Monday, December 17, 2007

 

Christmas Eve Day

This year, Christmas falls on a Tuesday, so Christmas Eve Day is on a Monday. The college closes for Christmas, in recognition of a larger cultural reality, but will be open on Christmas Eve Day. Exams will already have finished well before that, and grades will have been posted.

The faculty, I'm reasonably certain, will be long gone. Entire hallways will be deserted. But we'll heat the whole place anyway, and a few benighted souls will be on hand to field anybody who theoretically could show up.

You should hear the grumbling. Nearly everybody -- myself included -- is burning a vacation day on the 24th. We have real 'skeleton crew' representation, consisting of a few good sports.

The human side of me thinks this is kind of asinine, and wishes the college would just be closed on the 24th. But the administrator in me actually gets it. (That's not to deny that some of us administrators also happen to be human. It's just that we have to be able to turn it on and off.)

One reason is precedent. In a collective bargaining environment in which people are quick to assert 'past practice' status for anything ever done, this year's mercy closing becomes next year's entitlement. And when the 24th is a given, the 23rd starts to look kind of silly. The college could try to argue that the 24th was special for falling on a Monday, but being right is no guarantee of winning.

So to avoid a series of future arguments, the college is playing Scrooge and staying officially open -- if mostly dark -- on the 24th. There's a certain Dilbertish quality to it, and I'm sure the folks who actually show up will be bored out of their minds, and it's a criminal waste of natural resources to heat all those empty buildings, but it solves a real problem. If you don't hold to some lines in the sand, even when they seem a little silly, 'past practice' can become nearly unstoppable.

"Aha!," I hear my astute readers saying. "There you go again, blaming the unions. What about working out memoranda of understanding with the relevant unions in advance, stipulating that this isn't setting a precedent? That way, everybody wins!" Sadly, no.

The answer has to do with how it would play in the press. If the college grants an 'extra' day off in the name of saving heat and electricity, the local papers would play it as featherbedding. The usual suspects would start grumbling about public employees goofing off on your tax dime, and how we have to get tough on all those overpaid administrative assistants. ("Don't they get lots of paid vacation already?") If we were a private college, the 'memorandum of understanding' route would make sense, and might even come off as statesmanlike. But as a public institution, that move would look like a conspiracy to rip off the long-suffering taxpayers. Even if the 24th is demonstrably an utterly unproductive day. Even if the money saved in utilities alone more than made up for it.

The featherbedding angle would be especially damaging when our local public sector is facing some pretty nasty financial issues already. It's hard to plead poverty to the taxpayers, then turn around and grant 'extra' days off to unionized employees, many of whom get better benefits than do most taxpayers. (One of those benefits is a buyout of unused vacation days upon retirement. Requiring people to take a vacation day actually reduces the cost of future buyouts, so there really is a financial impact to this.) The folks who like to demagogue such things would beat this to death.

So even though exams will be long over, grades will have been posted, and there won't be a professor to be found, we'll be open. Your tax dollars at work!

Comments:
I don't think you'd get much poor press for closing on the 24th, even if it were general practice.

I do think it makes a lot of sense to have in your union contract provisions for day-before and day-after holidays when Christmas (and maybe 1 or 2 other days) falls on Tuesday or Thursday.

Anyways, hopefully some poor student whose heater broke can come in and get some support and access to a phone line or something.
 
We close campus the week between Christmas and New Year's and it actually saves money because the university turns off the heat and lights. Play that angle.
 
My recollection of the policy at NIST when I worked there was that we always got Christmas Day off, and if Chistmas was on a Tuesday or Thursday, we also got the Monday before or the Friday after off. However, in years when Christmas fell on a Saturday or Sunday, we didn't get any official days off.

That does give you the occasional two-day-off year, but also the occasional no-day-off year, so over time, it averages out to be one day per year.
 
I hate to tell you, but I don't think it's the unions that cause this problem. I work (as staff) at a private non-unionized college, and we run into the same issues. Perhaps unions make the process for change a little more complicated, but they don't cause the issue.

Until this year, my college would keep the school open, but also shut down heat and hot water, saying that they were saving money because "no one was around." The clincher was that all offices were supposed to stay open, so there was at least one person per office on campus during that week. The school recently decided to close all non-essential offices during that week, but only after many, many complaints. We don't have a union agreement, but I can tell you that it will be difficult for them to change their policy after this year.
 
Our college was open on 2 official state holidays and 2 national holidays this year (Columbus and Veterans), so these days get spread around Christmas and New Years to make everyone's life sane. This year, the staff is off from the 22nd through Jan 1st.
 
Weighing in on the side of taking off---my previous cc gave us from Christmas to New Year's. I don't remember any taxpayers up in arms. I think taxpayers already assume people related to education don't work at that time. It was a new thing, if I recall and a treasured benefit of administrative staff (especially with only two weeks vacation a year and salaries well below market in the area).
 
My U made us work on Memorial Day so that we can have Christmas Eve. We also get Columbus Day, Veterans day and something else (maybe President's Day?) right after Christmas so that the campus can close for the whole week. People were a bit grouchy in May over losing Memorial Day, but they're happy now about getting Christmas Eve. They only use this approach when Christmas Eve is on Monday, though -- otherwise we get to work C.E., but get Memorial Day on a normal timeline. I think it was in response to the public outcry of laziness - even though the U saves a ton of money by shutting off heating and lights for the full week.
 
Dean Dad writes that "in a collective bargaining environment in which people are quick to assert 'past practice' status for anything ever done, this year's [practice] becomes next year's entitlement."

Although your faculty union might make such an assertion, labor law doesn't necessarily agree. Management has certain rights. Generally speaking, anything that's not specifically addressed in your collective bargaining agreement is a management right.

The fact that management has not exercised a right in the past does not mean that it has disappeared, that management has somehow ceded its perogative.

Most community colleges have a calendar committee which makes decisions about the school calendar. Usually, these committees are composed of representatives from administration, classified staff, and the faculty.

The collectove bargaining agreement where I work says, "If no mutual agreement on a College calendar occurs . . . the Administration shall present a calendar to the Governing Board for adoption."

--Philip
 
I've had christmas to new year's off at the last three universities I've worked for as staff. This time around, I'm FT faculty and will have the time even though the college will be open. That's part of what I love about higher ed. :D
 
Our rule (I believe this is true for all state workers) is, and I quote:

If the legal holidays of January 1, July 4, or December 25 fall on a Sunday, University offices are closed on the following day (Monday) and the holiday is observed on that Monday.

If any of the other legal holidays fall on a regularly scheduled day off (such as Saturday or Sunday) employees are granted floating holiday time.

Floating holidays are use-it-or-lose-it time, so they end up completely functionally equivalent.

Turn off the heat? Hell, they don't even do that here in the summer....
 
I can't undestand someone complaining about going into work the day before a holiday when no one will be there. To me it sounds like the perfect day at work. In business you not only have to work the day before and after a holiday, your boss is there making sure no one gets out early. Get over it and enjoy the perks you do have working in education.
 
I can't undestand someone complaining about going into work the day before a holiday when no one will be there. To me it sounds like the perfect day at work. In business you not only have to work the day before and after a holiday, your boss is there making sure no one gets out early. Get over it and enjoy the perks you do have working in education.
 
Just wanted to say I enjoy your blog...

However, your assumption that "grades will be posted", is not necessarily correct.

STILL waiting for my BIO 102 final to be posted!

Hooray for Northern Virginia....
 
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