Thursday, August 20, 2009

Trying to find the track

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.


Nana Sadie said...

{standing ovation of one here}

Beautifully said.

Mary Lou said...

Hear Hear, well put. I have no children, but i support educating the heck out of everyone elses. I like to ask people who say they don't want to pay to educate other ppls kids who they think is going to be flying the plane they ride in, or taking out their gall bladder? Don't they WANT them to be educated? Tough times for all these days, keep fighting the good fight.


I have no kids, either, but I have never minded paying property tax for our schools. These kids are our future, like you said.

The same stupid personnel logic is at work in the industrial field. Cut maintenance first, but then they pay later. And pay dearly.

There are probably dozens of other instances.

I am so sorry for your pain.

AlisonH said...

Preach it, sister!!! Now, please, a copy to the LA Times, the San Fran Chron, the SJ Merc and yonder Gubernator.

Gwen said...

(Shall I get started on healthcare? I didn't think so.)

Civic responsibility. It goes all ways.

This is why I'm not happy that my property value assessment for tax purposes has dropped by about half in the last year. I'm still paying the same mortgage. Help me where it helps.

And may I add a Grrrrrrrrrr? Cut time, add work! Yes! The perfect solution!

The only nice thing I've heard lately is that they're hoping to cut from the prison budget (our dearly beloved Calfornia). About time! And may it be more.

Anne said...

Interestingly, the New Yorker that landed in my mailbox today describes California as ungovernable -- and I wonder how many other states ought to have that label as well. I think we've painted ourselves into a pretty serious corner here in the U.S. -- I know it's a typical liberal thing to bring up the defense budget at this point but in fact I bet we could support our troops AND our children AND find ways to repair the national infrastructure if people in power could break themselves out of outdated ways of governing and spending. I have lots of hope for this administration but I don't know if they've got enough of what it takes to execute ideas.

Anonymous said...

Amen! At the high school I teach at (in IL) we cut about 20 jobs (to be fair, we were somewhat overstaffed, but not THAT overstaffed), and yet the people related to the school board who draw $60K salaries to do NOTHING still have their jobs. The district didn't even fire the principal who had total anarchy in the middle school last year, and promoted EVERY kid in the 8th grade (even the ones who failed every core class) to HS. He's a "roving administrator" now, whatever that means. They did finally get rid of the director of HR who kept getting in trouble for sexual harrassment, but it took a full year. Teachers should do more with less, but not the people who make the decisions. As I told a friend once, it's cheaper to pay for good education up front than pay for people to be on welfare forever.

Despite my many gripes, I'm in a far better situation than you. Our building principal is concerned about the kids first, and is working to shield us from the worst of the crazy. It doesn't sound like your administrators are so good.

I hope things get better sooner rather than later.

Bea said...

Wow. I'm not sure what to say. I'm floored. The whole deal. I don't see many kids but very young ones (just starting school) so I don't know how bad it really is out there but wow. I guess this is why all of my friend's kids end up in private schools of the sort that let you learn at your speed and have low student/teacher ratios.

Suze said...

Oh, this breaks my heart. When, oh WHEN will the public agree that public education (k-12 and beyond) is a worthy investment?

I'm sorry you and your colleagues have to take the brunt of it.

twinsetellen said...

I wrote along rant, but really can't improve on what you've said.

I am sorry you are facing this in such a personal way. I'm sorry for our society that we can't figure out how to share the wealth.

Rachael said...

Oh Joc, I'm sorry, that's incredibly crappy.

Our pre-calc students went up 10% this year and our average math SAT is 650. 650 - and they're in precalc. It's not their ability that is the issue, it's their preparation.

I will never understand how education is at the bottom of the priority list, like you said, they're are future - it's like we're selling off the seed corn so we can eat today. It's just wrong.

twinsetjan said...

I don't know which is worse...our loss of understanding of what it means to be part of a society that exists for the greater good or our loss of the ability to have a civil dialogue when we disagree. Both are sorry this is so close to home for you!

Willow said...

Yes, I hear this conversation at home from my non tenured track professor. He loves just what he does (and isn't demanding tenure for all his work), although as of this week there is 3 units less of what he does. Even though the tenured faculty is doing everything they can to save jobs (they are all, tenured and non tenured, taking the 9% pay cut/furlough) The Professor is still losing units. I'm here shaking my head in wonder as I remember, oh yeah, my job is cut too. Good thing I also have a stash!

Rachel said...

Excellent post.

Although we came together by the knitting I think it is extremely important to talk about things that bother us on our blogs or else how will we be heard?

Your description made me very sad.
I often wonder these days where the heck we are going (as a nation and as a world) and the health issue is a major reason for it.

Another issue is the young people that have such difficulties finding jobs to support themselves while having to pay all those exaggerated college fees and then can't find one when they finish college.

I often wonder how they don't rebel and how come they are not all in the streets demonstrating!

Anonymous said...

I've worked for years to fund-raise for our local California K-8 schools, and am appalled at how much time, effort and money it takes to raise money just to keep our schools going. I don't understand why the government believes we won't stand for taxes--when we all donate not only money but our time to raise money! If we could re-channel some of that energy, and convince Sacramento to properly fund education, we'd all be better off. Yes, I know people support their own community more enthusiastically, but at least don't take away our local property taxes to fund Sacramento problems. Arghh.


EGunn said...

Argh. That is SO frustrating. It amazes me how often institutions use "hard economic times" as an excuse to make people that love their jobs willing to sacrifice "just a little bit more." Somehow, it's never an opportunity to restructure and analyze the true status of the infrastructure that supports them,'s all surface changes. And yet, the worker that stands up for their rights is suddenly the "selfish" one.

I'm so sorry. It's awful to fight so hard for something that you believe in, just to have your stipulations ignored.

Carrie K said...

Oh no, I'm sorry to hear you were hit with both a furlough and an increased work load.

In almost every sector where the actual folks doing the work are being cut, administration is remaining unchanged or increased. The truly scary thing is that we're seeing the collapse of the middle class and the return to the wealthy and the poor. And who ponies up the money for the wealthy? The poor.

Stell said...

hear hear ... I for one tire of the never ending expectation that every year I will do more, with less, for a greater number of students, with less contact time and some how raise the standards at the same time
hear hear


Anonymous said...

This is the way that public services are going. WTO says that everything and anything should be run by the private sector, including schools and prisons. So you make public services so bad by taking away funds, overworking personnel, etc. that people say yes the public sector can't cope and use the private sector.
We resisted these changes in France until the latest government came in and now they're sweeping in reforms at a vertiginous rate to catch up with all the places where you can see that it just doesn't work.
Of course, the children of government ministers and representatives are not affected by these changes.