One of the numerous nasty side effects of a fiscal crisis is that it affords those in authority a prime opportunity to pursue their own personal and political agendas and vendettas. Higher education has not been particularly popular in this state for a long time among a certain coterie of legislators who represent districts where even the Episcopalians handle snakes and some folks think the Bible and the Sears Catalogue constitute a mighty fine library.
This problem grew infinitely worse with the ascension to the governorship in 2002 of Republican Sonny Perdue, a self-serving slug who is unfortunately just smart enough to know a relatively defenseless political punching bag when he sees one. Throw in a university system chancellor who is a former businessman, and thinks that a university should be run, you guessed it, “like a business,” where faculty are just another cog in the wheel and you have all the behind-the-scenes info you should need to understand what it’s like to teach at the University of Georgia these days.
Just in case you’re having trouble with the empathy thing, however, let me tell you about my last two days.
On Tuesday I received the following email:
July 21, 2009
TO: UGA Faculty and Staff
FROM: Tim Burgess
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration
RE: Duty to Report Arrests and Convictions
This is to remind all faculty and staff that, under policy mandated by the Board of Regents, all University of Georgia employees are required to report any arrest to the Office of Legal Affairs within 72 hours of the arrest and to report the outcome of any criminal case within 24 hours of a court decision. Failure to report is a violation of the policy and may lead to negative employment action above and beyond whatever action might be taken because of the arrest itself….
The Office of Legal Affairs will consult with the Background Investigation Committee as necessary in making determinations as to suitability of employment of employees arrested for and/or convicted of a crime.
Then yesterday morning about 11 a.m., I signed a contract into which this language had been inserted:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of this contract, for fiscal year 2009-2010, the Board of Regents has authorized the president to implement a mandatory furlough program requiring employees to take not more than 10 days of unpaid annual leave. In the event it becomes necessary for the president to exercise this authority, employee furloughs will be implemented in accordance with guidelines promulgated by the Office of the Chancellor.”
Well, let’s just say it didn’t take very damn long for it to become “necessary for the president to exercise this authority,” because about 5 p.m. I got this email from him:
To UGA Faculty and Staff:
By now, most of you have heard or read about Governor Perdue’s order to state agencies to cut 5 percent from their budgets and implement three furlough days by the end of the calendar year. I know that you have many questions about what this is going to mean for you, your colleagues, and your families.
We are working with the Board of Regents and their staff, and expect to receive further instructions on implementing these reductions. All of us are trying to work through budget scenarios both at the campus level and at the University System, and there remains a possibility of additional budget reductions and furlough days after the first of the year.
I will be making more information available as soon as possible, and I will be making a full report to the community on August 20, when the semester is under way and after the August Board of Regents meeting. We will have a more-detailed discussion on the furloughs and other budget issues at that time.
Until then, I would ask each of you as individuals and members of departments and units to continue to function as efficiently as possible. Throughout this time of economic challenge, we will continue to make the preservation of jobs a top priority, second only to serving students.
Thank you for everything you do for the University of Georgia.
Michael F. Adams
PresidentAccording to the local rag, “Each day of furloughs saves taxpayers $135 million when teachers, University System of Georgia employees and all state workers are included.” I don’t know who figured that out but she or he must have one hell of a calculator. In any event, if these figures are correct, why not simply cut the budget 5% plus the equivalent of three furlough days, or $405 million? If the object is to avoid layoffs, where’s the guarantee that won’t happen anyway? What’s so magical about three days?.
It will surely be interesting to see how this will work at UGA with a full-time faculty-staff population of roughly 9,000, where salaries range from the President’s reported $630k+ to clerical folks, I’m sorry to say, making barely 3% of that. Obviously, furloughing the three-percenters isn’t going to help the state nearly as much as it will hurt the individuals forced to forego three days’ pay. In reality, the only humane way to go here is to impose more furlough days on administrators, assuming we can spare them for more than 72 hours, (Pause here for removal of tongue from deep in cheek) and faculty, up to the point, of course, that they might be unable to meet their teaching, advising or committee responsibilities.
Maybe you believe this is all really just about money, but, like the Board of Regents’ Big Brotherish obsession with monitoring faculty conduct off campus, these mandatory days off without pay (which have already been instituted in some state agencies but thus far avoided in four-year colleges) strike me also as a sharp reminder to faculty that, in the minds of the powers that be, they are no different from the folks who mow the shoulders of the highways or slave anonymously away deep within the bowels of the state bureaucracy. It’s true enough that the paychecks all come from the same place, and university faculty are certainly no more worthy of high regard than any other contributing member of society, but in this case, showing disrespect for them translates directly into devaluing what they do.
Finally, even taking furloughs out of the equation, by my calculation, we have now absorbed budget cuts of 17 percent over roughly the last 18 months. Yet I read in today’s paper that officials are trying to figure how furlough days will be scheduled “so that absences don't affect the smooth running of the university? “Smooth running of the university!” Who, pray tell, has any right to expect smooth running after the butchering we’ve been subjected to? Better yet, if we can really appear to operate just as effectively after 17 percent budget reduction and faculty and staff taking the equivalent of 1 percent pay cuts (in addition to earlier reductions in benefits), just exactly who is going to believe that we needed all that money in the first place? Even if they wanted to, there is no way in hell that faculty are going to be allowed to take furloughs in a way that means cancelling classes, which, let’s face it, would hardly strike many students as forcing them to share our pain, in any event However, if staff furloughs are coming anyway, bus service should be curtailed, and the hours for computer labs, cafeterias, the student center and workout and recreational facilities should be reduced as well. This may sound cold, but getting cut to pieces while trying to repulse repeated knife attacks with appeals to reason is getting a little old. Unless students, parents, clients, and beneficiaries of our outreach efforts are made to feel that gutting their university has hurt them in some meaningful way, in this hostile environment, any hope we might have of recovering what’s been taken away is certain to fade from faint to non-existent.
Gloomy as things sound, not all the news around here is bad. With football season fast approaching, the $40 million expansion of our football and track facilities is proceeding apace. Any way you slice it, of course, the real thrust behind this project, said to include “a new weight training room, athletic training facility, a multi-purpose area, and new coaches offices and meeting rooms,” is the perceived need to impress seventeen and eighteen year athletes we are wooing to represent an institution, which, solely on the basis of their academic prowess, would not give more than a very few of them the time of day.
I have to confess that after all these years, trying to make sense of all these incongruities, accomplishes little more than stoking my thirst for a beer or several. That reminds me! Just in case you’re watching, Regents-voyeurs, can you tell me if I have a few too many and wind up in the old gray bar motel do I have to report it even if I’m on furlough?