FA News: Financial Emergency (3/30/17)

Dear Colleagues,

As you can imagine, we are still reviewing the details from the messages sent Wednesday by President Dunn and Interim Chancellor Colwell. In addition to those messages, we have just received notice of an addition to the Board of Trustees (BOT) agenda for their April 6 meeting in Carbondale. A new motion would officially allow SIUC to borrow funds from SIUE and, unless there is some improvement in the budgetary situation before then, call on SIUC to seek a declaration of financial emergency from the BOT at their July 2017 meeting. The updated BOT agenda can be found here (the new item is “DD”, at the end of the document). This will be an important board meeting to attend: they meet at 10 AM in Ballroom B of the Student Center. I plan to attend and make a statement during the public comment period.

The $30 million cut, particularly when tacked on top of the $21 million in cuts already made on this campus, would do tremendous harm to SIUC, to our employees, to our students, and to our region. The ultimate responsibility for these cuts lies in Springfield. We cannot agree more with President Dunn’s characterization of the ongoing budget impasse in Springfield as a “governmental abomination”. Two of our local state senators will be holding a joint town hall in Carbondale on Saturday morning. They are asking for RSVPs: we urge you to attend, and let them know how much damage Springfield is doing to Carbondale. Information on the town hall can be found here.

The FA’s central goals in addressing this crisis are two: shared governance, and protecting academics. We cannot yet be confident, from the information provided to us this far, that either of these goals will be met.

  • The plans provided so far do not make it clear that cuts will be designed to protect our core educational mission.
  • The plan to translate general budget goals into action does not appear to follow the principles of shared governance. Indeed, there appears to be no plan for formal involvement by anyone below the level of vice chancellor in the next phase of planning.

I will develop these concerns in what follows, but to get there will start with some more technical issues faculty may have questions about.

1. The FA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the BOT has a higher legal status than board policy or any decision by the Chancellor, President, or Board. This is why the IEA unions won a refund (with interest) for the furloughs illegally imposed in 2011. Thus while the President cites Board Policies C.1.E., for our purposes the CBA is more relevant.

2. President Dunn made a vital distinction between a “declaration of a short-term financial emergency” and a “declaration of long-term exigency”. He is calling upon SIUC to declare a financial emergency this July, unless the state provides us with substantial funding before then. But financial exigency he is “withholding for later consideration, depending upon future state appropriations”.

3. Put briefly, for TT faculty the distinction between short-term financial emergency and long-term financial exigency is that between furloughs and layoffs. So Dunn’s withholding of consideration of financial exigency rules out layoffs of tenure-track or tenured faculty on that ground, at least for the time being, while his suggestion that we declare fiscal emergency would open the door to consideration of furloughs.

3. Article 18 of the CBA gives the administration the power to impose up to six furlough days per fiscal year if it declares a financial emergency and follows the procedure outlined in the CBA. Given that the BOT would declare a financial emergency in July at the earliest, no furloughs will be forthcoming  before the fall semester of 2017. The FA has the right to engage in “impact bargaining” in the event the administration calls for furlough days. Impact bargaining allows the FA to propose ways to minimize the negative impact of furloughs, but does not give us the leverage to bargain over the substance of the issue. The CBA does, however, state that furloughs “will only be implemented if other workable cost-saving measures (including but not limited to reductions in non-essential services, hiring freezes, suspension of new initiatives, etc.) are not sufficient to mitigate the crisis” (18.02). We will ensure that this language is complied with.

4. Article 19 of the CBA outlines the process for declaring financial exigency. An existential crisis of that sort would allow for layoffs of tenured faculty, but the contractual process for declaring and implementing financial exigency is far more exacting than that for furloughs. This is the language we went on strike for in 2011. Should SIUC have to consider financial exigency, the FA would have the right to bargain on the substance of the matter, not just to conduct impact bargaining.

6. It is worth pointing out that program changes (Article 9) provide one other possible basis for layoffs of tenured faculty: program elimination (9.07). Revisions to this article of the contract have considerably strengthened the role of faculty in the program change process. But if, at the end of the process, a “basic academic unit” (a department/school or Library Affairs unit) is completely eliminated, the administration may terminate tenured faculty, provided that they made a good faith effort to reassign faculty to any other suitable bargaining unit position and found that no such positions were available.

7. Given the possibility of layoffs of other instructional staff, the administration could call for compensatory increases in the workload of TT faculty in the same area. President Dunn is quoted in Wednesday’s Southern as saying that one potential measure to promote savings would be “increased teaching loads for tenured faculty members no longer actively engaged in research”. The new CBA provides some protections here, including that any such changes be duly noted in the promotion and tenure process, and that increases in teaching loads result in decreased assignments in other areas. Workloads for faculty in the same department must also be equitable.

8. As we were learning of these looming cuts, we also learned that Interim Provost Ford has requested that deans have all chairs and directors on campus rank the research and creative activity of their faculty on a scale from 1-5, where the scale is calibrated to the research and creative work required for tenure and promotion. The provost’s memo making this directive made it clear that she would only use this data for program prioritization; she did not want individual faculty names, and if they were provided she said that she would not “use them in any way that would have an impact on individual faculty members”. These limitations, however, have not been clearly communicated in all colleges on campus, as college offices have requested names, and we have received reports suggesting these rankings may be put to other uses. We have requested that the administration clarify how all administrative units will make use of these quick, imprecise rankings being made by chairs.

9. We have only begun to analyze Chancellor Colwell’s list of campus cuts, but do have some serious questions and concerns about his plan.

The Chancellor’s plan, at least at this stage, is rather vague. He outlines a number of specific cuts, but does not consistently provide enough detail to allow us to judge the magnitude of cuts in any given area.

  • In several areas the plan suggests less severe cuts to non-instructional areas than those suggested by previous documents, like that of the non-instructional review committee, or the March 2016 cost reductions SIU proposed to meet Governor Rauner’s FY17 Budget.
  • For example, the cuts to “partially self-supporting units” in the Chancellor’s plan total $1.2 million, a figure which apparently includes cuts to athletics, if any such cuts are planned. But the non-instructional review committee identified $5.5 million in possible savings from such centers, and a $3 million dollar deficit in athletics. The cost reductions proposed to meet the Governor’s FY17 budget document included the elimination of all state funding for the Vice Chancellor for Development and Alumni Relations, a total of $2.7 million, rather than the $166,000 cut in the Chancellor’s plan. We are not, to be clear, advocating full adoption of every cut suggested in earlier budget plans; but the administration needs to justify far lesser cuts to these areas before moving on to cuts in academics.
  • The Chancellor’s plan leaves the amount of cuts to academic areas completely unclear. The $4.3 million to $7 million in cuts outlined for “campus units” could result in grievous damage to academic units. In the absence of any further detail, then, we simply cannot tell how harshly these cuts will affect teaching and research at SIUC.

10. We have known for more than two years that this day of reckoning may be coming. During that time a number of groups, some with significant faculty participation, have addressed parts of this crisis. But it now appears that the SIU administration will decide on massive cuts over the next few weeks, with a minimum of consultation. The Chancellor’s plan for setting targets and working up reduction plans appears to involve no formal role for anyone below the level of vice chancellor.

The Chancellor closed his email with a call for unity. We agree that this is a time to work together. But we respectfully disagree with his suggestion that we should, in pursuit of unity, resist the temptation to raise questions about budgets and cuts. The CBA guarantees the FA a formal role in negotiating possible furloughs and layoffs, and the Chancellor, to his credit, has been quite willing to meet with FA officers to discuss the crisis in general terms. But we need much more information and transparency about the budget process. We need far more detailed budgetary information, including a range of possible alternative cuts, in order to allow all constituency groups to participate in these decisions in an informed manner. These decisions are far too vital to be made in isolation by a few people in Anthony Hall. They will shape our future. If we make plans together, with the shared goal of protecting our core academic mission, we can come through this crisis together, with a university that we can all still be proud of.

In solidarity,

Dave Johnson
President, SIUC FA

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

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