Cheng did return to the issue of a "structural deficit" on campus, and said that "right sizing" the budget (a lovely corporate euphemism), together with meeting this year's cuts, would result in a reduction on campus of somewhere between 2.5% to 5%. Those cuts sound pretty steep, and I also don't fully understand what Cheng means when she talks about a structural deficit, since SIUC ran a surplus last year. My guess is that some of these cuts will mean cutting positions that are already empty--i.e., resigning ourselves to the fact that we're going to have fewer staff in some areas.
Cheng also characterized this good news as meaning that we would be able to move forward to a "better and brighter future" with "employees and programs" intact. This line, if taken literally, will come as a comfort to any worried about the sorts of large-scale program cuts that have gone on elsewhere. Apparently our "right sizing" is going to be done largely via attrition. No suggestion of an end for the hiring freeze, however, or hint of an end to the freeze on salaries.
As I suggested in response to Poshard's email announcing the better than expected state budget, this relatively good news ought to make negotiations easier. But if the administration insists on retaining the power to unilaterally declare furlough days, even if they say they won't need it next year, we'll still have are real debate on our hands. And of course there are other issues, starting, for the FA, with the status of tenure.
Three more matters after the break: the GA healthcare debate, Cheng's more general statements on negotiations, and Cheng's evaluation of her first year in office.
Asked about the attempt by GAU (Graduate Assitants United) to improve their health coverage, the Chancellor ably played the traditional administration response: gosh, we'd like to help out, but it just hasn't proved possible so far. She said her representatives were working hard with the "GUA" (sic) to make progress, but hadn't yet found a better option that was affordable for the GAs. She claimed that the current campus plan is "very comprehensive" in comparison with other campuses. Certainly the GAU argues that their plan isn't comprehensive by comparison; I don't have enough mastery of this issue to judge (but discuss it a bit more in an earlier posting, where you can find a link to an excel sheet outlining some of the issues).
Asked about the Unfair Labor Practice filing, Cheng said that it was no surprise, that the charges were "just plain false", and that she could go to sleep each night confident that her negotiating teams had given the full measure of devotion. It all comes down to finances, she argued: they want things we can't afford (and we want some things from them they don't want to give up). Hence the impasse (though she didn't use that word). She stressed that the administration is again back in negotiations. [This is again the traditional administrative/employer response: we're sympathetic, but it's all about money, and we don't have any. The unions argue that it is all about power & respect--and that there is also more money than the administration says, by the way--an addition 6/19.]
Asked about the campus climate and the image of SIUC in the broader community, Cheng said she hoped positive news was starting to dominate things. The main positive news she claimed was regarding enrollment. We apparently have about 100 students more on campus this summer than last, a difference that Cheng claimed, rather disingenuously, to be able to see on campus already, and projections for the fall are also up. Cheng gave no details on these fall projections, however, and her language was so vague as to lead skeptics to worry: new freshmen and transfer numbers are "healthy" and current students continue to register for fall classes. Asked whether a push at the end of the spring semester helped increase registration of continuing students, Cheng said yes, but again provided no details.
Finally, Cheng summed up her achievements in her first year as follows:
- Turning around enrollment. [This has, to say the least, yet to be demonstrated, though I certainly hope enrollment turns around.]
- Putting new leadership in place. [Cheng now has her second provost, and announced new hires of permanent deans in Engineering and Liberal Arts.]
- Getting more attention to our strong academic programs. [Presumably more attention relative to our reputation as a party school? Cheng cited no evidence on this front--again one we will all want SIUC to win on.]
My guess is that this fall may well make or break Cheng's Chancellorship. If enrollment numbers do indeed increase in a meaningful way, and she manages to get contracts with the IEA unions without strikes, she could be, after a rough start, well-positioned for a successful term. But if enrollment continues to decline (despite her now at least twice pretty confidently predicting improvement, in her spring town hall meeting and during this radio conversation), if the unions get SIUC less than flattering PR by going on strike, or both, then she'll be in serious trouble.