Because how can I get back on it if I can't find it?
It doesn't help that the track keeps moving.
I think that a lot of you know that I came home from my various travels to find that I will be on furlough (close to 10%) for at least the next academic year. Probably two. I was expecting it, and had, in fact, voted to give our union the power to negotiate the side note to our contract that made it a reality. Those of us who voted for it did so, overwhelmingly, because we wanted to avoid, as much as possible, laying off any more non-tenure-line faculty members. While for various reasons those faculty members do not have the (increasingly scant) protections that come with tenure (nor do they have the same service and research requirements, although I know for a fact that they have the same drive and ability to do research and to serve their institutions), they are valued colleagues who serve a critical role in creating the educational experience that we offer to our students. So we'd all really like for as many of them to keep as much of their jobs as possible. That means that I (and just about everyone else I've spoken to) am willing to take a hit to my bottom line to make that possible (and yes, I do realize just how privileged I am to be able to afford to do that without being afraid that I won't meet my basic financial obligations). (Let me add here how glad I am that I have a stash to draw on right now, though.)
What I also came home to, however, was the news that our administration had come to the conclusion that the best way to balance the university's budget would be to increase tenure-line faculty courseload by an additional class each semester.
I can't tell you how that made me feel. Sick to my stomach is the least of it, and outrage doesn't even begin to describe it.
First and foremost, to increase our courseload would be to reduce the number of courses available to our non-tenure-line faculty, thereby leading to exactly the lay-offs that we all just voted to take a pay cut to avoid. Furthermore, the impact on student education would be incalculable, just at the time when we're raising their tuition by 20% and cutting their professor contact time by 10% (fire sale now! less education for a higher cost!). Not to mention the way that class sizes have increased in the past seven years (my average class size is now 45, instead of the 30 I started at). To add salt to the wounds, such a decision implies that faculty weren't really doing anything else that matters with that time. That our service to the university doesn't count. (Note, by the way, that a lot of it already doesn't count, officially: my faculty meetings, Academic Senate meetings, committee meetings, time spent filling out forms, answering administrative email, etc etc etc, none of that is allowed to count towards the 45 hours per week that I need to be able to show that I work for my university.) That our research, which brings so much to our teaching (and many of us actively involve students in our projects) can just be abandoned by the wayside. (Note that U.S. News and World Report has stated explicitly that the first thing that they look for when ranking a university is whether its faculty are actively engaged in research.)
In other words, it is the action of an administration with no respect for its faculty or students. And last I checked (I admit to some bias here), the core of a university's mission is to facilitate the relationship between faculty and students in order that students can learn something.
You can imagine our collective reaction. The administration has since backed off enough to say that it's just one option on the table. But it shouldn't be. The preservation of the quality (what remains) of the education of our students should be the central concern of everyone at the university. Not the preservation of administration jobs (in the last several years, we have continued to hire administrators at a very high rate, while reducing our hiring of faculty to almost zero), or the preservation of administration perqs like housing and car allowances (which are not affected by the furlough cuts and which will remain at their ludicrously high levels). Alas, though, those things do seem to be the foremost concern of our administration.
Of equal and further-reaching concern is the fact that the state of California's revenue stream has gone down consistently over the past thirty years, because her citizens have taken every opportunity to cut taxes. There appears to be a collective fear that someone is using "my" tax dollars to get something "they" don't deserve. Our education system has tanked in my lifetime, going from one of the best in the world (the world, people), to, quite frankly, one of the most embarrassing. We spend less per student than almost every other state in the union, even though we are the eighth leading economy in the world. This lack has shown increasingly in every year that I've taught since 1994. Students come to college worse and worse prepared, less and less able to perform basic reasoning and analytic tasks, less and less confident that they can acquire the skills necessary to do so. And it's not because they're stupid. It's because they're in schools that are so full that teachers' jobs are becoming more about crowd control than they are about nurturing cognitive development. They are in an educational system that cares more about their ability to pass a test than to actively engage with difficult material.
They are our future.
And they deserve so much better. From every single one of us. Whether we've got kids of our own or not. Whether we send our kids to private or public school. Whether we are in the top tax bracket, or earn so little that we pay no taxes at all. These children and young adults are the voters of tomorrow. The mothers and fathers of tomorrow. The senators and presidents and teachers and businesspeople of tomorrow. They'll be running this country when we can't or don't anymore. And they need access to a quality education (I won't start on health care today, I promise) in order for them to be successful. And let me be frank. Most of us can't afford the total cost of a quality education for even one student. We all benefit from the ways in which the public trust supports the maintenance of our institutions of learning. Every one of us, even those of us who never used the public school system, because somewhere, sometime, someone we rely on to make our lives a success did use that system, and we are successful because they are.
I keep wondering when we forgot that. That we do need to protect the public weal, because we are the public.