Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tuition waivers under attack

Tuition waivers for university employees are again under attack. Currently university employees get a 50% tuition waiver at other Illinois public universities. For some coverage, check out this article in the Chronicle, and an opinion piece in the Springfield Journal-Register (the latter just flagged by the Chancellor in an email to show us President Poshard at work opposing the bill).  The relevant bill, HB 5531, has now passed out of committee. Contrary to some comments in the press, which implied that the bill was aimed at high-paid employees, the bill would immediately eliminate the tuition waiver for any university employee.  This may however be a ploy to prepare for a compromise in which only lower-paid employees would continue to receive the benefit, or perhaps (though this is just my speculation), a compromise eliminating the benefit only for new hires.  The bill is opposed by educational unions (including the IEA), as you might expect. Here's a helpful link from the Northeastern Illinois University Chapter of University Professionals (AFT) outlining ways to lobby elected officials against this bill (though it predates the committee vote).

As a parent of a child who could one day benefit from this provision, I'm naturally rather opposed to this measure. But it has always seemed reasonable enough to me for university employees, who are generally less well compensated than those in the private sector, and who are, or at least ought to be, particularly devoted to education, to receive some such waiver. You make less money than you would in another profession, but you can afford to send your kids to school--that at least used to be part of the basic socio-economic contract for university staff. Eliminating this waiver would thus break a promise made when staff took their jobs here. A "compromise" measure that limited the waiver to low-paid employees would probably remove the waiver from most faculty, I'd wager. And the savings would be rather slight. While exempting new hires would avoid the more obvious issues of fairness, it would hardly help us attract good people to the university, and exacerbate the increasingly two-tier system of employment, in which younger faculty receive worse benefits than older ones simply because they were hired more recently. So, yeah, I hope President Poshard, the IEA, and everyone else on the right side of this issue manage to defeat this short-sighted effort.

Monday, March 5, 2012

NEA Higher Ed Conference

I spent last Friday and Saturday at the NEA's Higher Education Conference in Chicago and thought I'd post a report here while it was still fresh in my memory.

I suppose blog readers curious and/or critical about the NEA (I remain curious, being a relative newcomer) may first want to hear some general characterization of the attendees and tone of the conference. Compared to the academic conferences I usually attend (in classics and, strangely enough, political science), one striking feature was the range of institutions and hence range of faculty represented: not only research faculty, but community college faculty and faculty from four year schools without major research missions were naturally to be found, as were many non-tenure track faculty. Less tweed, more egalitarian. The sessions I attended were well attended and well presented, though it struck me as a bit odd that many presentations rehashed articles published in the most recent NEA Almanac of Higher Ed (here's a link the the NEA's site for this publication, though the most recent volume there is from last year). Questions and comments from the floor ran a gamut--as they do at academic conferences--from insightful to self-absorbed. In the last comment at the conference, for example, a faculty member made the excellent point that the Obama administration's plans for higher ed didn't seem to call for much in the way of faculty input, while going on and on about her own personal expertise, experiences, and credentials in a way destined to lessen anyone's interest in getting such input.