Fighting the downsizing of education at the University of Vermont.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

timing is a tactic

"However, time is of the essence, as state government is learning. The longer the university puts this off, the harder and more costly it becomes. To suggest that the cuts can be found by a campuswide focus group is unrealistic. To suggest, as has been by one university union leader, that the answer is to fire President Dan Fogel and the board of trustees shows how ludicrous the debate is going to get. No one has purposely created this situation..."

We read this quote in the BFP editorial (12/23/08), and it serves as a great example of one of the top arguments running against SSFT. So let's debunk, and I welcome help with the details...

First, 'time is of the essence' is exactly the message the administration counts on (as well as Wall Street) and it is this insistence that is bringing the greatest clamour from the greatest number of folks that do the work and serve the students up on campus. This financial mess was a long-time coming, and we can't assume there were that many folks not doing their job in their comfortable chairs--so we must recognize that the administration could have, should have done their job and started looking for creative solutions through the wisdom and knowledge of those on the ground actually providing the UVM learning experience. Professor Streeter: "A faculty member who has taught thousands of students over the years knows a lot about what students need or want. A well-published scholar might have useful ideas about how best to focus the university's research priorities."

That they didn't prepare, that they aren't hearing the collective voices of the faculty, staff, and students (but rather isolating department chairs and deans upon whom thousands of folks, including the students and their quality of education, are depending to speak up, alone... and do what? say no?). This timing excuse backs folks into a corner--it is a tactic, and it has been used before. How do we say never again? We stand up now. And there is much at stake--these budget shortfall "solutions" really look like they will create further "problems"--for example, how are classrooms supposed to function with an increase of 300 students and a significant termination of lecturer positions (upon whom many departments depend as the number of tenured has not kept pace with student growth and lecturers have multiplied, no doubt part of a cost-saving strategy by the administration) as well as a huge loss of staff who already are each working jobs that normally would require two or more people? One professor commented at the Arts and Sciences Dean's meeting (to share where money would be cut) that making irrational decisions because we are squeezed for time will have long-lasting and serious ramifications.

If we don't take the time (which somehow the administration is trying to steal from us by putting all this off until the holidays, when folks and students leave) these cuts will mark a significant step in the direction of a corporate university. This is the fear above all else that motivates me--corporate solutions means that people are no longer in the vision, and that my university is no longer about my education, but about cost-saving and huge administrative salaries--while my generation pays more and more to get through college... and fewer and fewer of us are able to do this.

I included more in the editorial quote! "No one has purposely created this situation." Well, that is not a whole truth, is it? Well, it depends on what 'purposely' means and whether this editorial considers that part of the administration's job is to be responsible to the community. When the BFP has run articles on the sloppy mismanagement of funds I find it ironic this tone should appear in the most recent article. When 40% (and who knows now about these percentages and estimations coming from the President?) of this shortfall is due to internal factors, clearly some folks were irresponsible... And now who pays for it? Certainly not those who are responsible--I am sorry but symbolic gestures mean nothing when folks are being told to be "frugal" over the holidays (from the Dean of A&S to a staff person wondering what to do going into the holidays, not knowing if it is her job that will be cut and not knowing when).

It is funny that the op-ed uses the word "ludicrous"--that was the same word used by professors and staff over and again at the Dean's meeting: It is ludicrous that over $10 million was minmanaged by the administration and they are telling faculty and staff to cut where all has already been cut to the bone--there is no more fat left! And that means that not only folks, through no fault of their own, are going to the unemployment office in a time of recession, it means that we students loose our mentors even though its killing us and our families financially to be here.

Timing is a tactic! This timing is "purposeful"! And op-eds aren't going to be heard well enough, and nothing will be heard unless we stand up. If not now, when?


  1. Saving labor strategies can work and are working elsewhere in higher ed, for one example, see the NYTimes:

    Even as layoffs are reaching historic levels, some employers have found an alternative to slashing their work force. They’re nipping and tucking it instead.

    A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules. These employers are still cutting labor costs, but hanging onto the labor.
    And in some cases, workers are even buying in. Witness the unusual suggestion made in early December by the chairman of the faculty senate at Brandeis University, who proposed that the school’s 300 professors and instructors give up 1 percent of their pay.

    “What we are doing is a symbolic gesture that has real consequences — it can save a few jobs,” said William Flesch, the senate chairman and an English professor.

    If the people employed in affected groups on campus voluntarily opt to keep their co-workers on board by using such alternative strategies, we could weather the storm together and keep people employed and paying taxes instead of collecting unemployment and accelerating the downward spiral. Let's stay employed--To do so, those at the top--with salaries over $100,000--should take a pay cut, not freeze their pay at an unsustainable level while others lose their jobs. After the cuts, Deans and departments will have less to cut and can look at what their employees suggest as alternatives.

  2. If we think of an op-ed's audience as the administration, no, it's not going to be heard. They're pursuing a logic of well-supported executives and managers overseeing a "flexible" and lean faculty and staff. On the other hand, if we think of an op-ed's audience as students, staff, and faculty who feel overwhelmed by the administration's arguments and unsure as to whether there's any alternative, everything we do--op-eds, pickets in meetings, leaflets and tabling, letters to the editor, panels--helps to put more people with us so that each time we stand up (or sit down!), we have that many more. Two faculty and staff members contacted me after Kat spoke in the faculty senate meeting about joining SSFT, three more people after reading the press conference coverage. If we really get out on campus--every bulletin board, every chalkboard and whiteboard, (almost) every faculty member announcing in class our first event--we could fill one of those 260-seat classrooms Fogel wants to see more of, with people who want to stop the cuts. Education and activism can go hand in hand here--and need to since so many students, and a larger public, need to hear the arguments for why these cuts are neither necessary nor warranted.


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