Archive for September, 2010

Just Say No?

In today’s Inside Higher Ed, Kerry Ann Rockquemore gives some very useful and practical advice in her Surviving the Tenure Track column: “Just Say No.”

Rockquemore correctly notes that new and junior faculty often feel obligated to say yes to every request for service that comes their way, from seats on committees to input on reports to speaking at campus venues. She cautions us to avoid overextending ourselves at the cost of our career-health: “While ‘just say no’ is important advice for all tenure-track faculty, it is essential for underrepresented faculty who are challenged to say ‘no’ more frequently… in order to have the necessary time to excel in the areas that matter most to promotion: research, publication, and teaching.

I’ve given this same advice to my own colleagues just beginning their careers at KU, and I still struggle to balance my own time among the KU triumvirate of scholarly growth, teaching and service. I try to add eating, sleeping  and talking to my husband in there, too.

Faced with this reality, what is a labor union in higher ed to do? Anyone who has worked in labor unions knows that one of our biggest challenges is finding folks who are willing and able to give of their time. Unions need membership, but we also need active members—people to keep the negotiations going, to run the committees, to gather information, to work public relations, and so much more. It’s not easy to ask colleagues to become more active members when we know they are already keeping so many balls in the air.

Just recently, I found myself chatting with my fellow Xchange blogger Kevin about who might fill in for me at our APSCUF-KU Representative Council meetings, as my teaching schedule prohibits me from going this semester.  Kevin mentioned two names, and I had to shoot them down: I’d just given both of these people the “you need to say no” speech.  Finally, I passed the buck to our department chair, asking her to put out a general request for subs, a request that was, to my relief, eventually filled. Yet, the subs are both junior faculty, no doubt very busy with other service work, and perhaps feeling unable to say no.

Complicating this matter more, many of my fellow junior faculty are wary of making union work a component of their pre-tenure service.  It may seem a risky bet to be associated with this work, to be singled out as a rabble-rouser by the administration. I get that.

And yet.

I can’t help but want to extend Rockquemore’s advice. She writes,

“…once you know approximately how much time you can spend on service each week, then say “yes” only to the things that fit your broader agenda or make substantive sense for you to participate in.”

She implies that a faculty member’s “broader agenda” is directly connected to one’s scholarly pursuits.  I’d like to argue that it makes “substantive sense” to invest in service that defends and improves our working conditions; service that does indeed protect the speech and actions of the untenured; that makes quality teaching and research possible. In a word: unions.

As we enter a negotiation year, I hope we’ll all consider the worthiness of serving through one’s union.


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Today’s session began at 9 am.  I’ve been tweeting live from the floor on Twitter: @kuxchange.

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I have to say that I am proud of my union today.

Today is one of those few moments when you can see years of work bear fruit.  The truth of the matter is that most of the work of organizational change does not make headlines.  Making changes in bylaws, for example, is not the stuff that makes for bedtime reading…unless, of course, you are having trouble sleeping.  And, frankly, there are times when such incremental work seems like you are spinning your wheels.  Likewise, there are times when trying to get an organization to take a stand on a critical issue can get mired down in institutional inertia or political concerns that are far removed from doing what it right.

Today was different.

First, Legislative Assembly approved hiring a professional negotiator for our current contract negotiations.  There had been talk of hiring a professional negotiator as long as I have been involved with APSCUF and, by most accounts, those calls long preceded my involvement.  As part of a long process of restructuring our negotiations process following at least two rounds of “difficult” negotiations, APSCUF changed it’s bylaws to streamline our negotiations team and to hire a professional negotiator.  And I have to say, we did it right.  Legislative Assembly approved hiring Stuart Davidson of the law firm, Willig, Williams, and Davidson out of Philadelphia.  Here’s a bit of his bio:

Stuart W. Davidson has represented labor unions and employee benefit plans since graduating from Harvard Law school in 1982. Stuart began his legal career by successfully defending the pension rights of state employees in a case that was ultimately decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

During Stuart’s legal career, he has been involved in representing a wide range of union workers, including musicians, longshoremen, machinists, steelworkers, firefighters, teamsters, police officers, food and commercial workers and NFL players. His work for both public and private-sector unions includes leading contract negotiations, presenting interest and grievance arbitrations, representing employee benefit funds and advising clients on internal union matters. Stuart has also played key roles in the development of new and progressive benefit structures with the pension and health and welfare plans he represents.

I remember the long debates and conversations at Legislative Assembly and in our local representative council and general membership meetings about the need to hire a professional negotiator to face off against PASSHE’s hired guns.  Well, after years of work, we’ve done it.

Second, while some may find this a bit wonky, we enacted the bylaws changes we made last year by approving our Negotiations Committee’s recommendations for the Negotiations Team. We spent the bulk of the morning session of Legislative Assembly discussing the slate of candidates put forward by the Chapter Presidents/Negotiations Committee for the Negotiations Team.  The discussion was critical, thoughtful, and pretty consistently focused on ensuring an accountable process.  This is the first time that we are enacting this new negotiations structure; therefore, how we enacted this structure would have long-term implications for how our negotiations process works.  I am proud of my brothers and sisters for not punting the responsibility to a subcommittee or to simply rubber-stamp the decisions of our union leadership.  In short, we acted like a committed, democratic union.

Finally, and perhaps most movingly, Legislative Assembly unanimously supported a motion from APSCUF Executive Committee to do whatever it takes to ensure that the domestic partner benefits we secured in our last contract–thanks to the long, hard-fought battle by APSCUF members–be equitable with spouse benefits.  A brief history: we won domestic partner benefits in our last contract, but the PASSHE administration chose to not honor those benefits for domestic partners and dependents once the faculty member retired.  That flies in the face of the contract agreement.

The APSCUF-KU delegation submitted a resolution to be taken up as new business on Saturday.  It concludes:

Therefore, be it resolved: that the staff and leadership of state APSCUF shall find a means to provide health benefits to domestic partners and dependents of PASSHE faculty annuitants who have retired or will retire under the APSCUF/State System 2007-2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

We were prepared to meet with members from other delegations to build support for the resolution and argue for its passage.  We never had to do it.  Instead, a motion came to the floor from Executive Committee that made our resolution obsolete.  APSCUF Executive Committee is willing to ensure these benefits even if it means that APSCUF pays the difference in cost to cover domestic partners and dependents of PASSHE faculty annuitants.  Legislative Assembly approved unanimously to support the Executive Committee’s motion.  It was another one of those moments.  Historic.

In a time when we’re seeing prohibitions against same-sex marriage and policies that overtly discriminate against same-sex couples fall one by one, it felt pretty amazing to be on the floor of assembly casting this vote today.

Maybe you’ll find this post a bit too gushing. Fair enough.  But, that’s what I’m feeling right about now.

Today, I am proud of my union and proud of my brothers and sisters.

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…According to the President of Slippery Rock, Robert Smith, that’s just what he expects within the next 20 years.  Here’s his argument:

Smith said that public education has always been a type of social contract.

He believes that the citizens pay their taxes to the state and expect cheaper education in return.

But, it’s no longer working that way, he said.

“The state isn’t holding up their end of the social contract,” Smith said.

Smith’s comments about privatizing state schools were not his original words. He was quoting work done by Angelo Armenti, President of California University of Pennsylvania. Armenti has studied the effects of what he calls the “Privatization of Public Higher Education.”

Armenti has given several presentations on the subject, and in 2008 he published a 12-page proposal.

In a presentation Armenti gave in April 2010, he said that from 1984 to 2008 the state’s share of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s budget fell from 63 percent to 37 percent.

He went on to say that it has fallen to 34 percent since 2008.

And that’s from the president of a PASSHE university…not us crazy union folks :-).

Here’s a link to full article:

“SRU Likely to Become a Private Institution”

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I will be twittering live from the floor of APSCUF Legislative Assembly through the KU XChange on Twitter @kuxchange.  I’ll post more substantively to the blog when there is a break in the action.

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On Thursday, September 16th, the president of West Chester University, Greg Weisenstein, gave the annual President’s Welcome Address to faculty, staff, and students of WCU.  There must be some kind of digital initiative coming out of the Chancellor’s office, because like KU President Cevallos’s address, Weisenstein started the program with a video.  As reported in the WCU’s student newspaper, The Quad:

Prior to beginning the president’s address, a brief video was shown that encapsulated various aspects of WCU from both student and professor perspectives. This video was later revealed to be geared towards prospective students, that will be placed on the WCU website as a marketing tool.

But the similarities between the two presidents’ addresses basically end there. KU’s Cevallos focused a portion of his remarks on the university’s impending budget crisis:

we are preparing for several scenarios for 2011-12.  Based on various outcomes, we could be facing a shortfall of $5.6 million, down about $1 million from which we projected a year ago.  Or we could be facing the worst case scenario of an $11.4 million shortfall.

Again, any reduction strategies we implement for the years ahead will be carefully considered.  And we will continue to update the entire campus in detail and will work closely with key constituents as we move forward.

In classic form, Cevallos takes the human equation out of his remarks, referring to laying off people as part of his “reduction strategies,” while at the same time attempting to present himself as a benevolent ruler saying he will “work closely with key constituents” and that all “reduction strategies” will be “carefully considered.”  Yet, as I argued in my last post, the vast majority of the administration’s budget cuts have been made without any coherent plan of how to handle the collateral damage of those cuts.

By contrast, WCU’s Weisenstein presents a very different picture of the “challenges” facing WCU.  When it comes to the budget, Daily Local News reported that Weisenstein had this to say:

Weisenstein called the way state system of higher education schools are currently funded “unsustainable.” He noted that the state covered 60 percent of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education school budgets in 1990, 48 percent in 2000 and just 31 percent in 2010.

But he said he doesn’t believe the funding difficulties will affect the size of the university’s staff.

“Unlike many other PASSHE universities, we do not plan to lay off people,” Weisenstein said.

Notice the difference between Weisenstein’s statement and how KU’s Cevallos addresses financing from the state.  In Cevallos’s address, he says, “The E&G [Education and General] Budget projection for the current academic year indicated a gap of $4.2 million from expenses growing faster than revenue, due to flat state funding.”  Cevallos positions himself passively.  The message: because state funding was flat (blame the state) we have a $4.2 million budget gap.  Weisenstein, while acknowledging the same state budget info, responds differently:

Weisenstein said the university is pursuing grants and corporate partnerships that will allow it to improve its infrastructure and offer more graduate degree programs.

The president said the university intends to improve its online education programs, form new partnerships with schools in other countries, and put added emphasis pursuing outside grants to fund faculty research.

Now I am sure my colleagues from WCU would take issue with painting Weisenstein with too glowing colors here.  The point is not that Weisenstein is good and Cevallos is bad.  The point is that as an institution, West Chester has made different institutional choices than KU.  KU administration’s choices leave us laying off faculty and cutting programs despite rapid growth in enrollment (going from just over 8,000 students to over 10,000 since 2002), the lowest faculty cost in the State System, and several years of budget cuts and hiring freezes.

My point is that the dominant narrative that there is an economic crisis and that KU is the “victim” of forces out of its control is inadequate, if not dishonest, as an explanation as to why KU is in such dire straights.  We should take a lesson from the mortgage collapse and ask what policies and administrative decisions were made that contributed to the current crisis.  Frankly, faculty and staff are being forced to bail out this administration’s lack of vision, delayed decision-making, and neoliberal accounting practices reflecting the ideological bent of a few key players in KU’s Budget Office [some of those players are gone, but we live with the consequences of their actions]. Faculty and staff are being asked to work longer hours for free while their friends and colleagues are laid off.

And the administration has the nerve to say that some of its choices were made in order to continue to serve students effectively.  Really?  Larger classes with a faculty and staff stressed to the breaking point?  Really?  That’s the plan?  I find that line of argument so cynical and so disingenuous.  I’ve watched the stress build among my colleagues as their lives and their families lives hang in the balance, not knowing whether or not they will have a job next week or next year.  I’ve watched as staffing is cut to the bone and faculty and staff turn on each other in the midst of their rapidly rising stress levels.  And that’s your strategic plan?  The short answer is, yes.  That’s the administration’s strategic plan.

Yes, folks, it’s time to stop doing the laundry.

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For those of you who follow posts dealing with APSCUF-KU Meet and Discuss, you may remember a recurring theme on our last agenda: we asked for the administration’s plans to deal with the consequences of their budget cuts.  For example, the administration took away the AWA (alternative work assignment…that is work that takes the place of teaching in a faculty member’s work load) for the Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching.  We wanted to know what how the administration planned on handling all the work that was done by the CET now that it seems no one is jumping at the chance to direct the CET for free.  Or, how is the administration planning on handling the advising of undeclared students or Jeopardy Program students if it follows through on its stated intention to eliminate the department of Advising and the Advising Center?  In short, I wanted to direct our attention toward the real consequences of the cuts.  Not only do cuts affect the departments or programs being cut, the cuts have “collateral damage,” so to speak.  We wanted to know how the administration was planning to deal with the collateral damage of its actions.

After running through this routine a few times, the Provost got frustrated and indicated that he has to make many, many difficult decisions–none of them easy–and that he is trying the best he can.  At one point, he said that sometimes they just run out of hours in the day.  Let’s, for a moment, allow the Provost’s complaint.  Even acknowledge it.  Where does that get us?  Well, in practical terms, not very far.  And, I made a version of that point at the table.  I said something along the lines of, “look, no one here is doubting that you’re working hard.  That’s not the purpose of my questions.  The point is, for every budget cut made–no matter how hard of a decision it is–there are consequences of that action.  And we’ve been cut, and cut, and cut.  At some point, something’s gotta give.  And we’re at that point.”

And, frankly, that’s what I believe.  Up until this self-induced state budget crisis, faculty at Kutztown and around the state system had been saying that we needed to be compensated for work that we did–and by compensated, we didn’t mean extra money. We meant that if you expect us to work on accreditation committees year round, direct key university centers and institutes, assess all our courses beyond the constant grading and course revisions we do, and a long list of other items, then that work needed to be acknowledged as work.  That means that we needed to be given AWAs for that work.  AWAs don’t give a faculty member more money, they simply replace a course or two of their teaching load with an alternative work assignment.  In the PA State System of Higher Ed (PASSHE), we teach a 4/4 load: that is, four classes per semester.  Getting an 1/4 or 1/2 AWA to, say, direct the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching means that a faculty member would split their work time between teaching and being Director of the CET.  AWAs are important not only because they acknowledge that real work is being done, they also help ensure that the faculty member has the appropriate amount of time to devote to his or her students.  Without AWAs, faculty members have to take on what amounts to “over loads” or additional jobs.  And, as the Provost said, sometimes we just run out of hours in the day.

When I was organizing part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants in DC, one of our arguments was that the shamefully low salary ($1500 per class) and lack of any benefits or job security meant that part-time faculty and graduate teaching assistants had to take on multiple jobs just to pay the bills, often working at two or three universities and/or other jobs just to make ends meet.  At one point during my time at GW, I had four jobs myself: adjunct teacher, union organizer, book store clerk, and non-profit contract employee for a economic development non-profit. We argued that these conditions mean that students will not have access to their faculty in the way that they should and the faculty member is physically unable to devote the time to teaching that they could if they were given a living wage.

I don’t want to draw the analogy too closely here, but these budget cuts lead in a similar direction.  Every budget cut means that faculty are asked to do more for free ON TOP OF their current responsibilities.  We are asked, implicitly, to extend our work hours away from our families and non-work lives, we are asked to “take one for the team” or to simply add on work and claim it as “service” on our CVs.

Well, for the most part that’s what we’ve done.  Worked harder.  But, we’re at a critical point now.  We’ve been cut to the point of crisis and something’s got to give.

Back when I was in college, I remember having conversations with my mother about how frustrated she was with my step-father and sister for not doing more around the house.  In one of those conversations, she was especially fed up about the laundry.  The other people in the house would throw something in the laundry when it wasn’t dirty, would go through several outfits a day, you know.  And they wouldn’t do the laundry themselves.  After talking about it for a while I remember saying, “well…maybe you should stop doing the laundry.  Just stop.”

I’ve been thinking about that conversation quite a bit lately.

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