Sunday, May 06, 2012


Ask the Administrator: Sharing the Pain

A longtime correspondent writes:

Out here in California, cc's are facing a real budget crisis.  At my campus, we're trying to cut $5 million out of this year's budget, and this year was not a good year.
So there will be no summer school classes this year and (almost certainly) next year as well.  Part-time teachers and younger full-timers will lose money they've depended on to get through the year.  But the school's not closed.  Everybody with an 11- or 12-month contract will be at work even though there won't be a single student in sight.
At the same time, we're voting on a five percent across-the-board pay cut for all district employees.  If faculty doesn't vote to ratify the pay cut (we're unionized, and I'm a union guy), all hourly employees--mainly student workers, including tutors--and who-knows-how-many classified employees will lose their jobs.
In other words, no school this summer, or at least no students, no teachers, no classes, but everyone at school who's not a student or a teacher will be working and pulling down a paycheck.  And even though it may be 5 percent lighter, it's still a paycheck.  Faculty get nothing during the summer, AND we're asked to take 5 percent less when we return to work--on top of class cuts in the Fall, which will really slam part-timers who also get to vote.
What's your take on this, Dean Dad?  I certainly understand that if 12-month jobs (like a Dean's job) were reduced to 10-month jobs, that would mean a 17 percent pay cut; 11-month employees would lose 9 percent.  The union guy in my head says these folks have contracts.  But it's equally obvious that even though there's no school for two entire months, school employees are still getting paid.  It doesn't make much financial sense to close the widget factory for two months and keep paying everyone EXCEPT the widget makers.
I'm pretty sure how I know what your thinking on this is as an administrator. But what if you were a teacher?  And what's your global, "big picture" thinking?

I remember as a kid the first time my Dad told me about farm subsidies.  (Other kids remember baseball games or Disney trips.  I remember a conversation about farm subsidies.)  I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard.  We pay farmers NOT to grow food?  Why on earth would we do that?

As I got older, I realized that it isn’t that simple.  We have crop rotation to consider, and market fluctuations, and the simple fact that food isn’t like other consumer goods.  What sounds ridiculous on the surface -- and I don’t deny some silliness in the details -- makes more sense than a first glance would suggest.

I’ve gone on record several times saying that the California business model for community colleges is completely insane, and that you couldn’t pay me enough to work in it.  Dilemmas like these just solidify that stand.  Only in California would the solution to budget cuts be to stop teaching.  In any rational setting, colleges should be encouraged to teach more, not less.  But the California system effectively forces public institutions to close themselves off to the public.  Now community colleges have waiting lists, and UCSD has decided to stop taking transfer students.  When a public system closes out the public, it’s fair to ask just why, exactly, it exists.  The farm subsidy model may or may not make sense in farming, but it absolutely does not make sense in teaching.  

That said, given a set of horrible choices, what to do?

I have to take issue with the implication that administrative work stops when summer starts.  It simply does not.  Summer is when we catch up on some of the work that couldn’t get done during the academic year when fires keep breaking out.  Budgeting, scheduling, staffing, writing accreditation reports, analyzing institutional research -- these things don’t necessarily require students running around.  It’s true that summer is usually slower than the regular semesters, but there’s a difference between “slowed” and “stopped.”

I also have to agree that asking deans to take a 17 percent cut when faculty take “only” 5 percent would be unfair.  People make commitments -- such as mortgages -- based on income.  When their incomes dip abruptly but their commitments don’t, bad things happen.  A five percent cut hurts; a 17 percent cut hurts much more.  

But the larger issue, I think, unfolds over time.  It’s possible to construct an argument for a snapshot in time saying that those who make more should take bigger hits.  But do that, and good luck ever getting good people to step into those roles.  The pay bump from full-time faculty to lower administration is already, in most cases, surprisingly small; make it even smaller, and make those position even more tenuous, and you simply won’t get the people you need.

That’s not just a theoretical argument.  I’m already seeing it on the ground, and I’m not even in California.  We’ve recently run searches for both faculty and deans.  For the faculty positions, the pools have been large and deep, and the main challenge has been to winnow them down.  For the administrative positions, the pools have been small and shallow; even getting enough qualified people to bother with interviews is sometimes a problem.  With every passing year that unionized folks get raises and non-union folk don’t, the appeal of administration gets that much smaller.  If you added 17 percent cuts to that, within a year or two you simply wouldn’t have anyone you would want to keep.

My sense of it is that playing the usual, tired “faculty vs. administration” game is not the way to go.  If you’re arguing over who has the outer track in the death spiral, you’re arguing over the wrong thing.  In the very short term, I’d suggest voting for as evenhanded a cut as possible, because in the long term, you’re all on the same side.  Solidarity is the only hope.  You need to manage to send a unified message to your state.  In the absence of that, the death spiral will only accelerate, as is its wont.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest?  Is there a better way?

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

Oh, that is one unholy mess they created, between Prop 13 etc and the completely self-inflicted way they handle tuition.

1) It is "only" 5 percent for full time faculty if they don't normally teach summers. I personally teach a very light load, but I have younger colleagues (like those alluded to in the query) who teach the max in summer and appear to need to do so to afford an underwater mortgage and student loans. I've never worked the numbers, but that might be a LOT more than 17% if all extra classes got dropped.

2) That said, profs need to look around during the summer and notice students applying, going through orientation, registering, applying for financial aid, etc. Leaving aside your joyful moments filling out accreditation reports (since I will be doing "outcomes" during totally uncompensated time this summer), there wouldn't be any students in the fall if the college's back end closed down all summer.

3) Your ultimate full paragraph is spot on. The only true solution is a "teach in". The CA faculty must, across the state, put their teaching skills to use by explaining how the system "works". Don't even advocate, just explain. If you teach argumentation in intro comp, put it to use by writing a great op ed. Multiply that 100 times across every small paper in the state, and legislators will hear from their constituents.

Finally, no, I have no advice other than the observation that full time faculty do better than any of the others (staff, adjuncts) listed here except for admins, and you couldn't pay me enough to be an admin.
I have to agree with the idea that if you cut the pay for deans by 17% no one will ever take the job again.

When I started in academia, I fully planned to move into administration. I am detail oriented, good at budgets and codes, and have some managerial experience which makes me think I would be able to work with the faculty. I found out that, at least at my current CC, the dean only gets extra pay equivalent to one overload class per semester. And the dean job is an 11 month appointment where the higher ups don't respect the 1 month off contract. My dean is there late into the evening and on weekends. I will stay a faculty member forever thank you very much.

Cut the pay and more people will see the light thereby foregoing a move administrative work. Good luck with recruitment.

Just a BTW, I am so glad I am not in CA. Every time I start to feel completely frustrated with my state's financial situation I read something else about the CCs in CA and think, "Well, at least it's not so ridiculous here... yet."
I'm an IT maanger at a community college in California. Summers are the lightest period for us in terms of help requests since the number of students and faculty on campus is greatly reduced. But, summers are when we do most of our big projects and work on accreditation and program review. If I had to stop working for the summer, we would have to push back our Blackboard upgrade (our current version will be unsupported in January) and would probably not get our program review completed. Our other IT staff will be working on some other upgrades and training non-IT staff on new software this summer.

Depending on the summer, it may be lighter overall than the fall but as Dean Dad points out, slowed is not stopped. As it stands, this summer will probably be one of the busiest and most stressful periods in my career so far.
As a staff member, your perception of summer campus activity is very naive. Aside from all the things mentioned, the college still has bills to pay, catalogs to prep for the next year, and articulations to review. The summer is anything but quiet. The upsides are more parking and shorter lines in the cafe. Summer is not a time of twiddling thumbs.
I'm not going to be as polite as CCphysicist in point 2) and anonymous above.

Student Services workers are busier during the summer than any other time of year.

Do you think students just "miracle" themselves into your classes? Do they fall from the sky like snowflakes? Really? Critically think, much?
Honestly, were I you, I'd argue for furloughs for everyone rather than paycuts. Furloughs are the budgetary equivalent of paycuts but they are greatly to the advantage of faculty/staff in the long run. Here's why.

1. Furloughs do not result in an actual decrease in the base pay a person receives. That means that for the purposes of calculating their retirement benefits, furloughs have no effect.
2. Furloughs can be put in place and then removed without having to negotiate for a "higher" salary.
3. Furloughs, handled correctly, will preserve more faculty jobs and result in workload reductions proportional to the decrease in pay.

How do you use furloughs to preserve faculty jobs? Furloughed profs must have their teaching workload reduced proportional to the furlough. This will free up sections to be taught by more adjuncts. It will decrease the workload of the profs as their pay goes down, which I think is just. It will allow people who have the option for extra work outside the CC to have more time to do that work and earn money if they need it.

If your administration argues that funding problems are structural and there’s never going to be more money, remind them:

1. Things could change if the economy picks up and you know that they wouldn’t want to make it harder for new faculty by denying them a living wage when the state is flush with money. Sacrifice makes sense in the short term but these cycles usually hit bottom about a year after the economy starts to turn around - and it started turning around in 2011. With the Facebook and other IPOs on the horizon and a steadily improving economy, next year could be better. Furloughs can be negotiated again for the coming year if needed. For now, they’re the kinder choice for everyone.
2. Encourage them to offer senior faculty a way to exit during the furlough – those folks cost as much as 2X what a new prof costs (not to mention adjuncts) and if you cut pay, they may stay longer to make up what they just lost from their pension. Since the pension comes from a different CALPERs or STIRs budget from the salary, your admins should only care about their costs.
3. We’ve all been through these cycles before. The savvy administrator is not planning for more of the same but rather looking ahead to future times. The political cost of offering lower salaries will have a long term chilling effect on hiring and will decrease your institutions ability to recruit top talent. It will send a devaluing message to faculty and staff at a time when, as they economy improves, they may start to have other options and decide to leave. A pay cut could make it harder for minorities and women to apply for jobs at your institution as the cost of housing is very high in your area compared to others (and I’m willing to bet you can point to at least one person who slipped away because they couldn’t afford a house). If your administration is really committed to creating an institution that serves the community, they need to maintain their commitment to diversification of the faculty (so that students can relate to a faculty that reflect their own experience) and retain the ability to recruit competitively.

See where these arguments get you. Good Luck!
Ivory-having been through 3 rounds of furloughs. They are paycuts. And they suck. And even though my particular arm of the statewide system was in the black and only take a smidgen of a percentage of state funding we had the same amount of furlough as other schools who were deep in the red.

The only upside was I didn't feel bad about not answering the blackberry on my furlough days.
Anon 11:27 - furloughs are for one year. Paycuts are forever. You feel the same pain now with both but in the future, if the furlough is lifted, you don't have to beg to get the same payment you got three years ago for doing the same job. It's not fun but neither is a permanent reduction in your retirement pay. Furloughs are the much better way to go.
Excellent advice from Ivory about using some sort of early retirement bonus for senior faculty. If the only thing keeping them from retiring is the gap between now and age 65 when they are eligible for Medicare, provide health insurance as the buyout.

That will be more than covered by the difference between their salary and that of a new hire.
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