Thursday, June 25, 2009

Further Assaults on Tenure

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal published an alarming editorial by Naomi Schaefer Riley arguing that tenure is an outdated idea and that tenured faculty deserve no special protection from arbitrary dismissals. As she notes, this isn't an idle thought--there's already been one case on the issue:
In 2003, the board of trustees of the Metropolitan College of Denver -- a public school in Colorado -- changed the school's handbook to make it easier to lay off tenured faculty in case of financial exigency. Under the current system at Metro College and elsewhere, some professors who have been at an institution for a period of about seven years are eligible for a job for life. They can technically be fired for gross misbehavior or incompetence....

In response to the handbook change, five Metro College professors sued. They claimed that the terms of their employment had been significantly altered. The state district court ruled in favor of the trustees. That decision was appealed -- with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) filing an amicus brief -- and in 2007 a state appeals court ordered a new trial. In its brief, the AAUP argued that "depriving the tenured faculty of a preference in retention places the tenured faculty at greater risk of being singled out" because of an administrator's or trustee's dislike for his teaching or research, or for positions taken on public issues.

The results of that new trial came down earlier this month. Rather than simply deciding that the change in the handbook altered what was a "vested right" of the professors, Denver District Judge Norman D. Haglund ruled that "the public interest is advanced more by tenure systems that favor academic freedom over tenure systems that favor flexibility in hiring or firing." He also noted that "by its very nature, tenure promotes a system in which academic freedom is protected."
Riley uses this case as a springboard to launch familiar attacks against tenure, tinged as they generally are by an ideological stain ("The fact that university professors donated to President Obama's campaign over John McCain's by a margin of eight to one is only the tip of the iceberg").

Yesterday, I posted grim statistics about the loss of tenured and tenure-track positions at PSU. They represent one kind of assualt on tenure. Riley's is a more dangerous variant, one that seeks to undermine the very intention of tenure. Her view is so constrained that she could write this passage without seeing the implications:
The school even offers a nutrition major. These are all fields of study that have fairly definitive answers. Faculty members don't really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them.
We need independent scholars. In fingering nutrition, Riley unwittingly made a strong case for exactly why we need scholars. The field of nutrition doesn't have difinitive answers--it's a field even more subject to the storms of money and corruption than most. "Nutrition" is a moving target. Defined by food or supplement companies, it means something entirely different than it does to a scholar. If we remove the protection of tenure, who will protect independent research about what is actually healthy?

Universities, perhaps more than ever, need the protection of tenure.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PSU's Incredible, Shinking Tenured Positions

As bargaining continues, we are beginning to collect together some data that track important trends here at PSU. In several earlier posts I documented the national trend of relying on non-tenured faculty to teach classes. Below, you can see the trend mirrored here at PSU. Let's start with the raw numbers and finish with some talking points. Below is a table illustrating the decline of tenured positions at PSU.
Table: Decline of Tenured Positions at PSU

Tenure Track/Tenured
Fixed Term, Full-time
Fixed Term, Part-time
Other (TAs, emerita, etc)
A graph of these data begins to show the decline of tenure positions (click to enlarge):

But it's really when you divide tenure and non-tenure positions that you see the dramatic decline (click to enlarge):

The numbers tell the story: as elsewhere, PSU's administration has been shifting the teaching load away from tenured faculty to fixed-term faculty. This saves the administration money and allows them more "flexibility." But we have an important secondary data point that shows even more starkly what this means. Have a look at the table below. In it, you'll see that not only has the teaching load shifted, but the number of students has shifted too (CH = credit hour):
_________________________Class___CH Per___CH Per
Fixed Term________________23.8____37.5_____31.5

As you can see, fixed-term faculty are expected to teach more students than tenured faculty. The upshot when you combine the two sets of data is this: a far greater number of a student's classes will be taught by non-tenured faculty than would have been the case a decade ago.

Talking Points
AAUP's membership is comprised of more than just tenured faculty. (I'm a fixed-term researcher, in fact.) It's easy to think in terms of our own job category and, for those of us who aren't tenured, to wonder why we should care about this. For me the answer is straightforward. Over the past two decades, we've seen support to faculty diminish in terms of benefits and salary when adjusted for inflation. (Credit where credit is due: our health insurance has remained consistently good.) During that time, even as our salaries flatlined, the administration was saving costs by shifting the teaching load to lower-paid faculty who have no long-term job security.

We have asked PSU to provide details about the growth of administration jobs and salaries during the same period. If it follows national trends, we will expect to see that both salaries and overall job numbers (in terms of total FTE) have grown far faster on the administration side. These are all critical points of information as we look at potential salary cuts for the coming year or two. The takeaway should be this: if the administration has grown fastest during fat times, it should shrink fastest during lean times.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Reality of Fuloughs

Those of us in Oregon have probably already done the math on furloughs, but this New York Times article spells it out explicitly:
Instead, Ms. Roberson has found herself working as hard as ever on most Fridays, and every other day of the week. Further, she has come to resent the very idea of a furlough more and more with each paycheck, every one 10 percent less than it used to be, as mandated by California’s budget cutters.

And she has taken off only about half of the time to which she is entitled.

“Sometimes it’s just too busy at work,” said Ms. Roberson, whose pay was cut in February as part of the state’s effort to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. “You start to feel guilty.”
So far, we have received no sense that furloughs are on the table for AAUP's membership. They don't work particularly well for salaried employees. And to his credit, when asked about this in may, Wim Wiewel didn't soft-pedal the impact. Cutting budgets means cutting salaries, he explained to a questioner, and whether we're talking about FTE reductions or furloughs, "what it means practically is that you'll have less money in your pocket." (That's the quote as I wrote it in my notes.)

But for our brothers and sisters in SEIU who will probably be taking furloughs, it's important to recognize what a bad compromise they are.

Some people take the time off but feel bad about doing so, out of loyalty to bosses and colleagues left to carry the workload. Others work quietly — and sometimes openly — through furloughs, because they fear for the long-term safety of their positions and hope their self-sacrifice impresses the management.

And some say the message from the management is unclear, leaving employees wondering: Is this real time off?

“I think it’s a joke,” said Roland Becht, who works at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in San Diego. (More than 200,000 state employees are supposed to have two furlough days each month.) “I’ve tried to schedule furlough time and was denied because we’re short-staffed.”

It's one thing to ask workers to take furlough days even while expecting them to accomplish the same amount of work. It's quite another thing when the expectation is that you won't even be allowed to take those days--or worse, that those who do will be punished down the line.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tough Numbers

Tim Young, a former member of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, has a nice editorial at the Oregonian's online "Stump" blog. I was particularly captivated by the first paragraph, which with just a few numbers helps distill one aspect of our money woes:
Adjusted for inflation from 1995 to 2006, the state of Oregon's support of direct educational costs at its public universities dropped by an average, or mean, of 29 percent, a loss of $1,630.86 per full-time student. During the same time, student tuition rose on average $1,894.86 per full-time student, a73.48 percent increase.

The whole article is worth a read, so go have a look.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Furloughs and the Law

Six months ago, the word "furlough" was a hazy term that few of us understood or cared about. Today, we're vividly conscious of its meaning. And with that consciousness comes questions. Are these legal? How can they be implemented? MSNBC has a story that delves into this nicely (though raising as many questions as answers).
Clearly furloughs are anything but simple alternatives to layoffs. As a result of the recent furlough-mania, I’ve been getting many questions from readers about their rights:
  • Can I be furloughed if I’m salaried?
  • Can I file for unemployment insurance when I’m on furlough?
  • What if I work a bit while on furlough?

Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are not clear-cut, and some vary by state. Even getting guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on furloughs has not been easy.

I repeatedly asked Labor Department officials, via telephone and e-mail, specific questions on furloughs and employee rights, and it took nearly a month to get a straight answer....

Furloughs and exempt employees
Administrative and professional employees who are exempt from overtime and paid a yearly salary can be furloughed, but there are restrictions on how furloughs can be conducted. (There are few, if any, restrictions on furloughing hourly workers.)

The way the nation’s labor laws are written, an employee who is exempt from overtime and covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act must be paid for a full week of work even if they do not work one or two days during that week.

So, if your employer asks you to work on Monday and Tuesday, but sends you home without pay for the rest of the week, under labor laws the employee could lose his or her exempt status, meaning, the worker would now be eligible for overtime....

Furloughs and unemployment benefits
It may sound counterintuitive, but even though you haven’t actually lost your job and you’re just on furlough, there’s a good chance you’re eligible for unemployment.

“The general rule is if you’re laid off for more than one week you can obtain unemployment,” Dixon says.

Furloughs and doing work
When you are furloughed, that means you do not work. It’s as simple as that. If your manager expects you to work when you’re out on furlough, whether you are salaried or hourly, you must be paid for your work....

Bottom line: Furloughs shouldn’t be an excuse for not paying workers what they’re owed. However, they may continue to be a necessary evil.
Read the whole article here.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tax Hikes in Jeopardy? [Updated]

This has been an entertaining week in Salem. On Tuesday, the House passed two bills that would raise $733 million--tax hikes for wealthy individuals and businesses. For cash-strapped public institutions like ours, this was good news. On to the Senate and then to the governor for a quick signature.

But wait!--yesterday, Senator Mark Hass stepped across the aisle to stand with Republicans and the two bills failed to pass. Haas said he wants the tax increases to sunset after the recession ends. A stunned Democratic caucus retired last night wondering if the deal was dead.

Maybe on life support. Today the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes reports that there's behind-the-scenes wrangling, but no plan yet:

That's an important point to Democratic leaders, who are promoting the hike in corporate taxes as not only necessary to get through the recession but as part of increasing fairness in the tax system. They've argued that the state will be digging out of the budget wreckage for years to go come and that business should contribute its fair share.

Plus, if the Senate changes the tax package, it has to go back to the House. And who knows what the politics there are like after all the fuss about Republican Bob Jenson's decision to defect from his caucus and give Democrats the crucial 36th vote they needed.

Stay tuned.

Update. The bills have passed, and not temporarily. The Statesman Journal reports:

After a one-day delay, the Oregon Senate voted today for an increase in corporate income taxes that will produce an estimated $261 million to balance the next two-year state budget. House Bill 3405, which goes to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, passed on an 18-11 vote. All Democrats voted for it; all Republicans against it. One Republican was excused.

The one-day logjam was broken when Democratic Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton agreed to vote for the bill in exchange for another bill, pending in the House Revenue Committee, that would divert money from permanent increases in the corporate tax after 2012 into the state’s general reserve fund.

Good news!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oregon Senate Passes SB 519

I have overheard our new Director, Phil Lesch (no, not that one) say that we are entering a new golden age for unions. As a bit of evidence on the homefront, yesterday, the Oregon Senate passed Diane Rosenbaum's SB 519, which protects workers from workplace pressure.
In a highly contentious vote, today, the Oregon Senate protected Oregonians' right to opt out of meetings on highly personal topics like politics, religion and union organizing at the work place. Workers in Oregon who have chosen not to attend these meetings have faced discipline or even lay offs for their decision. SB 519, the Worker Freedom Act, would allow workers to opt out of these meetings without fear of retaliation.

Workers should not have to give up their opinions or be lectured about their employers beliefs to get a paycheck. Most Oregonians want to show up at the workplace, do a good job at their work, get along with their co-workers and their employer, and go home to see their family at the end of the day. But when employer's take advantage of their workers by forcing them to sit through meetings on personal topics trying to earn a paycheck becomes a chore, not a job. In fact, 84% of Oregonians polled in December support legislation to allow workers to opt-out of these meetings.
The bill now moves on to the House.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tell Us What You Think!

In the next few months, the Bargaining Team will be negotiating some very important issues with the PSU administration. For weeks now, the administration has been clear about their intention to cut salaries. Health insurance and benefits will also be on the table. Furthermore, the administration is feeling pressure to resolve these issues quickly. All of which means that we need your input, advice, and guidance.

There will be a membership meeting on Friday and it's important that you come if at all possible.

Membership Meeting
Noon - 2pm, Friday, June 5
Smith 238

Things will be happening over the summer, bargaining will continue, and particularly for those of you who will not be around campus, this is an important opportunity to make your voice heard.