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Posts Tagged ‘meet and discuss’

Some of you may recall a couple of posts I wrote a ways back about the budget crisis myths that the Kutztown University administration had been circulating as truths. For years, President Javier Cevallos claimed that KU continued to face budget crises, even though the numbers didn’t quite add up (check out APSCUF-KU’s “Show Us the Money!” presentation from spring 2011).

KU managers have also continued to claim that they have not received any raises in years. Sure, we know President Cevallos got his nice increase, but the official line has been that managers as a whole didn’t receive raises. Welcome to the wonderful world of half-truth and myth.

At this past weeks’ meet and discuss, APSCUF-KU received a document showing managers salaries for the past several years. AND???  Well, turns out TECHNICALLY managers have not receive raises. TECHNICALLY managers from contract specialists to executive directors to chiefs of staff have received JOB RE-CLASSIFICATIONS that have given managers increases of nearly $17,000 in a single year. Some individual managers have received over $20,000 increases due to job reclassification since 2007.

So, you see? Managers didn’t received any raises. It was magic, magic I tell you! In the real world, we ask to see the proof. Here’s what reality shows us:

Manager RAISES since 2007

Got that warm and fuzzy feeling yet?

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The wait is over.  The first full issue of Raging Chicken Press is set to launch.  We’re going to call this one the July post-Corbett-PA-GOP-draconian-budget-signing issue.  Catchy, huh?

Our first issue includes the following contributions:

If you like Raging Chicken Press, sign up for an email subscription on the right-hand side of the site.  If you’d like to go the extra step and help support our work, check out this post with info on how to offer your support.

Welcome to Raging Chicken Press! 3-2-1…here we go!

 

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Professor Jeffrey Weber, Chair of the Political  Science Department at East Stroudsburg University wrote this op-ed which appeared in the Morning Call yesterday.

Gov. Corbett budget: Gov. Corbett budget proposal on higher education – mcall.com.

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On Tuesday, shortly after President Cevallos’s “open forum” to discuss the impact of Governor Corbett’s cuts, APSCUF-KU president Paul Quinn appeared on KU Radio’s “JKast.”  Quinn’s interview is later on in the show, but the whole show is worth listening to.  If I can secure an MP3 I will also post just the segment with Quinn,

JKast – Paul Quinn on Corbett’s Budget (E016) | Mixcloud – Re-think radio.

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As readers of the XChange know, I am the chair of our faculty union’s Meet and Discuss team.  Over this past year, we–the APSCUF-KU Meet and Discuss team–have been pushing for the Kutztown University administration to articulate a coherent, transparent vision for the university.  Such as vision does not consist of the kind of platitudes and hyper generalizations that our university president continues to articulate in public forums and in the local newspaper.  A coherent vision for a university means that the administration has articulated a set of principles that guides decisions and the university.  It also means a set of priorities that will determine how resources are spent, programmatic decisions are made, and which academic areas are considered “core” to the university.  Such a vision is not self-evident, nor is it a by-product of the invisible hand of the academic market place.  In the real world, people have to make conscious decisions and they need to take responsibility for those decisions.  The absence of a coherent vision and an institutional leadership that is explicit about its priorities and guiding principles helps foster a dysfunctional culture–where rumor and half-truths stand in for principled discourse; where concern about the stability of one’s job is the white noise seeping into every office; and where one cannot distinguish between work that is critical to one’s individual success and the success of the institution from busywork or punishment.

I cannot explain this administration’s refusal to articulate its vision. If leaders of an academic institution are unwilling or unable to do the conceptual work necessary to articulate an institutional vision, then we are in trouble.  The fact is, the level of generality and undefined terms that seem to pass for an articulation of Kutztown’s mission, would not pass the muster for critical thinking and persuasive discourse that we demand of our students.  As someone who teaches writing and who studies rhetoric, perhaps I am too sensitive to vacuous language and unsubstantiated claims.  Perhaps you will find my criticism too harsh or will dismiss it by suggesting that “that’s just the way leaders of institutions talk.”

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?  Isn’t that why we–faculty–are charged with demanding that a student essay does more than simply state a personal opinion?  Do we not demand clarity?  Reason? A sense of purpose?  If we are not supposed to succumb to the discourse of “low expectations,” why on earth would we not demand the same from people who are hired or elected to represent us or to serve in a Pink Floyd The Wall Screamleadership capacity?  But, perhaps, you are tired of hearing this line of argument.  Perhaps you will say that it is not my job to demand–at the very least–that I hold the president of my university to the same standard that I would hold my students.  Perhaps you would prefer that I limit the scope of my criticism to correct grammar usage and spelling.

Perhaps you disapprove of this rant.

I sat down to write tonight because, frankly, I can’t sleep.  The magnitude of the impact of Governor Corbett’s proposed budget cuts are catastrophic.  This afternoon we had our monthly Meet and Discuss meeting. This followed president Cevallos’s “open forum” to discuss the impact of Corbett’s proposed cuts earlier in the day.  As chair of Meet and Discuss, I thought that there was really only one pressing issue that needed to be at the top of the agenda: where do we go from here?  Earlier in the day, president Cevallos called for “unity” among faculty, staff, students, and administrators.  He asked us all to work together.  From my perspective, a critical issue for us at the Meet and Discuss table was the terms by which we–our faculty union–and the administration could work together in response to Corbett’s cuts.  The issue that remained sticky and contestatory was the issue of a vision for the university.  I am willing to own my part in making it a sticky issue.  I think it is necessary–now more than ever–for the administration to be transparent and for there to be a common understanding of the university’s priorities.  To make that more concrete, I see it like this: faculty members, staff, and students have a right to know what is in store for them come the fall.  A junior faculty member who moved across the county with her family, deserves to know the likelihood that she will have a job come August.  A first year student who made the choice to come to KU deserves to know how much he will have to pay come the fall and whether or not his program of study will be spared the Governor’s ax.

No, these are not easy questions to answer.  No,  we do not know with scientific precision exactly what the final budget cuts will be once the Governor’s proposal makes its way through the legislature.  But that’s life.  We make decisions all the time based up on probability and likelihoods.  In the real world, people do not have the luxury to wait until all the facts are in before they begin thinking about different contingencies.  But, thinking about different contingencies requires a set of priorities and principles by which to make those decisions.  At my dinner table, my wife and I talk about the range of impacts these budget cuts will have on our family.  I grapple, openly, with how much degradation of my working life can I sustain before it begins to further impact my mental and physical health?  What are my career alternatives if Kutztown becomes little more than a job training site?  We don’t know how real any one of the alternatives is, but we sure as hell are not going to wait until Kutztown is in shambles before we begin explicitly discussing our priorities and options.

But, perhaps you think I am being alarmist.  Well, let me tell you some things we know at this point.

At President Cevallos’s open forum today, Cevallos told us the following:

  • Corbett’s budget cuts to PASSHE amount to a 56% cut in state appropriations.  The 56% figure includes some line items in the bill in addition to the general 50% cut.
  • The cuts would mean a $26 million dollar reduction in Kutztown University’s budget.
  • If the Governor’s cuts stand, it would require a 32% increase in Kutztown’s tution in order to cover the short fall.  The increase would average 33% across the entire 14 university Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
  • As an illustration (this was not a proposal or something that is being considered), Kutztown could close the entire College of Education and that would still not be enough to cover the funding gap.
  • Under Corbett’s current proposal, Kutztown would need to cut in the neighborhood of 25o jobs in order to cover the shortfall.

If that’s not enough for you, at today’s Meet and Discuss it became clear that Kutztown University may not even be viable as an institution if the Governor’s cuts stand.  Did you get that?  Kutztown. May. Not. Be. Viable.  This did not emerge in our discussions as a threat.  I completely believe that even the administration can’t figure out how it can possible function if Corbett’s cuts stand.

As management acknowledged at the table today, even if the PA legislature compromises and reduces Corbett’s cut by half, this is still a “game changer” for PASSHE.  That is, what we’re looking at is a fundamental transformation of Kutztown University and PASSHE more broadly.  I will try to write later today about “what we can do,” but for now, let me just say that the fact that Corbett has been booed at every event he attended in Pittsburgh is a hopeful sign.  In my mind, we should be taking a page from our brothers in sisters in Wisconsin.  In one word: RECALL!

In the meantime, this administration MUST articulate a vision for Kutztown University including a specific set of priorities and principles.  I am not hopeful that they will do so.  If you recall, at our last Meet and Discuss we gave management a document titled “A Request for Definitions and Meaning.” The preamble to that document bears repeating here:

During the fall 2010 semester, APSCUF-KU has asked that President Cevallos articulate a coherent vision for Kutztown University. We have argued that such as vision is all that more pressing given the administration’s on-going retrenchment of faculty, elimination of programs, and cutting temporary faculty lines. What started out as a process of retrenchment due to “budgetary concerns” now appears to be a reallocation of resources and reorganization of our university—especially in light of the budget figures that show KU expecting surpluses in the years ahead. President Cevallos has argued in the past that he is constrained by his job description when it comes to certain decisions. For example, the first item on his job description was to achieve AACSB accreditation. We would like to point out that that same item also includes, “identifying other academic areas of excellence and achieving external funding for implementing their development and growth.” In order to identify areas of “academic excellence,” it is critical that the entire university community knows the criteria by which such decisions will be made. In a time that the administration is actively eliminating areas of study and service such a vision is paramount. In the absence of such a vision, all faculty and staff are spending an inordinate amount of time and energy waiting for the ax to fall.

In our continual attempt to encourage President Cevallos to articulate a vision, we request that he take a step in that direction by providing some more information regarding his most recent “KU President’s Update,” dated 2/7/2011. While we appreciate his restatement of the “vision” readily found on the KU web site, we would like some clarifications, definitions, and specifics.

Let me underscore that we gave this document to management to deliver to Cevallos over a month ago.  Before Corbett’s cuts.  At the table today we asked if management gave the document to Cevallos.  They said they did.  We asked for his response.  There was none.  More precisely, they shrugged.  Cevallos’s performance at his “open meeting” today already indicated that he did not take the document seriously, that he chose to disregard our requests, and that he has no intention to do the conceptual work required.  At least we’re clear about that.

In the absence of a commitment by Kutztown’s president to do what he’s paid to do, I tried to make a case–again–for the need for us to articulate a vision.  The Provost, Dr.  Carlos Vargas, and I went back a forth a bit trying to understand each other.  Let me be clear: I do not think that the Provost was being resistant to a discussion of a vision for Kutztown.  I believe that a good portion of our exchanges today were sincere attempts to do very difficult work.  In that conversation, I used a metaphor for why we need to articulate a vision and why such a vision is not a “recipe,” but an attempt to plan for a range of contingencies.  I used the metaphor of a flood.

I had not planned on using a flood metaphor when I entered that room, nor had I thought of it ahead of time.  However, since Meet and Discuss concluded, I’ve been mulling it over.  And, tonight in my insomnia informed state, I drew my metaphor.  Not unusual, actually.  My students will tell you that I draw my concepts on the board all the time.  Here’s a visual rendering of my argument:

Let me try to explain.  The idea here is that there is an “island” that is Kutztown University.  Everyone knows that there is a storm coming…and it’s a bad storm.  However, there is disagreement about how severe the storm will be.  Everyone agrees that there will be a flood, the debate is over how severe the flood will be.  A plan still has to be developed.  The graphic represents what it would mean to have a vision with clear priorities.  You put those things that are essential on the highest ground.

The next layer down is a “survival” layer that consists of those things that are necessary to maintain the existing mission, or vision, at the most minimal levels.

Levels 1-4 represent priorities beyond the most skeletal requirements.  Levels 1-4 are within range a possible flood resulting from a more typical severe storm (3&4) to a catastrophic storm (1).  The key here is that everyone on the island knows where they are in the plan.  Those in Layer 3 may choose to “stick it out.”  Or, they might reasonably decide to get the hell out of the path of the storm (after all, they’ve seen what’s already happened to their fellow island dwellers in Advising, Nursing, the Early Learning Center, and Theater down their in Layer 4, for example.  For those new to the trials and tribulations of Kutztown University, all of those programs were cut well before Corbett’s budget proposal).

From my perspective, this is what the administration needs to do.  Ideally in conjunction with the faculty, but it must be done if there is any sense of doing what is humane and right left around here.

What does this mean from the perspective of the union?  Well, we fight like hell to roll back Corbett’s draconian cuts.   We fight for every job and we fight to preserve the quality of education at KU and the PASSHE system.  We fight to ensure our students have access to affordable, high-quality education.  We fight to defend public higher education.  We fight the push to turn PASSHE into a job training institute for the natural gas industry and other corporations that Corbett and his new breed of Republicans have exempted from paying their fair share.  We fight against diverting funds away from higher education and using those funds to build more prisons.  That’s what it means to be a higher education union.  That’s the side we’re on.

As we fight, we must also push Kutztown’s administration to commit to a humane and transparent plan.  A plan that will allow all members of this community to know where they stand, to know their value to this institution, and to know how to plan for their immediate futures.  This does not seem like a lot to ask.  It seems to me to be the kind of work we’re supposed to be able to do as teachers, scholars, and higher education administrators.

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Earlier this week, West Chester managers received a “Budget Prognosis” from Bob Scanlon, the Managers representative to their University Budget Committee.  As you can see in the memo, there are some assumptions being made about the budget over the next several years (e.g. 3% annual increase in tuition, no faculty raises in FY 2012, and increasing enrollments).  While we know that these are indeed assumptions that may change depending upon our current contract negotiations or a decline in enrollment at West Chester, there are a couple of interesting items to point out.

First, take a look at how West Chester President Weisenstein approaches projected shortfalls:

President Weisenstein is sending the message that this administration desires to avoid layoffs in FY2012. In the next 12 months we need to find $3.4 million of the $13.9 million shortfall.

Scanlon certainly does not present a pretty picture, but it is significant that Weisenstein is taking an explicit stance against layoffs as a strategy for addressing projected shortfalls.  The memo reinforces this strategy further on:

We cannot achieve all of this [projected shortfalls] by cost cutting alone.  The administration would love to achieve this with no cost cutting at all, if possible.

We are all in this together. Let’s think entrepreneurially.  Let’s think about brining money into the university from outside that is not now coming into the university.

Improving employee productivity has two sides to the equation: cost cutting per outcome, or raising revenue per outcome. If our measured outcome is graduated students, then let’s think. Let’s find smarter ways to work.  Let’s find new streams of revenue.

Now, if you look closely at the examples that Scanlon gives (see memo), there are plenty of issues to quarrel with–asking AFSCME for work-rule changes in negotiations, or increased emphasis on distance learning as a revenue generator, for example.  However, it is interesting to see a commitment by a university president to avoid layoffs and charging his managers to find new “streams of revenue.”

From the vantage point of Kutztown University, such a proactive approach by KU’s administration to projected budget shortfalls is virtually unthinkable. Readers of the XChange will recall that at our last Meet and Discuss we gave President Cevallos a little “homework” in hopes of nudging him toward forward-thinking and not his usual mode of persistent excuse-making.  We’ll see if the President does his homework, or if he will kick the can down the road.  My money’s on the latter.

In any case, I wanted to share the full WCU “Budget Prognosis” memo with XChange readers.  The more eyes on management’s plans, the better.

WCU Budget Prognosis Memo

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Readers of the XChange: If you haven’t checked out Seth Kahn’s blog Here Comes Trouble, now is the time to do so.  In his most recent post, “Who does that help?,” he writes:

At last weekend’s APSCUF Legislative Assembly, delegates were treated to a Q&A session from our recently hired Chief Negotiator Stewart (or Stuart?) Davidson.  I won’t talk here about the specifics of what he said, except to say that he was impressive.

A comment he made about how he approaches negotiations (something to the effect of always reminding the other side that we do, in fact, have a shared mission) got me thinking (long chain of associations, the underlying rationale behind it between me and God) about one way we (all of us APSCUF members) ought to be responding to just about every management “initiative” or “challenge” we face these days.

What happens if we insist on asking one simple question: Who does this help?

Notice I’m not asking “What’s the benefit?”  I’m emphasizing “Who” because our management, even the saner, more humane ones, seem to need an occasional reminder that at the end of the day, our system is made up of actual people.

I’ve got a lot to say about what he’s proposing, but since I’m concluding my day and packing my bags for the hour-long commute home, I’ll just say this for now: you’re dead on Seth.

Seth briefly ran this idea by me at Legislative Assembly last weekend, but to be honest, the full beauty of this simple move — to ask that question, “who does this help? — can have a profound affect upon how we approach our administration as they seek to slash more programs.

Thanks Seth…more soon!

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