Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Coming back to life

The crisis in funding for public higher education has led me to start this blog up again.

Last time around, the crisis was local. We faced a lawless, reckless administration intent on using a moderate cut in state funding as an excuse to dismantle collective bargaining and undermine faculty tenure.

That was the easy crisis.

This time around, things are tougher. The cuts are far worse. The problem isn't local, and while we'll no doubt find things to criticize about our current university administration, we can't blame them for the chaos in Springfield.

Governor Rauner is clearly no friend to public higher education. But it's not like the Democratic legislature has proven to be any paradigm for principled political leadership. The Democrats, after years of complete control of the Illinois government, failed to address the pension crisis (save via an unconstitutional effort to cut employee pensions), rightfully lost the trust of the voters, and renominated the clearly feckless (if decent) Pat Quinn for governor. The Republican primary brought forth our version of Donald Trump, who won the governor's race, and we now find ourselves with utter dysfunction in Springfield.

But the greater challenge is the feeling of powerlessness we all feel in the face of this statewide crisis. The stakes could really not be higher. At a minimum, SIUC is faced with the very real possibility that we will lose our status as a research university: this is presumably what President Dunn means when he says that SIU will survive, but may be a very different university, should the state not come through with adequate funding.

Among the items for consideration in Dunn's proposed cost reductions under a 20% cut next year, after all, was "review of individual teachings load for tenured/tenure track faculty which may reduce the number of adjunct instructors". The word "individual" looks like a gesture in the direction of a proposal long under consideration (and implemented in some cases), differential teaching loads, where faculty deemed unproductive in research are rewarded with extra classes. But if the motive is to reduce the number of "adjuncts" (not the best term for NTT colleagues), increased loads are not being considered out of purported concern with equity, but to help meet the fiscal crunch. The plan would be to raise loads for tenured and tenure track in order to enable us to cover courses that would have been taught by laid-off NTT faculty. Inclusion of tenure track faculty here is particularly worrisome: raise the loads of faculty before tenure, and you clearly can't expect as much research from them at tenure time.

I'm not here blaming Dunn et al. for suggesting higher T/TT loads: for all I know, now, it's possible that this would be the only way to keep SIUC afloat. And higher loads are obviously a lesser burden than being laid off, the fate presumably awaiting many staff on campus. I raise this point just to note that under the proposed cuts SIUC would not only eliminate programs and staff (both harsh enough) but change its fundamental identity.

And that's not the worst of it. When our system president has to repeatedly reassure us that SIU is going to survive, that means that our very survival is indeed an issue. I remember private talk and black humor on this theme going back to the days of the Cheng administration, including during meetings of the Faculty Senate with then Chancellor Cheng and Provost Nicklow. Faculty on the executive committee would joke among themselves about retiring before the ship sank, and the provost would say cheery things like "We are going to be here in five years". It doesn't take great prescience to recognize that when the authorities tell us that everything is going to be fine—especially now that they feel they need to do so in public—there's a real chance that everything will not be fine at all.

Well, that's a happy post. Next time, some goals and ground rules, with the former, at any rate, aiming to provide a more hopeful tone.


  1. High time, Dave since we need this blog more than ever. Apart from a few dedicated individuals, one of whom traveled to Springfield tp protest at the double bill appearance of The Great Pretender and Rauner to demonstrate, the Faculty Association are living up to their initials by doing F**** All in this crisis except passivity. Last week's NIGHTLIFE editorial noticed this and a prominent Union official was quoted in the DE as saying "We hope" the administration will contact us if there are cuts. Rather than demanding the elimination of unnecessary high paid administrative positions that have spread like cancer on this campus over the past 30 years, the elimination of Athletics, and the proposed reduction (if not closure) of hours in the Recreation center rather than the Library, the FA has been conspicuous by either its silence of trivial attempts at activism. It is not the first time that Unions have betrayed the cause of their members (and will not be the last if they passively comply with firing people on administration lists and shafting the NTT who supported them in the past). Again, the return of Deo Volonte in this time of very serious crisis is important. Full credit to you, Dave.

    1. Welcome back, Tony. I'm not a member of the FA leadership these days (I'm on sabbatical this year), but am friendly with those folks, so a some remarks in response to your comment.

      As usual, the active part of the FA essentially consists of "a few dedicated individuals", who probably overlap with those you have in mind above. They are working hard for the FA, but there are only so many of them, and they have day jobs.

      As to local tactics. The FA made a decision to try to work well together with the post-Cheng administration. That went reasonably well, at least at first: for example, the new administration was willing to commit to interest-based bargaining, something Cheng et al rejected out of hand. I frankly don't know how happy the FA folk are with the 'progress' of negotiations, which has been glacial, given the budget crisis.

      The current statewide crisis puts something of a premium on cooperation with the administration, I'd think. The admin didn't cause that problem, and Dunn is speaking up about it. That doesn't mean we'll agree about local priorities: we need to subject his proposed cuts (and any later more actionable plan) to real scrutiny. I agree that the administration has been conspicuously silent about possible administrative cuts. But the statewide crisis does change the overall dynamic: supporters of public higher ed in Illinois needs to work together. I think that means campuses working together and faculty working with admin, wherever possible.


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