Saturday, April 30, 2016

A view from CSU to SIU

I learned from the Facebook feed from the EIU faculty union of CSU Faculty Voice, a faculty blog for CSU. The blog features a post giving  an insider's point of view on the recent mass layoffs--and how poorly they were handled by the administration there.

It's not happy reading. The administration basically has a  "don't call us, we'll call you" policy--for current staff. If you don't get a recall notice, the implicit message is that you're not needed, at least for now. Or maybe your notice will come Sunday. Or maybe later. So no one getting laid off is receiving the fundamental courtesy of being informed of their status. The lucky survivors are recalled, bit by bit, to report to work.

Twenty years ago I was an inside candidate on a tenure track search on another campus. I didn't get the job (and perhaps shouldn't have). But I still remember and resent the fact that my boss (who had earlier told me, irresponsibly and falsely, that the job was "mine to lose") didn't have the moral courage to tell me this herself.  Instead I got a mysterious summons to the college presidents' office. One remembers such things. Even if CSU recalls more staff, it has damaged its relationship with them forever.

More details on troubles at CSU, with my traditional effort to draw local lessons, after the break.

The CSU administrators clearly don't know what they're doing, so one thing they are doing is making everything worse by leaving 100% of the non-instructional staff hanging out to dry as the administration figures out who will stay and who will go. And CSU's troubled past leads faculty and staff with absolutely no confidence that the administration will make the right decisions. One university employer won a large lawsuit claiming he'd been fired for being a whistleblower. Another scandal there was the administration's effort to silence the blog I linked to above. The blog controversy helped force the former CSU president, Wayne Watson, to resign. Maybe the new president is better—I don't know—but the lingering absence of confidence is clearly something CSU cannot afford.

To be clear, this level of administrative malfeasance isn't an excuse for failing to fund CSU, as the CSU Faculty Voice blog makes very clear. High administrators are political appointees--i.e. they are appointed by trustees, who are often political hacks and are certainly appointed by the governor. So legislators and the governor have no right to shut down CSU because state-appointed leaders have run it so poorly. The recent stop-gap bill did give CSU more money, proportionately, than other state universities. But CSU still suffered a 40% cut in its operating budget, and is getting the remaining 60% at least 10 months late. Given their reliance on public funding, it's no surprise the place is still on the brink—but it was not necessary that administrative incompetence compound the problem.

Such stories are important for us at SIU because they show how local decisions and local histories can impact how universities fare in a statewide crisis. We find models to emulate and to avoid. To my mind, the successful agreements between administration and unions at WIU and EIU look like positive models. CSU—like John A. Logan College here in Southern Illinois—has an abysmal record of administrative corruption and incompetence. SIUC is of course no shining example in the administrative regard, though our current administration is clearly far, far better than the last one was.

But history matters. For example, it is surely in part due to the Cheng administration that the talk on campus is all of layoffs and not of furloughs, given Cheng's illegal imposition of furloughs. And some of the angry comments I heard at the "listening session" were based on asinine decisions made under Cheng and before her: in addition to the lousy strategic plan I noted in my post, students noted lavish spending on bricks and mortar for the Student Services Building over investment in people or a dorm that housed many minority students. 

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