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Report From the Front - Faculty Senate Meeting

FRPE members report on budget discussion at University Senate meeting, 3-4-2010
This report was composed by Bruce Braun and Eva von Dassow, who were both in attendance at the Senate meeting (Eva as alternate for Karen-Sue Taussig), as was William Messing. It focuses only on the budget discussion, which was Item 11 on the agenda, and which was allocated a full hour together with the president's report (Item 12).

Instead of giving a report following the discussion (as in the sequence on the agenda), President Bruininks opened with ten or fifteen minutes' worth of remarks. He stressed that the successive unallotments and stagnant state appropriations had produced a "new normal" of reduced financial resources for the U. He stated that in budgeting the administration's core principles were to "advance the University's quality and competitiveness through timely and targeted reductions" as well as investments; to "keep the talented workforce of the U together"; and to ensure "access and affordability" by increasing the amount of scholarships available, financial aid being the institution's "bedrock responsibility in a high-tuition era." He talked of replacing state support with revenue from other sources, mentioning in particular UMore Park. He then mentioned that it would be necessary for the university to decide "what things we should stop doing." Then he noted what reductions have already been achieved by not replacing 150 faculty positions in the last two years, reducing staff, and - here he went into a bit of detail - reducing and consolidating offices in administration, as well as turning out lights and so on, concluding this portion of his remarks by highlighting the provost's initiative in "e-learning."

The floor was then opened for comments. First, Marti Hope Gonzales informed the assembled company of the additional Senate meeting scheduled for March 25, at which the vote to declare fiscal stringency and therefore allow furloughs would be taken, and apologized that people hadn't been informed about this extra meeting sooner. Several people then spoke on various points, including William Messing, who deplored the unseemly cost of the president's office, the enormous salary disparities across the U, and the folly of propaganda campaigns (not his words) like Driven to Discover; he also called for opening the U's books. Others variously volunteered to be furloughed, discussed details of how a furlough would affect different employee groups, or pointed out the unique character of many of the U's programs and urged that criteria for determining what is essential and what can be cut are needed.

At that point Eva stood to make a statement to the following effect. 1) If we are to assent to a declaration of fiscal stringency, allowing the administration to impose mandatory furloughs, our decision must be an informed one; it cannot be now, because we do not have full information about how the U spends the resources at its disposal and we cannot have any confidence that the administration has indeed exhausted options for what to cut besides faculty and staff compensation. 2) We therefore call for an independent audit of the U administration and call for all budget information to be made openly available to the faculty and the general public, in advance of any vote on furloughs. 3) Before any such vote we need to know, furthermore, exactly what else it would empower the administration to do - for example, take back the 2% salary increase they have promised, some months ahead? 4) We do not want a 2% raise at the expense of our students or our colleagues. Rather, we assert that the temporary imposition of a sliding-scale salary cut for all University employees whose salaries are above a certain threshold would close the budget gap and make it unnecessary to furlough anyone or make any more cuts to the curriculum and programs that students were promised when they decided to come here. 5) We reject the idea that excellence can be achieved through excising elements of the body of knowledge and inquiry that constitute the University.

Bruce reinforced several of the points Eva made, in particular the need for faculty to have adequate information about university finances before any vote is taken, questioning whether this could be achieved before the scheduled March 25th vote, and suggesting that the whole process was revealing because it was consistent with the administration bringing proposals forward to which faculty are expected to give consent, rather than faculty having meaningful participation in developing proposals.

Several other people also spoke, including from coordinate campuses, again presenting a mix of attitudes: some are happy to sacrifice for the institution by taking furloughs; some think increasing compensation now makes no sense either in budgetary or public-relations terms; some wonder why furloughs, which require staff time and thus money to administer, would be a good plan for saving money.
Joe Konstan objected to the demand for budgetary transparency and faculty involvement in decision-making, stating that various senate committees had in fact been discussing these matters with the administration, and if any of us "wanted to get up to speed" we had only to read the committee minutes. To this Eva replied that the fact that a faculty committee had talked to the administration did not suffice to inform the faculty at large, much less the public at large, and most financial information remains completely inaccessible. An astronomer asked, "What exactly does it mean to close the campus? Will I be unable to get into my office? My lab? My e-mail?" and, met with silence, pressed repeatedly, "Does anybody have an answer?" but the best that was offered was Bruininks's assurance that they would produce an answer in the next few weeks. Another faculty member pointed out (reinforcing Eva's third point above) that faculty need to know what are the ramifications of the vote we are being asked to take at the hastily-called additional Senate meeting on March 25.

In transition to the next item on the agenda, Bruininks remarked that he'd have more to say about the matter of transparency since he thinks those who raised that issue are wrong.

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