Friday, July 29, 2011

The Truth about Faculty Compensation

I've now found the latest IBHE report on faculty and civil service compensation at Illinois universities that President Poshard apparently was talking about on the radio on Monday.

Executive summary: Despite real gains in the last contract, we are still behind our peers, especially when our lousy pensions are taken into account. In FY 2010, total compensation (salary plus benefits) for faculty was only 93.6% percent of our peers. The average SIUC faculty member received $6000 less in compensation than he or she would have received at a peer institution. The 2% pay cut last year put us still further behind.

I'm going to try to get to my day job today, so won't devote this entire afternoon to digesting it for you, but I'll flag a few numbers after the break. Plus, there's a graph, of course.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Morris library in the Chronicle

SIUC was in the Chronicle last week.  The story was about cuts made by the library, but emphasized the smart way SIUC librarians were trying to save money, by getting out of costly "Big Deal" subscriptions plans pushed by academic publishers.  I don't have anything to add to the story--which focusses mainly on obscenely expensive journals in the sciences and engineering (ok, "obscene" was the humanist in me).  But flagging it gives me a good opportunity to call attention to another blog at SIUC.

The story was brought to my attention when yet another good posting over at Unions United led me back to a nice blog run by SIUC's own Julie Arendt, Science and Engineering Reference Librarian at Morris:  Science Librarian Notes.  Recent posts include a comment on the Chronicle story, some background on the decision to open Morris late at night, and top secret pictures of what's to be found on the unfinished floors in Morris.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Strike Watch #1"

Most readers will have received the "Strike Watch" email from Randy Hughes already, but I'll paste it below the break for any who haven't, and this post will provide a forum for any who wish to comment on it.

The FA's basic argument, as I see it, is that the administration is refusing to work toward reaching an agreement on a number of issues the FA deems essential. Even the FA doens't expect the administration to agree with most of the FA's proposals on such issues: but it can and should expect and even demand that the administration reach some agreement on crucial points.

To some extent, to be sure, this sort of disagreement is to be expected: the administration will almost always want fewer matters addressed in a contract, the FA more. And there will be some issues where reasonable people could disagree about whether the "flexibility" lost by contractualizing something outweighs the gain in transparency and equity. But among the FA's issues are some pretty essential matters, including workload, tenure, and the administration's claim to the power to unilaterally cut salaries (via furloughs). A contract that fails to address these issues isn't a contract at all, so if the administration continues to refuse to engage in substantive bargaining about them (other than by saying that it retains the sole power to declare furloughs, to layoff faculty, etc.), the FA can't agree to it.

That's why there is a "strike watch", a neat phrase which may in fact be putting things a bit too conservatively. Unless the administration backs down from some of its major impositions in the "last, best, and final" terms imposed on us last spring, there will be a strike. The unions are making plans for a strike. I've seen a calendar with "first strike date"on it. A vote would have to authorize a strike, but I don't think there's any doubt that union members would back a strike if the administration fails to compromise--and only members can vote. If the administration thinks this is a bluff, they need to reconsider.

The Chancellor's Convocation

[My original post didn't properly post the invitation.  The invite should now be embedded.  For a very partial reconsideration of my original outrage, see the comment stream. Dave]  

Believe it or not, I was planning on going. I have a robe which I spent good money on, and so I try to wear it whenever I can. I rather like ceremonies. And I think our students get a kick out of such things; certainly their joy at graduation, which I make a point of attending whenever I can, is moving. Then I saw the invitation.

Invitation 0711

The excess word "Chancellor's" in the middle of the invitation, appended to the proper title for this event, "New Student Convocation", tells you everything you need to know about this place. Note also how Chancellor Rita Cheng is singled out in the nice white font. We are invited not to welcome students to SIUC but "to join her" at her new student convocation. I'd be there for a New Student Convocation for our students. But I'll be damned if I show up for a ceremony that seems designed most of all to put another bullet point on the c.v. of Chancellor Rita Cheng (• Established New Student Convocation). Maybe Chancellor Rita Cheng didn't approve the invitation herself. But whoever did it knew well how to ensure that Chancellor Rita Cheng was the center of attention. Welcome to the administrative university.

To tell the Chancellor whether you'll attend her convocation, click here.

On Public Sector Salaries

I woke this morning to another union-busting editorial in the Southern. It seemed rather more clever than the last one, at least as I read it half-awake, as I prefer to read the Southern.  It's passive-aggressive: we poor taxpayers deserve compassion from the overpaid public employees waving high quality signs and making radical demands, including that the governor keep his word. That is, public sector employees and their unions should shut the hell up and take their lumps, contracts be damned.

The story is based on a study by a right wing think tank, the Illinois Policy Institute, whose "Academic Advisors" include our own Jonathan Bean. (Jon, I bet you're reading this: I'd be interested to hear your take on the study under question.)  I am not an economist, but that report strikes me as very shoddy indeed.

Its fundamental finding is that the average state and local government worker in Illinois makes more money than the average worker in the private sector. This factoid tells us absolutely nothing important, for it fails to consider the job mix in the private and public sectors. If more private sector jobs are low-skill tasks, we would expect private sector jobs to pay less. The report recognizes this problem, but despite a misleadingly named "comparable job analysis" it fails to account for it in any way whatsoever.  That so-called "comparable job analysis" is simply a study of trends in compensation over time. But trends in compensation will also depend, for better or worse, on the skill level: salaries at McDonald's may not have not gone up as fast as salaries for professionals.

To compensate for its failure to compare apples to apples, as my trignometry teacher used to warn us to do, the study argues that public sector employees must be overpaid because there is less turnover in the public sector. That is, they don't quit their government jobs because they're overpaid. This is a lousy argument. Rather, public sector employees are willing to be underpaid, in relative terms, because they enjoy more job security. There's less turnover because public sector employees are harder to fire--which in turn makes them less likely to leave their jobs.

More on university salaries and on a competing analysis of public sector salaries after the break. Plus, there's a graph . . .

Saluki Way Plows Forward

The DE has a solid story on the construction currently underway on campus to ready the way for the new $32 million student services building.  This all to further Saluki Way, whose goal, as the story puts it (no doubt quoting official language) is to "establish a new campus core at the university": parking, an administrative building, and sports, sports, sports.  
Debbie O’Neill, a graduate student in speech communication and women studies from Washington, said she doesn’t understand why over $1 million is spent on parking lots when the university’s academics are suffering from the budget crisis.
“I’m adamantly against spending that kind of money,” she said. “They’re going to spend $1 million on parking? That’s ludicrous. They need to put that money back into education.”
Before parking lots 10A and 10B were redesigned, O’Neill said there were two rows of trees within the lots, which are now gone.
“(The university) took out the trees that gave shade to people in cars and made the university look nicer,” she said. “There was no need … there wasn’t even a need to resurface that lot. It wasn’t pockmarked and torn up. That was a waste of money and a waste of time. It was an absolute waste of everything.”

Monday, July 25, 2011

Poshard on Faculty Salaries

A second post on Poshard's morning conversation today.  When pushed a bit about funding on new recruitment and retention schemes--"enrollment management" (as if we are in the business of managing students), marketing, Saluki First Year--and on whether funds spent on such things should rather go to support faculty and staff (i.e., faculty and staff directly engaged in our core mission of education and research), Poshard sounded another theme: faculty salaries went up a lot in the last contract, and something has to give this time around.  Poshard's argument boils down to this: we're paying you almost as much as you deserve, so we should be able to cut your pay or lay you off whenever we want to

Poshard threw around various figures from what he said was the 2010 IBHE report on faculty salaries. He said that when he took over as President, one of the goals given to him by the BOT was to bring up faculty salaries to par, and he said this had been done.  Has it?

Poshard on the budget and the value of higher ed

I caught Glen Poshard's "Morning Conversation" with Jennifer Fuller of WSIU radio this morning.  Poshard sounded weary and rather depressed, and his main theme was the lousy state budgetary situation. The Illinois state budget is of course depressing, but Poshard's read on this continues to be rather more grim than present circumstances would seem to dictate--and indeed is rather bleaker than the view presented by Chancellor Cheng--which was itself a reflection of Poshard's initial relief that we fared as well as we did.  Poshard noted that the state is even farther behind on FY 2011 payments (which were supposed to be complete by June) than it was last year, but his deeper gloom was tied to the overall state budget picture, which remains dire despite last year's tax increase. This leads him to fear a rescission which would add to the 1.1% cut in state funding we have already received.

Poshard's depressing view of things makes sense from two perspectives. My guess, for what it is worth, is that it accurately reflects his state of mind. Certainly his tone was that of the long suffering public servant, an attitude familiar to Poshard watchers. But of course his view also makes sense as an aid to bargaining with campus unions. Playing up the state's budgetary woes helps the administration demand concessions at the bargaining table.