Monday, December 08, 2008

My Money Is Your Money, or, Faculty and University Budget Problems

I've been trying to think of how to post about this, as I feel like it should be a Big, Important Post, but I can't manage to make it into that. So here's the deal. My uni, like many if not all other regional state universities, is bracing for yet more cuts and is already after last year's cuts not exactly rolling in the dough.

Now, in theory, faculty did get a meager raise last year, and in theory we're in but a "soft" hiring freeze as opposed to a full-on one. In theory we still have money for travel.

But what's becoming apparent as we head toward the new year is that all of these theoretical things are kind of bogus. Because at the same time that these theoretical things are the case, what's really happening is the following:

1) Travel money that's already been given the ok is being "reviewed" and will unless gold falls from the sky be slashed. Note: research is ever more important at my university. Apparently we will now be expected to do this on our own dimes, which doesn't matter so much for people who have tenure, but will end up mattering a lot for people who have a few years to go on the t-t. It will also keep newly tenured people stuck at the associate level longer, which also keeps power centralized in certain ways longer. Funny how that works out.

2) Parking went up, health insurance went up, etc., and so that meager raise? Yeah, not so much a raise.

3) It's being strongly hinted that faculty should give money to keep certain things afloat.

4) Course releases seem to have gone the way of the dodo, for in these tough fiscal times we should find a way to do all of the extra things on top of everything else. Sleep be damned!

I get really angry when it comes to all of the above. The bottom line is that I work at this place, and every such request that faculty "do their part" makes me feel like my work isn't valued - like I'm not already doing my part by teaching in fucked up classrooms without the equipment that I need, quietly accepting that I have an office with no heat and that's 400 miles away from the printer, teaching four freaking maxed out classes a semester, etc. I feel like people have their hands in my pockets and like they're taking money that is mine and that I earned. And while I get the fact that a university is a special kind of place, blah blah blah, I kind of want to tell everybody that they can fuck off and that I don't make enough on a humanities salary, no matter how giving a heart I possess (and really, I don't possess one of those, but for the sake of argument), to keep a university in the black. Shit, I'm not in the black just in terms of my personal finances. And yet, because of all of the PR surrounding this shit, I feel guilty when I don't give. You know what? Screw it. No more guilt. I'll feel guilty when my student loans are paid off. Until that time, they'll just have to be happy that I do my freaking job.


Historiann said...

Great post! I've been thinking a lot about this lately too, especiallly in relation to the worldwide, transhistorical notion that women should volunteer their work rather than expect to be paid. I don't know if I have the brainpower to work up a full post--I might just take the easy way out and link to you...

Stand firm, sister. You're right: for cripessakes, you teach a FOUR-FOUR load, and you've managed to publish a BOOK. What more can they ask for? Cookies for the bake sale fundraiser to get the copier fixed?

Bardiac said...

Yep, absolutely on the mark. We fall behind more every year to inflation, and there's no relief in sight.

In my case, though, it's the unwillingness of taxpayers to pay for their state universities. Compared to our neighboring states, we're in sad shape.

Unknown said...


helenesch said...

I've been thinking a lot about this, too. And I'm angry about the upcoming cuts, and yet also feel like I don't have a right to be (I have tenure at a research university, and I live in a state with nearly the worst unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country.)

There's also something weird about the university being run "democractically." I guess it's better than being told from above what we need to cut, but it's also not easy to make decisions that affect the lives of your students (grad and undergrad), your colleagues, and your own bottom line. We've had meetings at the department and college level in the last week where we've been told we need to decide how to give them back all this money from our current budget.

BrightStar (B*) said...

Yes, exactly. I have been feeling like this, too. In the face of budget cuts, we're being asked to do MORE, with FEWER resources, and the message is that whatever we're doing is not good enough. So very frustrating.

Belle said...

Amen sister. For years, when my uni asks for donations from faculty, I tell 'em I've been subsidizing them forever. I offer my credit card bills in evidence, which show such extravagances as dental care, food and survival stuff. The newest shit is to hit the fan today - full hiring freeze, harder course minimums, less/no travel funds, reduced budgets, the whole stinking fish. And what really, really ties it all in a noxious bundle are the multiple VPs with bloated staff. Those VPs do not value the faculty at all, and make twice what most faculty do.

Story on NPR this morning reported that animals (dogs, primates) have a sense of fairness. So why don't VPs???

Arbitrista said...

This isn't just a problem with academia. It seems like in most professions, even in good times, there is an expectation that one should totally divest oneself of any personal life in favor of being "one of the team," i.e. working oneself to death. It's bizarre and destructive and I hate it.

Tara Kuther said...

My university is not subtle - we get multiple requests by campus mail (some of these mailings look expensive!) and by email. Repeated requests throughout the year. As much as I believe in public education, I find it outrageous that my employer asks me to contribute money - especially given that although our budget is slashed and will see further cuts, some administrators still spend to excess. That's beside the point, though. Like most in higher ed, we're not paid that well - to be asked to make a donation is beyond me. Circuit City is having major financial problems but my guess is hasn't hit up its employees for cash. Probably not great analogy but this whole issue pisses me off.

Dr. Curmudgeon said...

You're obviously not the only one irritated by this. Here, they've been undergoing a long-term capital campaign that began before the economic downturn and that had in place a plan to beg money from faculty. I've got no problem saying no and ignoring the thing since I'm paid below the national average for my below-average-pay field. But what really pisses me off is the way these things are written in such a way that brand new faculty are fooled into taking it as an obligation and wind up going and donating because of fears about tenure perceptions.

heu mihi said...

We've been told--in so many words--that *either* we can have new hires at some point in the future (so that we're not teaching 4 maxed-out classes + overloads every semester + serving on 40 committees) *or* raises--and given that my salary is almost $20k before the MLA's recommended starting salary for a t-t asst prof--well, hell. That's not much of a choice.

This is a great post. Your statement that being told to do your part makes you feel that your work is undervalued is right on; I hadn't thought of it that way, but yeah. That's it.

(Lately the administration has taken to exhorting us to "work smarter, not harder." I need to do a whole post on all that is wrong with that statement soon.)

Snarky Prof said...

The most obnoxious example I saw of this was when I was adjuncting at a major urban university. Even though we had not had a raise in 6 years, no access to any type of group health insurance and our class max had just been raised, administration sent us all lengthy mailings on how irresponsible we were if we didn't "give back" to the school that employed us. I should mention that the president had a multimillion dollar contract and got caught embezzling the entire grad student travel fund to the tune of hundreds of thousands. You have no idea how badly I wanted to shove that letter somewhere incredibly unpleasant!

Good Enough Woman said...

I've been at my institution for ten years. I have colleagues who have been there more than 20. One of these 20-years folks mentioned to me that when she started, she was considered full time. Since then, according to her, "service" work--such as evaluations, student learning outcomes stuff, shared governance, technological skills maintenance, etc.--has all increased dramatically.

So if she was full time before all of the extra stuff, what is she now?

It's like we are some kind of vaporous gas that is supposed to fill whatever larger container it's given.

I am not a vaporous gas.

P.S. My verification word is "sheat."

Dr. Crazy said...

Ann and Bardiac - See, that's why this should have been a Big Important Post, because it really gets at broader issues about how (and whose) work is valued as well as how the work that happens at universities is valued by the general public. Those are broader questions that I didn't address because I'm too busy feeling downtrodden about my personal situation, but ones that really need to be asked. What I really see underlying all of this is that the notion that professors are gentlemen intellectuals still rules the day when it comes to the way money works at universities, even at a university like mine where that is far from the role that any professor I know inhabits.

And yet, we're made to feel as if we should be grateful to *work*, which to this girl who originates in the working class just seems insane. I mean, dude, it's *work*. It's not like some vacation or something to go to my job. Sure, it's a good job, but that doesn't make it not a job. And this is where Helenesch's comment is so troubling. I don't see how much of the process of dealing with cuts *is* democratic, even though faculty are expected to participate in the discussion. At a certain point, we all know what will be cut and who will lose out, whatever bargains we try to make. The situation at my university is so dire that any such "democratic" process is more of a performance than anything (or perhaps I'm just too demoralized to see it as real democracy).

Arbitrista: Point taken about the fact that people are expected in a variety of careers to divest oneself of a personal life in order to be a "team player" but what gets me about this is that it's not just being a "team player" - it's being expected to pay cash in order to do the job that one was hired to do, instead of the other way around. In a world where performance reviews take things like presenting at conferences and research productivity into account, the fact that the budget no longer sustains these things doesn't mean that all of a sudden that isn't part of the job. In contrast, when my friend J., whose job in the Real World involves a lot of travel, and whose reviews are based on doing that travel, has to travel for work, they pay for it. She doesn't share hotel rooms to cut costs, and she doesn't have to pony up the money for airfare. And if the company decides not to pay for that travel, she's not held accountable for it. That's the thing that gets me about this particular moment in higher ed: the job requirements aren't changing - if anything they're increasing. It's just we're expected to fund them - not the employer.

To the rest of you, thanks for the comments. I'm still thinking these things through, and I'm wondering whether I'll come up with anything resembling a solution (though I doubt it). And sorry the blog has been such a bitchfest lately! I don't know what's gotten into me! (Well, other than the end of the semester....)

Garble said...

Yeah, there's a lot of this going on all over. I see it at where I work. At my company if you don't like it you can go find another job. Extra work means that you'll be harder to replace. With our market shrinking there are lots of people in my area wondering if they'll have a job in a few weeks. If you piss and moan about it too much you won't have a choice about that.

But you've got tenure (and a job in the humanities. Go you!) so you're very secure in your job. You can say no, you won't do more work. You can kick up a fuss and unless your college goes out of business you're fine.

Maybe you could find another job where they appreciate your value more? Based on the number of adjuncts they'll have no trouble filling your teaching load, and based on what adjuncts are paid they'll be able to do it for less. To hear the freeway fliers talk about it they do a great job so I doubt the students will suffer.