Faculty Senate Chair Remarks, UNR Town Hall, July 16, 2009

July 23, 2009

[Note: The town hall was actually on July 23. I looked at the wrong week on my calendar. Summer is passing so quickly!]

When the Governor proposed cutting the university’s budget by more than a third, he also proposed a 6% pay cut for all state employees. The budget reductions the Legislature actually adopted are still painful, and have cost us good people, but they leave the university standing. The pay cuts are supposed to be in the form of 4% furloughs, though to leave our benefits intact these cuts actually work out to 4.6%, one day a month.

In essence, furloughs are the Legislature’s way of saying that state employees are worth what we pay them, and not overpaid, but we still can’t afford them right now. The taxpayers and the students have also been asked to pony up, so we are not bearing the cost alone.

There is no way to make the financial burdens placed upon us all seem less stressful. However, it may be helpful to remember that it could have been much worse here, and for some states it is much worse.

But the details of furloughs are hard to implement, and furloughs don’t make sense in all cases. The Legislature ordered them for those employees under their direct control, including those in the classified system, but they left it to the Regents to determine how to implement them for faculty.

One issue the Legislature did not consider is how to handle classified employees who work on grants or in revenue-producing activities. Furloughing those who are not paid out of state funds actually costs the state money instead of saving it.

In June, the Regents passed a policy to implement furloughs, as the Legislature intended, as fully as the Code and our contracts allow. But untenured faculty, whether academic or administrative, have annual contracts that, under the current Code, require a year’s notice to change. Tenured faculty have contracts that guarantee them their jobs and their current salaries, and these cannot be changed easily at all.

The result is that hourly employees who earn the least are having to take the biggest pay cuts, in percentage terms. Our untenured faculty are also having to take the cuts, though with a year’s notice. Many of our young tenure-track faculty are trying to manage very large student loan burdens. And our tenured faculty, who are most likely to have research and grant programs that generate non-state funds, are instead being asked to teach more under the current conditions.

The President and I are still trying to persuade the Chancellor and the Regents that we should not have mandatory furloughs for grant-funded faculty, or for any faculty if the furlough costs us more revenue than it saves us. I would make this argument for classified staff too, if the law allowed.

It is normal in times of extreme scarcity for people to turn on each other, as the Donner Party demonstrated. We should not fall into the same trap here. We are all important to the success of this university, academic faculty, administrative faculty, and classified staff together.

In the last month or two, a number of tenured faculty have expressed their great concern to me concerning how mandatory furloughs have been implemented, and the unintended unfairness of our least-paid employees take the biggest percentage cut. It is not what we would have chosen, had we had the choice. It is certainly not what the President, the Provost, or the Faculty Senate wanted (see our “Sense of the Senate,” http://facultysenate.blogs.unr.edu/2009/05/08/sense-of-the-university-of-nevada-reno-faculty-senate-regarding-pay-cuts-for-faculty-and-staff, on this blog).

For tenured faculty who are able, one suggestion is to donate to the Foundation. Last week, I went down to the Foundation to set up a monthly deduction equivalent to the pay cut I would have received had I not been tenured. It was pretty easy, and I will send the form to all faculty.

You can target your donations, to a great degree. The Foundation has a scholarship fund for classified staff to take courses for career development, for example, and they are looking into setting up a fund to help with scholarships for their dependents. You can donate to your department or college, if you prefer, and chairs can use these funds to help out with travel or research expenses for untenured faculty. Within some constraints the Foundation is happy to negotiate with you on how you would like the monies spent. There are rules we have to follow if we want these donations to be tax deductible, but there is flexibility there too.

Of course, these contributions are voluntary, and people can help in many ways. Some of us may prefer to give more to the homeless, or those who have lost their jobs in the current recession. Some of us may have been hurt too much in the current recession to give anything more.

But knowing and appreciating the faculty as I do, I fully expect that there are scores, even hundreds of people out there who are willing to step up to do things to help their colleagues and coworkers in these trying times. Our people will continue to be generous and creative.

Please feel free to contact me with any ideas or questions you might have, at facsenchair@unr.edu.