Saturday, October 1, 2011

Southern Editorial and faculty salaries

Gary Metro, editor of the Southern Illinoisan, has an editorial out today that should help any readers in doubt as to the Southern's editorial stance figure out what we're up against there.

He starts by bashing Obama, irrelevantly. He then goes after the faculty union, arguing that regular working stiffs, whom he apparently represents, are "incensed and insulted" by our strike threat.

Because the economy is bad, he argues, unions cannot strike. A poor economy would thus appear to give employers carte blanche. The fact that many workers have been treated badly by this economy apparently proves to Mr. Metro that all workers should allow themselves to be treated badly by their employers.

He comes closest to summarizing our complaints in the following quote:
"People who earn twice my salary by teaching three classes per semester (three!) have the arrogance to accuse the stewards of the financially foundering school with hiding money, refusing to bargain in good faith and ignoring the tradition of collegial leadership."
Let us pause first to note that saying that we get paid for teaching three classes a semester is a bit like saying that he gets paid to write one editorial a week. The word "research" does not of course occur in his editorial, and for Mr. Metro our peers are "similar-sized universities"--as if all universities of the same size had the same mission & stature. After mentioning our complaints about good faith bargaining and "the tradition of collegial leadership" (which I take to be the closest he can bring himself to saying "shared governance") he goes on to cite figures which purport to show that SIUC is broke and that SIUC professors are very well paid.

Mr. Metro says nothing about tenure, collective bargaining rights, or academic freedom. I will, perhaps foolishly, follow his lead here, and allow us to play the "it's all about money" game. I think even in those terms he has a rather weak case.

Most of Mr. Metro's figures are accurate enough in themselves, but some are misleading and others irrelevant. It is true that our salaries made progress vis a vis our peers during 2006-2010, but of course we have likely slipped since then, and our total compensation (including benefits) was not 1% but 6% behind our peers according to the IBHE, in 2009, the latest year for which such figures are available.

Emeritus professor Michael Madigan (a gadfly who is far from universally supportive of the FA) has nicely pointed out in the DE the problem with citing the state's shortfall in payments to SIUC as part of one's bargaining posture.  We've been around and around on SIUC's overall finances enough times: let me just repeat that the FA salary offer would tie future raises to SIUC's finances. What the FA is asking for, essentially, is that professors get the same share of SIUC's revenues as they have in the past--that the administration not be allowed to continue to move money from academic salaries into other areas. We all recognize that our future prosperity is dependent on the future prosperity of SIUC. It's just that we reject the notion that the best way to allow SIUC to prosper is to shift money from academic salaries into other things. That's not in the best interest of academics--in both senses: it's not only not in the best interest of professors, but not in the best interest of students and this university as a whole.

Mr. Metro aims to score points by arguing that professors are overpaid.  He points out that "it's a possible for a professor to earn $135,000 for nine months work." As a matter of fact all of 15 professors (out of the roughly 650 in the bargaining unit--hence about 2% of all faculty) make that much money or more: six each in accounting and finance, and one in psychology, management, and economics. All could presumably make rather more in the private sector. (Salary figures on all of us are readily available here, thanks to the DE.)

My own salary, as a tenured associate professor, pays me less than corporals in the SIUC police force and less than a number of foremen working for the physical plant--does that perhaps qualify me as a working stiff?  I make more than $5000 less per year than the average teacher in the Carbondale Elementary School District. I don't think these people are overpaid. But neither do I think I need to be ashamed of supporting my union's effort to resist administrative efforts to cut my salary, both through furloughs and through "raises" that would fall far short of keeping up with inflation.


  1. Like it or not, his key starting point: "What a lousy time to hold a strike" has some merit.

    And he brings up

    Some of the rest is all over the place and I agree with you. But if the FA gets Board policy on FE, modest raises and doesn't let us vote, I'm sure there will be issues. That would leave either fair share as a big issue OR faculty lines.

    FACULTY LINES: this is the nail on the head in Metro's column. The FA is suicidal if it insists on restoring all faculty lines AT THIS TIME. A union is going to tell an employer to hire hundreds of more well-paid professionals? In this economy? Private sector employers typically do hire in recessions but they too are sitting on money because of the economic uncertainty. It would be irresponsible of the BOT to commit to faculty hires NOW in a multi-year contract.

    So, I'm hoping (and many "yes" voters too) that the FA will get some tenure language and modest raises. Faculty lines can wait for another day. I hate to say that because we have big gaps but, hey, times are bad. We'll hire later.

  2. Sorry some lines got cut off but no time to redo. Going outside to "walk on sunshine"

  3. I hope Jon is enjoying the sunshine, but both his points here are a bit off.

    The FA is not insisting on restoring lost lines, though we are still trying to preserve the student to faculty ratio of 26:1. That figure (the same as the one in the previous contract) is more or less what we are at now; the debate now is over how to count distance learning students: the FA does not want to allow the administration to add hundreds of DL students without increasing faculty numbers. This is a crucial concern for academic quality. But if we don't gain students, we won't need to gain faculty (at least the contract would not obligate SIUC to do so.)

    Fair share remains on the table, and, as I've often said, I support it (out of moderation, of course!). But it has never been a huge issue at crunch time before, and I have no reason to believe it will be a deal breaker this time, either.

  4. Metro also overlooks the fact that faculty also must invest (or borrow) large sums of money to acquire the credentials necessary to succeed in our profession. I'm not surprised by Metro's editorial, but it is disappointing to see such poor understanding of the academic world from the local newspaper in a small college town.

  5. It's very disappointing, but I am afraid from day one we have been up against a better PR machine and we have struggled to find our voice. In all honesty, I partially blame the FA leadership for this: we should never have been arguing 12-18 months ago that SIUC had all this money hidden here and there and weren't being honest with the books. Even if true (and it may very well be); the argument was lost on people. Illinois had and still has one of the worst budget messes in the nation and SIUC is a creature of the state.

    Fighting to preserve the basic job security norms of our profession, that's another matter.

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  7. Apparently the current student/teacher ratio at SIUC is 15.7:1 (lets round up and say 16:1) according to one of those little magazines they sent out to prospective freshman...the magazine is called SIUC--The Natural Choice. So I don't see how we can try and preserve the ratio 26:1, or I don't see that it is an important feature to try and preserve, at least at present since the current ratio is already much better than 26:1. So why worry about the ratio now? Or perhaps the 16:1 ratio is yet another `lie' from our administrators.
    Any comments?

  8. students s = 20 000
    faculty f = 700

    s/f = 28.6

    Unless the rules of arithmetics changed with the recent discovery of neutrinos exceeding the speed of light...

  9. Anonymous:

    I'm not sure where the 15.7 number came from, but it doesn't match the numbers the university provides. According to the university, there are 16,522 FTE students and 694 tenured and tenure-track faculty, for a ratio of 23.8.

    The FA likely would quibble that the number of faculty is is closer to 650 now than it was back in the summer when the numbers were provided to the Southern.

    The pension reform will cause the number of faculty to drop over the next few years unless they are replaced. The contract is likely to be multi-year. There's a hope that enrollment will increase. Put all of that together, and there's reason to worry about the ratio.

  10. Thanks Jerzy, as I guessed the 16:1 ratio is yet another `lie' from our wonderful admin
    to entice students to come here....

  11. Yes, paranoid, I was surprised when I saw the 16:1 ratio, I have no idea how they gadfangled that number....I reckon that the number cruncher who produced that statistic could do well with enrolling in Math 107.....just to review his/her arithmetic.

    Its a good idea to keep as many things on the bargaining table as possible, so keeping the ratio there is good; after all, we will have to give up some things we have on the table in order to get a contract, and relaxing the ratio a bit might be a useful bargaining tool.

  12. I agree with Anonymous 10:17 about it being good bargaining strategy to keep as many things on the table at first as possible. It's getting awfully close to crunch-time though. And my esteemed colleague Jon Bean does raise an interesting proposition: if the FA were to relax a little on the 26:1 ratio, what could we get from the administration in return? Sorry for asking such a heretical question, but if the administration is going to save a boat-load of money next year and thereafter with the increased number of expected retirements (due to the change in pension ratios that come into effect next July), ought we try to get some of it?

  13. A couple of reality checks: "Because the economy is bad, he argues, unions cannot strike." No he does not, he just argues that its stupid - he's right.

    "FA salary offer would tie future raises to SIUC's finances" (half) true. The FA proposal indicates that if the university's overall budget (including capital) increases, salaries would have to increase, even if the operating budget declined. Of course the FA has a history of creative accounting by non accountants, AND the FA proposal makes no allowance for what happens if the budget decreases (other than furloughs which we all know the FA will oppose citing, you guessed it, FA accounting!).

  14. I tend to disagree with Joe, and the anonyms who take seriously the purported evidence in this editorial. It's nothing more than an overt injunction to shut up and be grateful, like every editorial in the local newspaper. If it's a winning strategy, it's not because the PR is particularly slick, the evidence remotely accurate, or the writing especially suasive (it's certainly not). It's successful because it's comforting and self-aggrandizing to sentimentalize gratitude (and students) and pretend to take the high road. At the very least, it’s interesting because of the explicit fusing of resentment and gratitude, which turns out in this analysis to be nothing more than a salary competition: one should be grateful making more money than Gary Metro, I guess, which is a pretty craven hollowing out of the concept of gratitude. What’s disappointing is that it’s such a transparent plea for workers to love the generous hand of their job-creating overlord—and that it works. At least we know that ideology no longer (if it ever did) needs to work via prestidigitation.

  15. The 26:1 student-faculty ratio counts only capital F faculty (bargaining unit, tenured and tenure-track faculty). The published 16:1 figure may also count NTT. Such figures are harder to calculate than they may appear, as there are various ways of counting (head count? FTE) for both students and faculty. At issue right now, on my understanding, is how to count distance learning students. The administration would like us to start enrolling (and collecting tuition from) lots of distance learning students--but is less eager to count them in figuring a student-faculty ratio.

  16. Thanks Dave, yes, thats probably how they got the 16:1 ratio. Like many things at SIUC its sometimes hard to find an exact number for ratios, finances, budgets, capital budgets, etc, etc,... I honestly believe that these numbers are deliberately hard to find, or rather are being kept deliberately hard to find, so that those in power can manipulate them at will. After all, information is power.

    I see now that faculty/student ratio is an important topic indeed, especially in relation to distance learning.


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