Post Academic

More context on salaries: Furloughs and why it’s probably even worse than the numbers suggest

I wanted to add some anecdotal experience to expand on the raw data of the report, backed with some completely unscientific conjectures, to explain how the situation may even be worse than described in the articles.  Since I’m a UC type, the first thing I thought of when I saw the headlines is whether or not the data takes into account the impact furloughs have had on take-home pay.  The survey does not, so the situation is even bleaker for many state university employees.  From the AAUP report, on furloughs:

We know, for example, that faculty members and other employees of colleges and universities in many states have been forced to take unpaid furloughs during 2009 and 2010. For the most part, however, the reductions in pay resulting from these furloughs are not reflected in our data—although we cannot say for certain how much of a distortion this represents. Many institutions report data for this and similar surveys on the basis of salary levels rather than payroll disbursements.

As a result, I imagine it’s safe to say that economic status of academic instructors is even worse than the objective lowest-pay-increase-in-50-years news that can be statistically proven.  Here are some of the unquantifiable effects of the furloughs on faculty, tenured, tenure-track, or not.  And that’s not mentioning the students who are really taking the brunt of the furloughs, who are receiving less opportunities to learn even as their tuitions and fees are skyrocketing.

1. Economic and personal costs: What’s not as widely reported is the individual toll the furlough can take not just on pocketbooks, but also psyches.  At the economic level, there are a lot of absurd situations that have extracted a lot of unpaid labor not just from temporary faculty holding onto academic affiliations trying to get to the next academic job cycle, but also higher ups.  I’ve heard of cases where faculty are promoted and get raises, only to have their salaries bumped down to what they were making earlier or even less, because of the furlough.  In effect, many people end up having to take on more responsibilities to make up for the loss in pay (though that might not be the primary reason to do so), working more for the same amount of money, in practical terms.

But I imagine this scenario actually shows up as a pay increase on the AAUP survey because they only look at payscales and don’t throw furloughs into their calculations.  So it’s a good bet that the UC and Cal State contributions to the survey are very distorted, showing theoretical raises when the reality is that faculty are seeing less cold, hard cash.  (And to think, there’s probably someone working in some budgeting office earning a salary to do all the double accounting!)

I discuss the further impacts of the furloughs, below the fold…

2. Accounting for time: The furlough situation also raises the question of how you quantify labor for academics.  If the furlough takes, say, 16 days of instruction and 6% of the annual income of your typical Assistant Professor, how does said Asst Prof actually hold back that amount of her/his labor?  (Here’s a link to the UC President’s Office that describes the furlough scale, though perhaps it has changed again since July 2009?)  What I’ve heard is that folks are being told to take their furlough days on days they aren’t the classroom to begin with, so they make less without teaching any less.  I know it sounds bad to take the time out of the classroom, but that’s the only quantifiable measure of work for many academics.

What makes things all the more frustrating is that there’s really no uniform way that the furloughs are being implemented, at least in the very large state systems in California.  I have heard that some schools, like Cal State Long Beach, actually shut down a few days a month, so that faculty aren’t put in the precarious position of deciding which days to work and which days not to.  Then again, there are schools like UC Irvine that designate furlough days when there is effectively nothing going on, like at the end of the Fall Quarter during what is essentially  Christmas break.  So basically, you face a choose-your-own-adventure decision that involves working the same amount for less pay or working more to get the same take-home income.

3. Deepening public/private split: The numbers also suggest that the split between public and private payscales that Caroline pointed to are even more exaggerated, since many state school academics are taking hits to their income that aren’t recorded on the AAUP survey.  Because I live California, am at least tangentially connected to the UC still, and know a bunch of folks who work at UCs and Cal State schools, it’s not hard to see how hard the furloughs have hit public education in the state.  And it’s happening to state schools everywhere: Just type in “public university furloughs” to a Google search, and what comes up are furloughs or proposed cuts happening in Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Idaho, Texas, Arizona and Minnesota–if only could we get Howard Dean to list the states with some excited indignation!  And it sounds like some academics are probably facing worse than furloughs if programs and even whole branches of universities are shuttering up in Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, and New York, as Caroline reports in the “Broke-Ass Schools” series on the blog.

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