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.