In case you hadn’t heard, the State of California is broke. (Actually, probably worse than broke. This is one of those times where we find ourselves glad that our state does not have kneecaps.) As a consequence of this, the California State University system (one of whose 23 campuses is my own fair university) is now dealing with a $585 million reduction in funding. (At my own fair university, the cut is about $40 million.)
None of the options for addressing the budget cuts are wonderful. They have included yet another round of student fee increases and layoffs of significant numbers of lecturers (although they aren’t being counted as layoffs because the lecturers were classified as “temporary” workers, this despite the fact that many of them have been teaching here for a decade or two). And, this academic year, they also include furloughs for the remaining faculty and staff.
A furlough is a period of time for which the employee is not paid, and on which the employee performs no work. Thus, an immediate consequence of a furlough is less pay (for CSU faculty in my bargaining unit, 9.23% less pay for the academic year). However, a furlough is distinct from a salary reduction — it does not effect our health benefits, retirement benefits, and the like, and, at present, the reductions in pay cover only the year from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. Despite getting less pay during this period, the furlough doesn’t reduce anyone’s base salary. As well, the assumption is that our taking these furlough days (for faculty in my bargaining unit, nine days per semester, 18 for the academic year) saves enough money overall to save some jobs.
We’re shouldering our share of the pain. But, we’re not shouldering an inordinate share of the pain by working on those unpaid furlough days. If the State of California cannot pay for a full academic year of teaching, research, and service activities from us, the State of California will not receive a full academic year of teaching, research, and service activities from us. This is what sharing the pain is about.
In discussing the general issue of faculty and staff furloughs before, I noted the tendency to assume that academics will figure out a way to do the same amount of work (or more) with fewer resources. This is just the kind of assumption that can lead administrators to regard furloughs as a de facto salary cut that needn’t do much to disrupt the operation of a university. Academics unwittingly feed this kind of thinking by prioritizing the needs of others, like our students, over our own needs. But working for free just isn’t sustainable, especially when faculty workload has consistently ratcheted upward and hard-won increases in compensation have never been in proportion to the increased workload.
When the budget is broken, being honest about what kind of faculty workload is sustainable is essential to fixing it.
And here, we’re actually in a reasonably good position because our furloughs are the result of an explicit agreement between the CSU administration and the California Faculty Association. This means that there are clear parameters, accepted by both sides, for how we are to honor our furlough days. Especially helpful is the Furlough FAQ which the CFA has compiled. Among other things, this FAQ emphasizes that furlough days are not workdays with no pay:
6. Can I work on a furlough day?
No. Prior to starting your assignment for any term between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, you will have to certify in writing that you will not work on furlough days and that you will not work beyond the duties assigned for weeks with one or more furlough days.
7. Can I refuse to certify that I will not be working on furlough days? I will have to work on furlough days and do not want to lie.
No. Refusal to do so constitutes insubordination and may subject you to discipline. Instead, you should reduce (rather than just reshuffle) your workload so that you do not have to work on furlough days.
Although philosophers are insubordinate in various ways much of the time, until I perused this FAQ it hadn’t registered with me that a faculty member could be found to be officially insubordinate. In any case, we have all had to sign a piece of paper stating explicitly that we will not work on furlough days. We know it, the administration knows it, and the students should know it.
Maybe this means committees won’t be able to meet (or to achieve quorum — except for three all-campus furlough days each semester designated by the university president, faculty request their own furlough days, meaning that the faculty members on given committee may have furlough days that do not match up neatly).
Maybe this means the turn-around time for student work in need of feedback and grading will be longer.
Maybe this means that phone calls and email won’t be answered instantly.
The world will not end.
Undoubtedly, the furlough days may be more disruptive for faculty doing certain kinds of research, especially with experimental systems that need constant monitoring and tweaking. (The Scientist NewsBlog had a recent article about this very problem.) I suspect that this is part of why the furlough agreement lets faculty request six of our nine furlough days each semester, to let faculty avoid being on furlough during days when it is absolutely crucial for them to be in the lab or in the field. Also, the fact that faculty can take different days as furlough days means it may be possible to partner with a buddy with different furlough days to look in on experiments, supervise students who are keeping things going, and so forth. It will be a challenge, but other issues (maintenance closures, equipment breakdowns, illness, etc.) can make research challenging even in academic years without furloughs.
17. Can I take teaching days as furlough days?
Yes, subject only to the limitations below.
18. Can the administration impose a limitation on the number of teaching days that can be taken as furlough days?
No. The administration cannot impose an across-the-board limitation on the number of teaching days that can be taken as furlough days, let alone prohibit faculty from taking any teaching days other than campus closure days as furlough days. However, in individual cases, excessive scheduling of certain teaching days as furlough days may conflict with compelling operational needs. For example, if a faculty member teaches a class that meets only on Thursdays and wants to schedule every other Thursday as a furlough day, the resulting reduction of class meetings by half might conflict with compelling operational needs if the class cannot be taught effectively in half the meetings.
19. So who determines what are “compelling operational needs”?
In the first instance, “the appropriate administrators.” However, if it is clear that the administrator is using “compelling operational needs” as an excuse to unreasonably deny a desired furlough day to any faculty member — for example by claiming that “compelling operational needs” militate against the faculty member taking any teaching days as furlough days — then the faculty member can file a grievance ad let an arbitrator decide what constitutes “compelling operational needs.”
In the CSU system, teaching is a big part of what we do. Reducing our workload by 9.23% (i.e., in proportion with the reduction of our pay) can thus be expected to cut into our teaching (and into the instruction-related activities that take place out of the classroom).
This means students, too, will share the pain of the furloughs (while shouldering the pain of increased student fees and the reduced number of courses being offered due to the layoffs of lecturers). I’m not thrilled about piling more woe onto our students, but at the same time I think it would be a mistake to let them believe that their education does not require real resources and labor — especially because they are California taxpayers and voters. Understanding the realities on the ground may inform the educational priorities they express to their elected officials.
32. How can instructional faculty make sure that they receive a workload reduction that is commensurate to the pay reduction?
The furlough agreement explicitly states that ‘[t[he furloughs ... shall not result in an unreasonable workload or schedule within the meaning of Article 20.3." For instructional faculty, this means that to receive a workload reduction that is commensurate to the pay reduction, they must schedule some furlough days on teaching days. The Chancellor's Office has stated in a Press Release that '[u]nder the … furlough agreement, faculty members will work with individual campus administrators so that class schedules for students are minimally disrupted” and that “if a furlough day is taken on a day of instruction, alternative out-of-classroom assignments could be given to students.” It should be noted that these statements are NOT part of the side letter. As a result, if a campus administrator attempts to ensure that “class schedules for students are minimally disrupted” by limiting the number of teaching days that can be taken as furlough days, or if that administrator dies allow a faculty member to take teaching days as furlough days but orders him or her to give “alternative out-of-classroom assignments” to students, this may create an unreasonable workload or schedule that can be grieved.
Here, the FAQ reminds faculty that not working means not working. This is not always an easy concept for people who stay up until 2 AM grading papers, or work out pedagogical improvements in the shower, or brainstorm refinements to their research projects on their commute. However, avoiding mission creep is part of honoring the furlough day.
Of course, the worry is that really honoring the furlough day by setting work aside may come back to bite the faculty member in the butt. In particular:
35. I am a probationary (tenure-track) employee. Can I afford to take a workload reduction without hurting my chances of getting tenure?
The furloughs are not supposed to have an adverse effect on the eligibility for, and award of, tenure. To ensure that probationary employees can take a workload reduction without hurting their chances of getting tenure, the furlough agreement provides that, upon request, the probationary period of any probationary employee will be extended by one year from six to seven years. The probationary employee must make this request between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010, and if the employee has an active application for tenure, he or she must make the request before the first level of review has rendered a recommendation concerning that application. Note that this provision does not absolve the probationary employee from the obligation to submit performance review materials in a timely fashion.
My first thought, in reading this, was to wonder whether it would be more beneficial to take an extra year building the case for tenure, or to reduce the expectations on scholarly work, teaching, and service for the current academic year by 9.23% This might depend on whether bringing a particular piece of research to completion, getting manuscripts written, submitted, revised, and published, etc., requires more than 90% of the standard amount of time, effort, and luck. Plus, figuring out the rhythm of research, teaching, and service in an academic year with furlough days will itself require time and effort.
In any case, lowering the bar for AY09-10 by 9.23% is not an option on the table, so the question is moot.
I do hope this provision will insulate our probationary faculty from bearing more than their share of the pain. Burning out our recently acquired talent would be a bad thing, especially since these are the folks we hope will be carrying the university forward two or three decades down the road. And, I hope that department chairs will get on the case of their probationary faculty to ensure that they don’t work when they shouldn’t be working. Under normal circumstances one should not have to spend 100% of one’s waking hours working for tenure. In these decidedly abnormal circumstances, one should definitely protect at least 9.23% of one’s waking hours from the all-consuming tenure chase.