FA News: 3/10/2017

Dear colleagues,

My apologies for a lengthy and sometimes weighty message as we head into spring break, but we have some important announcements to share, and should comment on recent statements from the administration about the fiscal crisis.

New contract officially ratified on both sides

First of all, I am happy to report that the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement, a.k.a. contract) has now been ratified by both sides and signed by both sides. A final electronic version of the CBA is attached. This new contract is now legally in effect, and will govern any procedures not already well and truly underway under the old contract. Thanks once again to our bargaining team for all their work: Rachel Stocking (chair), Cade Bursell, Anne Fletcher, Judith Green, and David Lightfoot.

Budget update

FA leaders meet with their administrative counterparts every so often, and our last meeting took place on Tuesday of this week. As part of that meeting, Chancellor Colwell encouraged us to carefully parse President Dunn’s next couple of “System Connection” messages, the first of which has now been sent, and provided us with some broader context to interpret those messages. The President speaks in general terms in his message, but makes it clear that absent state appropriations in the near future, appropriations which he does not expect to be forthcoming, the administration believes major cuts are in store for SIUC. President Dunn’s testimony to the state senate this week included the following sobering passage, as reported in the Champaign News-Gazette (cf. a story from the March 8 DE):

Southern Illinois President Randy Dunn said the university is reviewing whether to eliminate academic departments and possibly an entire college.

“If we have to go there, it will be significant and send a tectonic shock through southern Illinois,” he said. “… If you get away from the fiscal analysis, we have a public university system here in Illinois that in the higher education marketplace is just about to go to junk bond status.”

That’s my emphasis on the threat to an entire college: unless this is very sloppy reporting, Dunn has very publicly suggested not just a college merger but a college elimination, a very serious cut. The administration reports that the Carbondale campus has so far not made the level of cuts made at Edwardsville and by the medical school, and has instead essentially been running on borrowed money, in hope the state will come to its senses in time to allow us to avoid deeper cuts. In their view that time has all but run out, and the policy of attempting to more or less stay the course via across the board belt-tightening and savings via attrition will no longer suffice. We are, in short, about to enter a new and more difficult phase in the budget crisis.

The FA will continue to insist that cuts are justified by the fiscal situation, and that cuts are made to academics only as a last resort. In the course of the meeting with the administration, we noted our disappointment that the Chancellor’s Planning and Budget Advisory Council (CPBAC) had watered down cuts to administration and athletics that were suggested in the report of the Non-instructional Program Review Committee. The CPBAC report itself noted the need for greater transparency to demonstrate the efficiency of our athletics programs and administration. Given that massive deficit in athletics (outlined in a prior message), and the fact that staffing levels in administration have not fallen nearly as quickly as student enrollment or faculty numbers, we argued that the administration had plenty of convincing to do before we could accept the contention that athletics and administration had already been trimmed enough.

It is, moreover, troubling that the current academic prioritization process is taking place in relative obscurity, at the level of deans on up, and not following the process called for in the task force report by faculty from the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council, which called for individual unit heads to compare their programs to peers at other universities. This report is scheduled to be complete on May 1: that would leave little or no time for wider discussion of academic prioritization by faculty before faculty disperse for the summer. As we noted in our meeting with the administration, it is vital that a wider discussion about major cuts at SIUC take place before the summer, and not be rushed through when most faculty are off campus.

As this crisis deepens, we would like to set up a budget committee of our own to study the fiscal situation. I would encourage any FA member interested in joining such a committee to drop me a line.  This would be an opportunity to learn more about the ins and outs of university budgeting and policy, and to help shape the campus debate about what to cut.

FA workshop on Promotion and Tenure

The FA is going to offer a workshop on Promotion and Tenure.

When: Friday April 7, 12-2 PM
Where: Communications 1032 (aka Dean’s Conference Room)

Angela Aguayo, Associate Professor, Cinema and Photography; Dave Johnson, Associate Professor, Classics; David Lightfoot, Professor, Biotechnology and Genomics; Saikat Talaptra, Professor, Physics; Jonathan Wiesen, Professor, History.

We plan for short presentations, followed by plenty of time for questions and discussion. Pizza and drinks will be provided. Please RSVP to Jyotsna Kapur at jkapur@siu.edu.

Health insurance denials

We are receiving reports of faculty being denied coverage due to the backlog in payments from the state. If you have been denied coverage, we’d encourage you to send a brief account of your experience to Bret Seferian, our IEA Uniserv director, at Bret.Seferian@ieanea.org. If we can collect evidence about this problem, we can up the more pressure on the powers that be to resolve it.

Correction on proposed changes to pensions

In my message sent last Friday, I  gave an inaccurate account of the pension plan that was part of the now apparently defunct “Grand Bargain.” The relevant bill, SB 11, would not force retirees to choose between 3% COLA raises in retirement and health insurance–that was an earlier version of pension “reform.” Instead, the bill would force current employees on traditional or portable plans to (a) accept lower cost of living adjustments or (b) retain the 3% COLA, compounded, but without counting any future raises toward the baseline of their pension The full bill can be found here. It would have no impact on faculty in the self-managed plan. The IEA believes this bill is unconstitutional, as either choice would lower pension benefits which are protected by the Illinois State Constitution.

But this pension reduction proposal is both dead, at least for now, and less draconian than the previous one, which was struck down by the courts. Let that count as a smidgeon of good news to close with as we enter spring break.

In solidarity,
Dave Johnson
President, SIUC-FA

2017 – 2018 SIUCFA Contract – Final-Signed

About Dave Johnson
I'm an Associate Professor in Classics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Among other things.

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