Sunday, January 25, 2015

Misery's the River of the World. Everybody Row.

With apologies to Tom Waits. 

I think this might qualify as an Existential Thirsty:

I am currently gearing up for the semester, which starts Monday. Finishing touches on the LMS and all that. Tweaking lectures.

On Friday, and again yesterday, reports have filtered out that the governor's budget is going to include a $300 million cut to the system where I am employed, as well as changes to shared governance structures and tenure.

This insult is added to the injury perpetrated by the same governor back in 2011, which I will not go into here. Sorry in advance for linking to Wikipedia but I just don't have the energy to revisit this, since we've basically been living with the aftermath for the last 3+ years. It is long since we had any hope.

This is a particularly cruel gut punch, as we had been led to believe that a request for a $95 million boost might have some legs, as the new system president has worked hard to repair the relationship with the legislature and to clarify our role as a driver of the economy.

(I had my doubts about this, as the governor gave a speech at my campus about the technical college system--we are not one of those--but never once mentioned the name of our school. The one whose stage he was standing on, whose dean had bent over backwards to make him welcome.)

And where I teach, at the access point, our salaries are already among the lowest in the nation--the students get great value for their money (we make considerably less than our similarly-credentialed counterparts in other schools in the system, and WAY less than our counterparts in the technical college of my colleagues who left went from $43k a year to over $70k by going across the street. Literally.).

We were hoping to have that rectified, at least a little. Not only are we not going to get any new money, we're going to get cut. Again. For the umpteenth time.

The economy here, compared to our neighbor's, is abysmal. And our governor has Presidential aspirations that cannot succeed if he runs with a $2.2 bn general budget deficit (which is $400,000 higher than pre-election predictions). 

I have spent the past two days in a fog of despair. My OH is trying to help me stay upbeat, but after last year (where I presided over the steering committee that oversaw an $80,000 campus base budget cut as part of the cut we took in the last budget biennium), I am tapped out. Because what is the point of this, anymore? Is there any point in hoping that the legislature will put the brakes on and do right by us? Because they all got re-elected, and now they hold the majority: governor, both houses of the state legislature. And they seem intent on destroying us, while the people who elected them cheer.

I worked for almost my entire adult life to get a TT position, because I love teaching (still do, and am having a hard time figuring out what else I could do). I got a week to enjoy earning tenure in 2011 before Act 10 dropped and wiped out my piddling $1500 raise.

Make no mistake: If you live in a red state, this is either happening to you or it's about to happen to you. Maybe you're lucky and you have a great president, like this one at Pittsburg (KS) State College
but maybe you don't.

So I guess my question is this: What would you do, facing this? Would you quit? Would you head for the private sector? Would you pick up a torch and take it to the streets? Would you search out another TT position and go through the rigamarole all over again? Would you give up, and go live in the woods? Would you go ahead and just buy the bourbon water cooler?


  1. Well, thanks for the Pitt State shoutout, anyway: I have seen good academic leadership and bad academic leadership, and Dr. Scott really has done a good job of keeping us moving despite the situation. "No hunkering down" is the motto.

    That said, it's not all roses and puppies, and doing more with less has limits. In spite of our general success with state budgets, and even some new money flowing in for tech and education projects, funding for anything that isn't "innovation" or "economic" has been flat, functionally shrinking, and the odds are good that higher ed in KS will not escape the Brownback tide much longer.

    You folks, on the other hand, have gotten the ugly short end of a really dirty stick, and I'm sorry. I think my answer to your question would be a bit of all of the above. Withdrawing uncompensated labor from the system, pushing for political change, and considering other academic and non-academic options would all be on my short list under those circumstances.

  2. I'm very sorry, BC. That really, really sucks.

    I guess I'd vote for both torches (and/or any other kind of light, physical or metaphorical, that might call enough attention to the situation to skewer the presidential bid, and generally guarantee that no other governor who guts a higher ed system can hope to become president) and self-preservation, in whatever combination you can muster. But self-preservation above all. Nobody will ever blame you for getting yourself out of this mess if you can. It maybe have to get worse before it gets better, and you don't have to be involved in that process if you can find an alternative, any alternative. At the very least, if you have any contractual right to unpaid leave, and can find any other sort of work to tide you over while this works itself out, maybe you should take that option. It might give you a chance to explore alternatives (and see how bad things get) without completely burning bridges (in fact, if such a provision exists in your faculty handbook -- it does in ours -- it might be interesting to see the effect of a large proportion of the tenured faculty deciding to invoke it).

  3. I’m sorry this is happening to you, BC. Milton Friedman and his merry band of neoliberal economists, whose ideas appeal to your governor and his supporters, would tell you to "vote with your feet." Of course, advocates of “voodoo economics” are notorious for ignoring externalities, particularly ones easily dodged by wealthy people, but not for the rest of us.

    Nevertheless, I was once also in an intolerable and hopeless situation, and with no prospect of improving. It was when I was an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, at a private university just outside a major NASA center. The administration knew they had a good deal, and their relationship with the students and the faculty resembled feudalism.

    My conscience bothered me, because we simply were not allowed the budget to give our students an education commensurate with the sky-high tuition they were paying. The kicker, though, was that I simply couldn’t live that way. At the end of my second year, I had to wait until May 1 until I learned I had a job for fall, and the best they could do was an extension of one more year, to prolong the agony. They did offer me a $5,000 raise to my $30,000 salary (in 2000), which astonished everyone since a raise was such a novel concept at that institution, but the overhead on my grant was about six times that.

    So, I got myself a tenure-track job, and in glorious workers’ state of California. Getting this job wasn’t easy, of course. Moreover, once the contract was signed, the transition wasn’t easy for me emotionally: it was like leaving a bad marriage. I felt lots of regret and disappointment, because as in many bad marriages, it wasn’t all bad. I particularly miss the students, since they in many ways reminded me of me. Looking back on it now, though, it was without question the correct decision. (Since I left that job, no fewer than four other people have done it.) It sure didn’t feel like it at the time. I therefore say: go for the bourbon water cooler.

  4. This is so mind-numbingly awful that I have no words of encouragement. Presumably you (or your OH) have a life there apart from the job, so moving to another state would be fraught.

    Cassandra's idea about use of unpaid leave is delicious, but considering your state's recent record with unions, the consequence could be losing your job. Has it become so wretched that academics are willing to risk eveything, Tom Joad-style? Still, there is a nasty flu around. Isn't there? What if a critical mass of employees called in sick?

    You asked what we'd do in your circumstances. I'd probably get very depressed.

    1. My OH can go anywhere with hir skillset. In fact, runs a home business right now so I am the sole financial support while we get that off the ground.

      Trying hard not to panic.

  5. Your governor has three things he wants to do with the state university system but can't remember the third.

  6. Sorry to hear you are getting shit upon, BC. I'm in a similar situation, though a different group of assholes sitting over me.

    I like Frod's comments about a bad marriage. Breaking up with job or a person you once loved is painful. I've observed that nobody loves their jobs like educators. It's maddening and heartbreaking when you don't get back what you put into it.

    As much as possible, think analytically about your situation and weigh the good and bad of each alternative. If you can move across the street for higher pay, go for it. You might find that other jobs are not as good as you first thought. Have a plan for evaluating your options and be patient. The better job might appear next week or next year.

    I wish you the best of luck. And, yeah, the water cooler is an awesome medication dispenser.

  7. It's really bad luck to teach at a state school when your governor is nationally infamous.

    His is the party that caters exclusively to one-percenters, and foremost on their agenda is making sure their serfs are as uneducated as possible. They're (mostly) done destroying public high schools, and public universities (especially tenure) are the natural next target.

    You're right, no one who teaches at a red state (like I do) is safe, and blue state people shouldn't be complacent either. I think you should consider applying for TT jobs, not just in the US (where higher ed seems doomed anyway) but also in Canada, Europe and Latin America, I hear academic job markets are becoming more open to non-native profs in those places, and tenure protections are strong (public U's=government jobs). At my age, emigration seems like the only viable alternative, and I'm actively pursuing it.

    If I'm successful, it will feel like the long-overdue end to a terrible marriage. I love my profession, but hate my institution with a burning passion.

    1. But it's not in their interest for us to be as uneducated as possible. Indeed, it's no secret that the 1% is unhappy with there being so little innovation. The reason is that, while the offspring of the 1% may get the best educational opportunities more easily with less competition from the rest of us, their offspring tend to color inside the lines only. Science is stagnating because too few people want to take risks anymore: that would be a career error. Now I know how Davros felt as he screamed at the Daleks, "You cannot exist without me! You cannot progress!" right before they blasted him. (How's that for an obscure reference?)

  8. That stinks BC. I guess you try to get out? Try to ride out the wave until he is gone? A tough one.

    I may or may not have a phone interview with a school in that particular system. Do I run away?

    1. I'd run away, but not towards Michigan

    2. Frenna: Take the phone interview, if only for the practice. Otherwise, I'd say this is not a good time to enter our system--and I think we are going to see hiring problems going forward, because anybody with any sense would see the news articles emerging and go "Yeah, they're going to change tenure? Nope."

  9. Thanks for your words of support. This community means a lot to me.

    I looked into working overseas last year--had email interviews that were going places until I did some further research and found out that the country's populations is literally mostly made up of a slave underclass. That, and the pay turned out to be less than what I make now (for an oil-rich country and university founded by a sheik, it was just sad).

    I put in two more applications yesterday after posting. I think I might be dreaming because I am mid-career and in places with unions and salary steps (unlike where I teach now), they'd have to pay me a lot more than a newly-minted PhD.

    But if I don't try to get out, I will go nuts.

    Thanks again for the support.