Furloughs won't cut class time
By Cory Golden
Enterprise staff writer
Faculty furlough days will not take place on instructional days, the University of California Office of the President announced Friday -- a move that will go against the wishes of an overwhelming majority of UC Davis faculty.
In a letter Friday, Lawrence Pitts, UC's interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said that while the furloughs prompted by state budget cuts will cause problems for everyone, students shouldn’t suffer beyond the higher fees and larger and fewer classes they are facing already.
“In such difficult times, I believe that we must do everything we can to ensure that the students continue to receive all of their instruction,” Pitts wrote.
“Asking the faculty to carry a full teaching load during furloughs is a large request, but in my mind is justified by the university’s paramount teaching mission.”
Bob Powell, chairman of the UC Davis Academic Senate, said Saturday that, “in the letter, Provost Pitts is saying that all these other people trump faculty.”
Faculty asked for furlough days to fall on at least some instructional days in part because teaching, research and service are all required of them. An assistant professor’s research output is heavily weighted in tenure decisions, for example.
Powell said faculty has hoped for “some sense of balance.”
He said that he felt UC offered no strong statement about the disruption furloughs would cause careers, day-to-day lives, “and even young families,” no reasons why faculty should “bite the bullet,” and no plan for what UC will do so that furloughs are limited to a single year.
“Where’s the message he’s sending to these people?” Powell asked. “Basically he’s telling the faculty ‘keep working – keep doing research and teaching and service, you’re just going to get paid 8 percent less.’ … What I keep hearing from faculty is that they should just call it ‘pay cuts,’ because that’s what it is.”
A survey of 426 UCD Academic Senate members completed in July found that 82 percent wanted to see six to nine furlough days on what would normally be teaching days.
Similar sentiments echoed across the 10-campus system. The systemwide Academic Council sent a letter to Pitts indicating unanimous support for furloughs on six to 10 class days.
Under the furlough plan, faculty and staff will take up to 26 unpaid days off between September 2009 and September 2010, with the number depending on which of seven tiers their salary fits into. The loss in pay will range from 4 to 10 percent, with those who earn more than $240,000 taking the most unpaid days off.
Members of the senior management group, like chancellors and deans, will take no more than 10 furlough days, regardless of the size of their salary reduction.
Students are a key
Discussion on the pros and cons followed among executive vice chancellors, chancellors and those who handle state government relations and public affairs.
“With the exception of our council statement endorsing the concept that furloughs should affect instructional days, nearly all other groups expressed very strong concerns that the public would perceive that the students were receiving less education following several years of fee increases and anticipated additional increases,” said Mary Croughan, chairwoman of the systemwide Academic Council, in an e-mail Saturday.
“The ‘optics’ with the public and Legislature regarding potential future fee increases proved a driving factor in the decision to not have furloughs taken on instructional days.”
Croughan said she didn’t think professors would further resist the decision, “but the faculty do feel strongly that everything should be done to ensure that the furlough program does not go into a second year.”
Pitts briefly addressed that in his letter.
“We understand that the furlough program will cause hardships for the entire university family. As such, the president and the regents are committed to do everything possible to ensure that the plan ends after 12 months,” he said.
Linda Bisson, a professor of viticulture and enology and former chairwoman of the UCD Academic Senate, said that, in some ways, deciding whether to take furloughs on instructional days was a question with no right answer.
She said she understood why her colleagues wanted furloughs on class days, but added, “You have to keep in mind that it’s not just about faculty, it’s also about staff. The faculty can take a research day; but or staff, (furloughs) just mean less time, less money and the same workload.
“On the other side are students, so it’s a really tough decision. I’m sure that’s what the administration was struggling with: Whom do you make suffer?”
Jonathan Eisen, professor of evolution and ecology at the UC Davis Genome Center, said in an e-mail that several issues led him to believe having furloughs on class days would not be the right idea.
“Making drastic changes in all courses across the entire campus would in my opinion be both very complex, as well as possibly more time-consuming than people imagine” and “highly unfair to the students.”
Eisen used an introductory biology course he’ll be teaching for about 700 students this fall as an example. The class will have four lectures weekly, plus labs taught by teaching assistants.
“I cannot or the life of me imagine how we would redesign the class this summer in order to accommodate furlough days,” he said, adding that it probably would end up as a shortened version of the class and much time spent in redesigning labs.
Eisen said public perception is “incredibly critical.”
“Certainly, it seems unfair to faculty that we get furloughed by then are perhaps expected to work just as much as previously while others who get furloughed actually have days off,” he said. “But the public relations side of things could be disastrous if this were done. … If we slash instructional time as, in essence, a way to spread the pain, it would come back to bite us.”
Chris Dietrich, vice president of the Associated Students of UC Davis, said he supported UC’s decision.
“Students are paying thousands of dollars to attend UC schools, and the cost keeps going up, so it would be very unfortunate to have students paying such high costs and then getting less in class education at the same time,” he said in an e-mail to The Enterprise.
Pitts noted that research is permitted on furlough days, but that many faculty will not be paid for extra research unless they have grants that compensate them for putting in more work. Furlough days can be used for outside professional activities that generate extra income.
The decision from the Office of the President clears the way for campuses to announce how each would like to handle furloughs. Plans still remain subject to collective bargaining.
UCD is expected to do so in coming days, along with what other steps it will take to handle the $33.5 million budget gap that remains.
Including about $22 million in faculty and staff furloughs, UCD has dealt with $80.5 million of its $114 million state budget shortfall for 2009-10.
Other steps taken to close the gap include a $20.5 million cut from academic and administrative costs, $17 million from a systemwide student fee increase and $5 million saved by slowing down faculty hiring.
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