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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AAUP Member Newsletter - Furloughs: NOT the Simple Solution

I don't know how many of us on this blog receive the AAUP Member Newsletter, so if this is old news, please excuse the redundancy. Since furloughs have been mentioned on this list, I thought this piece might be of interest to some.


AAUP Member Newsletter - Furloughs: NOT the Simple Solution
Tue 3/24/2009

It is still early days for fully evaluating higher education’s response to the worldwide recession, but a number of institutions are exploring unpaid furloughs as a short-term solution. In some cases, administrations seem to be using the external economic crisis to justify extraordinary internal measures without sufficiently consulting with faculty, providing them with adequate information about the financial condition of the institution, or taking into account alternative measures for addressing whatever financial challenges the institution faces.

Of course, when faculty or staff have collective bargaining contracts, such drastic measures are subject to negotiation. At other institutions, faculty and staff need to organize to insist that furloughs, layoffs, or salary reductions not be unilaterally imposed. All campus constituencies should be consulted and given an opportunity to propose alternatives.

The AAUP chapter at Louisiana State University responded efficiently to the challenge, issuing a principled letter establishing how the campus should proceed. The success that individual chapters will have in enforcing such principles will depend both on the size of their membership and the level of their resolve. It is urgent that chapters work to increase both. The strength of our Association rests in considerable part on the strength and commitment of our members, chapters, and conferences, as well as on the strength and ability of national leaders and staff to respond to emerging challenges and to support the good work of our members at the local level.

Not every faculty will want to insist that financial exigency be declared before budget adjustments can be made, but some of the principles articulated in the Louisiana letter deserve widespread consideration. The most obvious point to make is that not only faculty members but also some staff cannot simply stop working for a given period of time. Thus a furlough really means working without pay. Since that is fundamentally unacceptable, delayed compensation is the only tolerable alternative.

It is also more than misleading to suggest that a 10 percent pay cut means the same thing to an administrator earning hundreds of thousands of dollars as it does to a contingent teacher or an assistant professor. Lower-paid employees should be exempted from any form of salary reduction. Many campuses should also take this opportunity to consider reductions in the number of administrators, as well as considering disproportionate reductions in administrative compensation, which has disproportionately increased in recent decades. They should also take a look at reining in the salaries of administrators at the upper end of the salary scale.

Above all it is critical that decisions about furloughs and other salary measures be collaborative, not imposed by fiat.

Cary Nelson, AAUP President
Gary Rhoades, General Secretary

The AAUP Online is an electronic newsletter of the American Association of University Professors. The mission of the AAUP is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good. By joining, faculty members, academic professionals, and graduate students help to shape the future of the profession and proclaim their dedication to the education community. Visit the AAUP Web site or visit AAUP on Facebook.

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