The sticking point here is what is technically called "RIF", i.e., Reduction in Force. As all will likely know, the administration's imposed terms outlined a procedure for laying off tenure-track and tenured faculty. The imposed terms were silent on what conditions would have to be met to allow for such layoffs. The Chancellor repeatedly said that SIUC was not attacking tenure and would only layoff tenured faculty in the case of financial exigency. But it took months and considerable pressure from the FA for her bargaining team to come close (close) to saying as much in contractual language, rather than leaving any such protections buried in BOT policies that the board can change at its discretion.
As far as I can tell, the administration's policy has changed little since the Chancellor's last email, at which point her bargaining team had agreed to contractualize board policy as of July of 2011. This was a meaningful move on their part--though it is fair, I think, to point out that this was mainly a case of the administration's bargaining position starting to catch up to the Chancellor's public statements. The administration's position here is relatively little changed, I believe, since September 30, when Randy Hughes sent out this bargaining update in response to an email from the Chancellor I quote and attack here.
The FA's interest here is in ensuring that SIUC has a transparent and accountable process for handling financial exigency. The FA is open to any process which meets this interest, and after the break I'll explain the evolution of our bargaining supposals on this. Now rational people can debate how best to make this process transparent and accountable, and can also name other interests (to be effective, for example, a financial exigency process would have to enable SIUC to make deep enough cuts to survive).
But let's just pause briefly to ask ourselves this. When should SIUC figure out this process? Should we allow ourselves to operate under the murky and confusing current SIUC policy (which more or less remains that I outlined in my earlier post on tenure)? That's apparently the administration's position. But if we encounter a bona fide financial crisis worthy of the term "financial exigency", we're going to need all the transparency and accountability we can get. Otherwise the moral damage to the institution will be even greater than the mere financial damage. Indeed, it seems to me that we risk fatal damage to trust and morale should a financial exigency be handled badly, as one following the current murky process could well be. The damage done in 1973-74 lasted for years, after all (and may perhaps not yet have been entirely healed), and back then there was no real financial crisis to manage.
Many folks have spoken strongly about the damage a strike could do to SIUC. A strike is a serious matter, but were the FA to strike, one thing it would likely be striking for would be a decent, mutually acceptable financial exigency policy. In my view the risk we face through badly handled financial exigency far outweighs the risk of a strike.
The FA's original supposal on RIF attempted to clearly define a bona fide financial exigency, and called for a joint administration-faculty commission to determine whether SIUC's financial state met the conditions outlined in that definition. In the course of negotiations the FA has modified this supposal in at least two important ways.
Definition. This reflects our interest in transparency. Current board policy defines financial exigency as a long-term financial emergency serious enough to justify laying off tenured faculty. Save for the phrase "long term", this definition is circular. How serious is the crisis? Serious enough to fire you. What's your justification for firing me? The crisis is serious enough to fire you.
The FA's original supposal specifies "long term", the one definable element in the BOT policy, as a crisis lasting at least four years. In response to board resistance to this, we have suggested three years instead. Three years does not strike me as an unreasonable definition of "long term". The FA's supposals, in keeping with BOT policy (at least before the introduction of the novel category of "unpaid administrative closure days), allows for other means for dealing with short term crises--temporary cuts in pay.
The FA supposal also makes it clear that a bona fide financial exigency must threaten the survival of SIU (language close to that of the AAUP: an “imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole"), and that faculty can only be fired in a financial exigency once all other legal alternatives that do not impact the academic mission of the university have been exhausted. Such alternatives would include cuts to non-academic areas, including athletics; sale of real estate; voluntary retirements, etc. Financial exigency is supposed to be a dire state of affairs, one stop short of bankruptcy.
To date, to the best of my understanding, the administration has been unwilling to define "financial exigency" behind the largely circular definition in current board policy.
Process. The administration has insisted that the board alone has the power to declare a state of financial exigency, and that it is unwilling to delegate this power to a joint commission. The FA has therefore suggested another alternative, that the BOT indeed be empowered to declare a financial exigency, but that its decision, which would have to meet the conditions outlined in a clear definition of financial exigency, could be appealed to an outside arbitrator. The FA is thus willing, rather than itself appointing half the members of a financial commission, to achieve its interest in accountability via a neutral third party.
To date, to the best of my understanding, the administration has rejected the FA's suggestion that accountability be achieved in this way.
We see thus that both in the case of credit hour equivalences and financial exigency the board has heretofore been unwilling either to reach an agreement with the FA or to submit our differences to a neutral third party for resolution.