Saturday, March 26, 2016

Speaking up for public higher education

I'm slowly becoming aware of various groups which are actively speaking up about the budget crisis locally and statewide. This is heartening news. I've already posted links to these groups, but they deserve highlighting.

The GA United website has been quite active, as has the SIUC Faculty Association Facebook site. The Speak For Illinois group aims to unite local folks (including JALC and SIUC) to advocate for a state budget, with emphasis on higher education; they held a "Town Hall Meeting" today. I'll give a brief report on it in my next post.

Statewide, the Students, Staff, and Faculty of Illinois Higher Education (also Facebook) need a shorter name, but is quite active, with special emphasis on CSU and EIU.

Finally, the "I Need a Budget Because . . . " Facebook page posts great photos of SIU students giving their own stories. This is really moving stuff.

". . . because first generation college students deserve a chance."

Rauner comes to town

Governor's Rauner's visit to Murphysboro this week was covered in stories from the Southern Illinoisan, the Carbondale Times, and WSIU. The most relevant bit for higher ed from the story in the Southern is this:
In his Q&A session with students, Rauner said the state could use special-purpose funds to pay for higher education now -- if only Democrats in the General Assembly would agree to some savings measures. Democrats and Rauner’s critics have decried the governor’s unwillingness to compromise.
Rauner's budget calls for a 20% cut in state funding (after no funding next year); that's what he means by "funds to pay higher education". The "savings measures" currently advocated by the GOP include "procurement reform", basically a set of changes to streamline the process universities use to purchase things. That may be a good idea--but it is hardly going to save a tremendous deal of money. The "special purpose funds" are funds set aside for, uh, a special purpose. Say, you pay for a hunting license and expect that money to go to the Department of Natural Resources. Instead Rauner suggests we use it to pay for English Composition--and expect state lands in Illinois to take care of themselves. No wonder that an expert cited in the Chicago Tribune (not exactly a progressive source) characterized sweeps as "misleading, at best, and downright deceptive". Re-routing those funds is hardly a case for good government. And sweeping such accounts isn't a steady source of income for anything.
Some malcontents were not happy to see our Governor.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Squeeze the beast

A brief story from Capitol Fax on the governor's "solution" to the higher education crisis. Rich Miller's link back there via the lovely phrase squeeze the beast gives further help on what passes for a positive agenda for public universities among the state GOP leadership. It's basically the same garbage I tried to refute in this post about the Illinois Policy Institute report excerpted in the DE the other day.

One little point here for my friend Tony Williams, who may be the only one reading this in any event: calls to cut administrative costs may be justified in their own terms but also play into the hands of the GOP. If we cut every unnecessary deanlet, trimmed every bloated administrative salary, and eliminated every unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, the savings would be a pittance compared to the savage cuts the governor is proposing—much less the 100% cut he's imposed this year. So I'm starting to think that our administration's defensiveness on this issue may not only be self-interested (though it certainly is that) but perhaps also smart politics on behalf of public education.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Dunn hints at financial exigency

The Southern has posted its story on the BOT meeting ending today (Thursday). The headline is the 3% tuition hike. But some language in the Southern article suggests the scariest phrase for any T/TT faculty member: financial exigency. That means layoffs of T/TT faculty. Of course many others on campus are already facing possible layoffs, but Dunn's statement could be the harbinger of even more widespread pain for staff and deeper cuts to our core academic mission. The FA went on strike, after all, to protect tenure and prevent the administration from laying off tenured faculty absent a dire crisis ("financial exigency").

Here's the vital language from the story, especially in the paraphrase of President Dunn. 
“While we haven’t started flipping all of the switches for each one of those listed cuts, … everything’s kind of put in place to move with those,” he said.

In a more dire, “perfect storm” scenario, in which no spending bill is approved for the current fiscal year and no budget is in place for FY17 by mid- to late-June, Dunn said the board may have to consider declaring a fiscal emergency in order to make more significant changes.

IL Supreme Court Rules on Union Cases

Two majors rulings on union cases in Illinois.

In the first, the Supreme Court again ruled that the State Constitution does mean what it says:
Article 13, Section 5. 
Membership in any pension or retirement system of the
State, any unit of local government or school district, or
any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an
enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which
shall not be diminished or impaired.
This time the ruling struck down an effort to cut pensions for public employees of the City of Chicago.

In the second ruling, AFSCME lost a case about back pay. The union agreed to defer some raises that were due back in 2011; the state has never paid up. I frankly don't understand the legal rationale for this decision, but it would seem to cast a certain doubt over moves like the recent one at EIU to defer faculty pay. If such agreements aren't enforceable, they seem a poor option to deal with the current crisis—though none of our options are very good. I would hope IEA lawyers would look into this in the event SIU campus unions are asked to consider pay deferral as an option.

GAU event to discuss response to budget crisis

A  link to an article in today's DE, in the unlikely event anyone is reading this blog and not reading the DE. On Saturday at 4:00 there will be a meeting in the library Guyon's Auditorium, sponsored by Graduate Assistants United, to brainstorm ideas on how students can respond to the crisis. Students, staff, and community members are welcome.

One of the lessons from 2011 was the value of student involvement in a crisis situation. It's one thing to have state workers (faculty & staff) protesting for things that are good in themselves but also in workers' self-interest (tenure in 2011, funding in 2016), another thing for students to be protesting for education. This isn't to imply that staff shouldn't be active, only that even when they are active—as they certainly were in Wisconsin—their efforts could be attacked as being self-interested in a way students' efforts cannot.

One does have to love the DE headline, "Graduate Assistants Plan Meeting to Solve Budget Crisis". You'd think it would require rose-tinted glasses to type "meeting to solve"—much less a meeting to solve this crisis.

The GA United website doesn't yet mention this event, but has been featuring useful updates on their negotiations and relevant events on other campuses, so is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

EIU Faculty Approve Pay Deferral; Administration Agrees

EIU faculty have voted to accept a union proposal to defer a substantial chunk of their last paychecks of this year to help EIU deal with the budget crisis. The EIU administration has agreed to abide by the terms of the plan, which will require that faculty be paid back out of 50% of any state funding (including for MAP grants) for FY 2016 or FY 2017.

Faculty earlier voted to reject a plan that made repayment contingent on standard state funding (minus MAP grants) for FY 2016. The approved plan also distributes cuts progressively, with higher paid faculty taking a larger cut. The EIU administration initially expressed some concerns about the new proposal, but seems to have decided to accept it once the faculty had done so.

The deal amounts to some $2 million.

And then there was one

We're now the only state without a budget for this year.

Congratulations to our friends in Pennsylvania.

Image result for illinois budget

GOP Think Tank to the Rescue

A rather odd story in the DE on Monday summarized a February report by the Illinois Policy Institute, a pro-Rauner, conservative think tank. (The think tank summarizes their own report here.)

The central claim of the report, titled "Pensions vs. Higher Education", is true but irrelevant: last year (when it was still funding universities), Illinois put a disproportionate amount of its higher education funding into pensions. This same fact means that Illinois looks like it's increased university funding over recent years: but this is simply due to the fact that the state started to catch up on long overdue pension payments to the SURS system. Universities themselves didn't see a penny of that money.

So Illinois' past failure to fund pensions doesn't tell us a damn thing about inefficiencies in the university system. Contrary to the claim by the report, the central problems faced by our universities are Springfield's fault: past underfunding of pensions, and this year's gridlock, which is bankrupting state universities.

While the basic claim of the report is bogus, it goes on to argue that administrative costs are too high at Illinois universities. It also argues that SURS pensions are too high. More on that after the break.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday morning update

A local update on top; updates from Wisconsin, EIU, and SIUE after the break.

The DE has an article that does a nice job of summarizing President Dunn's interview with local news radio host Tom Miller. Highlights (most covered in the DE story) include the following:
  •  We're "six to nine months" behind EIU, "particularly on the Carbondale campus". EIU has seen 177 layoffs and faculty are currently voting on a plan to defer $2 million in salary dollars until EIU sees an infusion of cash from the state. An update from EIU is below the break.
  • Senate Bill 2059 is probably the only way universities are going to see money this year. Dunn noted that it passed the House with 70 votes, including one Republican (who represents Charleston, home of Western Illinois). It takes 71 votes to override a veto. Dunn suggested that Rauner can sit on the bill for 60 days before vetoing it, leading to a veto override attempt in late May.
  • Cut programs on the Carbondale campus are likely to be cut for good, and would include many of things, introduced in the Delyte Morris era, that made SIUC into a nationally recognized research university. 
  • Faculty with grants are looking to move elsewhere (see the story below on Wisconsin). 
Dunn seemed eager to convince people in the region that he isn't crying wolf (I'll note that's a legacy of past administrative exaggeration about budget cuts). When noting dire things on the horizon, he several times included the phrase "particularly on the Carbondale campus". This suggests what we might have guessed otherwise: we're in worse shape than SIUE. I suppose in parts that's because our research programs would be cut before revenue producing undergraduate programs go, in part it's because SIUE has seen enrollment gains in recent years.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Our Trump

Trump and Rauner

Brian Mackey of Illinois Public Radio has a meaty story analyzing Bruce Rauner as a typical CEO turned politician and as a cautionary tale for a Trump presidency. (Hat-tip to Capitol Fax, which flagged the story today.)

Among the more interesting things in the story is Mackey's use of the findings of a book called Stealth Democracy. The book argues that most Americans don't really want democracy, with all its arguments and messy compromise. Rather, they exaggerate the amount of agreement about what government should do, and therefore attribute disagreement to self-interested politicians. Hence the special attraction of non-politicians to ride in and implement common sense reforms, overriding the special interests.

Rauner seems to share this idea of stealth democracy himself, failing to recognize that the Democrats opposing his turnaround agenda are representing more than special interests. He sold himself as a deal maker and team builder, but in office has acted more like a vulture capitalist hired on as a CEO and engaged in 'corporate turnaround'.