the unwarranted injury done our pocketbook. But perhaps that collective intelligence itself is overrated. According to Interim Vice-Provost Richard Wheeler's remarks in the Champaign News Gazette (1/21/10), people were approaching him with the entreaty, “We’re willing to give up the pay [as if they had a choice] because that’s necessary, but please don’t make us stop working.”
Now setting aside the nauseatingly craven identification it expresses with a currently abusive institution, this sentiment is just plain wrong on a number of different levels.
And so even though the Illinois readers of this blog will have already made their choice between hell and high water, I will trouble these readers to hear me out on why furloughs—much though I hate them—are a superior option to “voluntary” pay cuts.
1. The first problem with the sentiment described in the News Gazette is that it assumes the necessity of the pay cuts in the present financial crisis. But the amount saved by docking our pay amounts to less than 4 percent of the money the state legislature is illegally withholding from the university budget. Accordingly, the furloughs are unavailing in themselves and the savings they produce could be greatly exceeded by a combination of other measures, including a moratorium on all building projects and a corresponding abrogation of current contracts for developers, a moratorium on social and professional receptions, meals and other entertainments, a slashing of the athletic budget, especially for the many sports that do not pay for themselves, a temporary increase of student fees and tuition, a significant hike in parking fees and a restriction of all administrative supplements to the period of actual administrative service. If the state truly lacks the wherewithal to meet its legal obligations, it might consider lifting sales taxes, income taxes, user fees for highways, state parks, etc. In sum, the furloughs are not necessary, they are elective, a target of state and administrative opportunity made all the juicier by the soft-headed attitude of those employees eager, by Wheeler’s account, to work for nothing.
2. The sentiment assumes that voluntary servitude is a boon to the university (Easter claimed it indicated great devotion). But as Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Joyce Tolliver has observed (Champaign News-Gazette, 1/21/10), the damage to our educational mission wrought by all such draconian reductions to the budget are real, inescapable and long-lasting. All a voluntary pay cut accomplishes is to conceal the damage, so far as possible, from the eyes of the legislators who have inflicted the damage by withholding the monies owed the university on an ongoing basis. Such concealment can only make it all the more likely that they will continue to inflict the damage, by the same means, and in ever greater magnitude.
Moreover acceding to the notion of the “voluntary” pay cut also helps to dissimulate the entirely coercive nature of the injury done to the employees themselves. You get “cut” either way. Instead of making visible the malfeasance of the state government and the profound gutlessness of the university administration in confronting it, submission to voluntary servitude makes clear just how little professional self-respect the gratefully self-indentured possess. If one holds oneself and one’s office in so little esteem as to suffer willingly the outright theft of one’s proper remuneration by one’s employer, why in the world should one’s students appraise rightly or take seriously the worth of our joint enterprise? Certain Unit Heads have exhorted the faculty to “maintain the integrity of the classroom” by not cancelling sessions, but should you embrace being treated like an amateur, or worse a chump, as these officers recommend, you will only succeed in showing your classroom that you hold your own professional integrity very cheap indeed.
3. The sentiment assumes the pay cuts and furloughs are temporary, a one-off in the continuing devaluation of higher education in the state of Illinois. In papering over the effects of the legislators’ intellectual vandalism, those submitting to peonage only encourage the administration to institute more furloughs in future, “pleased,” as they will undoubtedly be, “to offer a voluntary and temporary pay cut” as an alternative. Those voluntary martyrs to state mismanagement are, in other words, encouraging Springfield to subject their colleagues, all of us, to further salary reductions, further hardship, next year, at which point the same acquiescence in the “voluntary pay cut” option will help to ease the crafting of a permanent furlough policy (I note that the University of Maryland is facing the possibility of a third year of furloughs). With this in mind, the sentiment recently expressed by Professor Burbules that University employees have the right to decide for themselves on either option (News Gazette 1/21/10), without being harassed, is entirely wrongheaded. While faculty have the legal right to choose either course, obviously, I have the moral right, and I am right, to denounce their choice thusly: in making it easier for the powers that be to continue the practice of pilfering our pay and corroding our work conditions, anyone who elects the voluntary pay cut is acting as the moral equivalent of a scab.
4. The sentiment assumes the virtue of being a “good citizen” is somehow divorced from the nature of the state being served. If you regularly profess the necessity of opposing unjust power and practice, why would you erase the lesson by complying with and endorsing, in full view of your students, this patent injustice. If you teach students to speak truth to power, why would you obviate that lesson by cooperating in the lies of the furlough system? Avoid the performative contradiction of rationalizing by your “voluntary” appearance in the classroom the sort of mendacity you speak of resisting in the classroom.
For all the reasons I have given, the way to take your furlough in the best interest of the university, the students who would emulate you, political principle, your families, and your own professional dignity is to foreground the damage and disruption furloughs can cause in the hope of preventing their future occurrence.
So don’t just take your furlough days. Take them on the days you teach. Mark your syllabi “Class Furloughed,” not just to give fair notice for the cancellation, but to underline the reason. Let your students, their parents, and the taxpayers at large know this: the Chancellor may be “pleased” to sell us a bill of goods—a variety of means for surrendering our salaries and our professional dignity, but we are not “buying it,” and they should not be either.
And if you've already opted for the pay reduction, it's not too late for you to "volunteer" to teach your students the meaning of substantive choice--by letting them know why you are "volunteering" to cancel your classes four times this semester.