Yesterday, I wrote a critique of the current shared sacrifice trope in debates about budgets at federal and state levels. The basic point, if you didn’t read it and don’t feel like reading it now, is that not only are the current budget-cutting efforts happening primarily on the backs of the non-rich, but that the rich are in fact benefitting from every single implication of those cuts. It’s not even not-shared sacrifice; it’s actually redistribution of wealth and power from the bottom up.
Thinking this morning about our faculty union’s current negotiations, I have to ask the question in our context too. We hear, over and over, that the current economic situation in our state is calling for shared sacrifice. And our union, as we’ve made quite clear, understands the economic terrain–just as well or better than our system’s negotiators do, because we live with the consequences of it EVERY DAY. I’m sorry, y’all, but that’s a divide that system management simply can’t cross. We work, on the ground, with students, faculty, staff, and our local management; we see the direct implications of the state’s economic situation every time a student has to drop out of school because of financial problems, or a faculty member is retrenched, or another manager gets hired, or groundskeepers have to buy their own gloves and masks in order to be safe at their jobs, or…
So, when faculty sacrifice by taking on larger clases, more advisees, increased research expectations with decreased support, salaries that lag behind inflation even before you account for our increasing contributions to benefits packages (which I don’t begrudge, except to the extent that PASSHE management doesn’t seem especially inclined to do the hard work of fighting for better deals because the costs aren’t the same for them), shrinking academic freedom as teaching and research opportunities shrink in the face of increasing student bodies and mandatory “efficiencies” (like our state’s 60-credit transfer articulation agreement), …
Most of these sacrifices, management can make a case for on a one-by-one basis: accept larger classes in return for x; pay more for your benefits in return for y. The problems are two:
(1) Taken together, they represent a huge problem. It’s very, very difficult to do the job we’re hired for if every day we have to undertake another rear-guard action to protect our ability to do our jobs. More directly–when we have to spend as much energy defending our work conditions as doing our work, there’s a big problem. The problem is, as I think we call know, that anti-academic forces then use that problem as an argument against public higher education. They get to say (although they’re lying) that faculty are greedy (we’re selling out our students in order to negotiate better contracts) and ineffective (we’re not working hard enough). We all know that’s bullshit, but it plays well in the press.
(2) Closer to what I thought I’d be writing when I started this post–as faculty bargain away more and more of our positive working conditions in the face of supposed economic catastrophe, where’s the sharing? That is, what is management giving up in return, and on what grounds are we faculty to believe it’s anywhere near proportional to our own sacrifices? As faculty positions haven’t grown in proportion to increasing student bodies while management positions have skyrocketed, even as slight reduction on management hires doesn’t come close to balancing that out. We also all know that because management salaries aren’t on steps or regular increments, they can play all sorts of accounting games with when and how raises are allocated (and often backpaid) so they can say they sacrificed the very raises they were still able to bank.
And beyond that, following closer the logic I started laying out yesterday, there’s an argument to be made that management doesn’t simply avoid sacrificing, but actually benefits when faculty gives up hard won territory. When fewer of us are teaching more students, cobbling together more grants so we can afford to do any research, advising more, administering programs and departments with shrinking support, and all the rest of it, we’re also less likely to participate in shared governance (on whose time? with whose energy?); we (especially junior and temporary faculty) are scared for our jobs and less likely to make waves; we spend a lot more time doing management’s work for them (my last two CCCC papers are about the trickle-down of management work onto faculty, obscuring that phenomenon by calling it “shared governance”); and on and on.
I’m not as angry at our system management as I am at the Scott Walkers/Tom Corbetts/Chris Christies/Koch brothers/Tea Partiers of the world. I’ve met a couple of our upper managers and, while I don’t especially appreciate some (most?) of the moves they make, I don’t distrust them personally. Let’s put it this way–it very often doesn’t seem like their commitments to the work of the system are the same as ours. There are lots of reasons that might be, and lots of ways of accounting for it, and even probably some good responses to it.
But for now, the important thing is that I see scant evidence that our state system is coming anywhere close to the level of sacrifice they continually ask faculty for, and it’s increasingly difficult to motivate faculty to keep sacrificing without some sense that we’re not the only ones doing it.
UPDATE: Comrade (!) Kevin Mahoney at the KUXchange has written extensively and convincingly about Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine, one of the more convincing descriptions of how PASSHE covers for its decisions in economic terms. His colleague Amy Lynch-Biniek has done some good work calling attention to the inattention system management pays to what matters about teaching and learning, namely, teaching and learning.