Sunday, November 24, 2013

Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion |

By Mary King
The Portland State University campus is in an uproar, reacting to a directive to all academic units to identify 8 percent of their budgets for possible elimination by fall term 2014.
PSU faculty members are skeptical of the necessity for such drastic cuts and alarmed by the destruction slashing budgets would entail.
Battered by Oregon’s 20-year spiral to the bottom for state support for public higher education, another 8 percent cut represents an unsustainable blow to PSU’s ability to provide a quality academic experience for its nearly 30,000 students.
PSU’s faculty members are already far more likely to be part-time “freeway fliers” than the rest of Oregon’s public universities.  Fifty two percent of PSU faculty members are part-time, as compared with 35 percent on average for the Oregon University System.  Part-timers teach a third of the student hours at PSU. 
While part-time faculty may be well qualified, they can’t promise anything beyond the 10-week quarter.  Students can’t count on part-time faculty for advising, for a future letter of recommendation, or a commitment to serve on a Ph.D., masters or honors project committee.
Even PSU’s full-time faculty isn’t stable.  Forty-one percent of full-time faculty members teach on short contracts, two thirds of them for one year or less.
PSU faculty salaries are in the bottom tenth for faculty in public, research universities, and in the bottom 7 percent of all research universities, including the privates.  As a result, we struggle to recruit and retain a strong faculty.
PSU is spending on upper administration.  The number of executives – variants of presidents, provosts and deans – grew 65 percent, from 31 to 51, from 2002 to 2012.  Executive salaries have soared.  Even after adjusting for inflation, the provost’s salary grew by 46 percent in 10 years and the combined vice provosts’ salaries by 43 percent.
Tuition dollars are subsidizing secondary activities that by rights should support the academic mission.  Millions of dollars are diverted each year to prop up bad real estate deals; athletics, which should be supported by donations; and odd giveaways, like the subsidies for business start-ups in the Business Accelerator.
Some PSU budget moves appear counterproductive.  PSU abruptly cut 79 courses this summer, within a week of the start of the summer session. As reported in The Oregonian, Provost Andrews and Dean Beatty explained that all of the cancelled courses would be taught in the regular academic year, and that “PSU professors …can't refuse to see their student loads increase.”  The problem is that many PSU summer students are in town only for the summer, returning to other schools in the fall, and others are people attracted by the opportunity to squeeze in a short, intensive course.
In another example of questionable budget decisions, key projects helping students improve their writing skills, the drop-in writing center and writing intensive courses, are on the chopping block.  Meanwhile, the Provost’s Challenge initiative will use student tech fees to develop a “badge” to certify that students can write, but will not fund writing instruction.
Three-quarters of PSU faculty responding to an on-line survey conducted by the PSU-AAUP this last month indicated that they “somewhat disagree or completely disagree” that “PSU Administrators have a good feel for our mission, understanding of conditions at PSU and are taking us in a positive direction.”
Fifty six percent of faculty surveyed disagree that “PSU Administrators are visible, effective advocates for PSU and public higher education in Oregon,” and another 22 percent are “unsure.”
Oregon must stop accepting its current rank as 47th in the country in per-student higher education funding. The consequences are skyrocketing tuition rates, unconscionable levels of student debt, diminishing access to higher education and mediocre universities.  For the sake of Oregon’s college students and our state’s future, we need to get our priorities in order, at PSU and in the State Legislature.
Mary King is a professor of economics at PSU and president of the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the union representing full-time faculty.

Proposed budget cuts will harm PSU's mission: Guest opinion |

Friday, November 22, 2013

University of California Workers Strike Against Harassment | Labor Notes

University of California Workers Strike Against Harassment | Labor Notes

More than 22,000 University of California campus workers and service and technical workers in the system’s medical centers are striking today, claiming harassment and intimidation by management. They are joined by 13,000 sympathy-striking graduate students in a one-day strike.
UC tried a last-minute legal maneuver to stop the strike—claiming it would put patients at risk—but a Sacramento Superior Court judge upheld the right to strike. The union’s 50-worker task force will be on call to fill in during the strike in case of medical emergencies.
The medical center workers—including X-ray, laboratory, and surgical technicians, patient care assistants, housekeepers, and cafeteria workers, among others—previously struck for two days in May. This time, they joined forces with university campus workers such as custodians and groundskeepers, who are in the same union but have a separate contract.
Both groups have been in negotiations for almost a year. The union, AFSCME 3299, says it is the only side showing movement at either table.
Management implemented its last, best, and final offer—pay freezes and benefit cuts—on campus and medical center workers in September. Management has since returned to the table but remains unwilling to address staffing concerns.
The union alleges management began pulling workers aside and interrogating them for their union activity before the May strike, even threatening disciplinary action for workers participating. These unfair labor practice charges are the basis for today’s strike.
As AFSCME 3299 president Kathryn Lybarger put it: “The point of the ULP strike is, we’d like to see them change their behavior.”
The university campus workers joining the medical center workers in the ULP strike have also had similar concessions forced on them. Campus workers struck in 2005 and sympathy-struck in May, but this is the first time both groups have struck together. Unionized graduate students, members of UAW 2865, are sympathy-striking this time.

Skeleton Crews

Campus and hospital workers have offered pension concessions during negotiations, including higher employee contributions, in exchange for wage increases—but UC rejected the offer.
The university system, which includes five medical centers and 10 campuses, boasts $7 billion in operating revenue. While it’s true the system experienced enormous state funding cuts, Lybarger said, it has since recovered; now it’s just taking advantage of the excuse.
“They can absolutely afford it,” she said. “The UC has taken $900 million in cuts [between 2009 and 2012] but they recouped it by increasing student fees and implementing service cuts.”
“It’s not like we are asking for the jewels on the crown,” UC-Berkeley custodian Maricruz Manzanares said. “We are asking for a way to survive.”
The service workers now coping with the imposed cuts, Manzanarez pointed out, are already the lowest-paid workers in the UC system. Many qualify for public assistance. Adding insult to injury, the UC system is increasing parking fees along with pension and healthcare costs.
UC says its pay for service workers meets market standards—but “what’s their market?” Lybarger counters. “If their market is McDonalds, that’s not very difficult.”
Another deal-breaker for workers is the university’s refusal to agree to contract language to ban subcontracting and to convert temporary and per diem workers to fully benefited employees. Many are working steady part-time or even full-time hours.
Workers want the university to commit to a full-time workforce and create staffing committees to address concerns that are piling up about safety and workload.
The union says cost-cutting is endangering care. Workplace injuries have increased almost 20 percent in five years.
“It’s getting to the point where we are working on skeleton crews and people are getting hurt,” said Manzanares.
In the spring UC faced criticism when they eliminated 300 jobs at UCSF and paid $1.2 million to settle a whistleblower suit that charged patient neglect at UC Irvine.

Nurses Set Good Precedent

This time the striking medical center workers don’t have nurses and professional units striking in sympathy with them, as they did in May.
The California Nurses Association (CNA) was originally planning to walk out too, but reached a last-minute contract settlement with 4 percent wage increases over four years and protection of a single-tier pension with retiree benefits. The university had been pushing for a two-tier pension.
The Union of Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), representing the medical center’s social workers, lab scientists, and pharmacists, is still in negotiations. UC threatened to implement similar terms on them, but was willing to go back to the bargaining table instead—so UPTE too opted not to strike. They, along with nurses, are turning out to support striking workers on the picket line on their breaks and after work.
On one hand, the nurses’ victory meant AFSCME lost a powerful picket line ally who could have put a lot of pressure on the hospital system during the strike. But on the other hand, CNA’s settlement set a strong contract standard for the other unions: the hospital agreed to preserve pension standards and raises for nurses.
“It’s definitely higher than what UC has maintained they can offer us,” Lybarger said.
Lybarger and the 3299 bargaining team hope the university system’s new high-profile president, former Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano, will improve the relationship in negotiations.
At their most recent round of bargaining in early November, management showed movement for the first time on economics, but still wouldn’t budge on the staffing issues the union has continued to raise.

Grad Students Join

Unionized graduate students are striking in sympathy with the UC workers—a showing of support separate from their own negotiations, where they are not yet at the point of striking.
In their contract, graduate students are seeking to increase financial support for research and teaching assistants, have the university offer childcare to graduate students with families, and win stronger anti-discrimination language.
“We are challenging the UC’s priorities,” said Josh Brahinsky, a graduate student at UC-Santa Cruz. “They are paying attention to executive compensation. They are not paying attention to quality of care or education.”
Though she works at the elite Berkeley campus, Maricruz said, the low wages hurt her ability to send her own children to college. “It’s ironic, working for a university for almost 19 years that my kids have not been able to attend,” she said.
“It should be a place I can send my kids. Instead, they work here. They have to go to community college.”
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury

Portland State University’s administration is once again looking to slim down the school’s budget. Needless to say students, faculty and the faculty union aren’t happy.

Yesterday at noon, around 260 individuals, many from the PSU chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)—the union representing the university’s faculty—along with students and other supporters, marched from PSU at SW Broadway to the Market Center Building, where PSU President Wim Wiewel keeps an office.

The protesters’ beef was with the university’s administration, their high salaries, and the budget-cutting knife they’re now wielding.

University higher-ups recently issued an administrative directive ordering all “academic units” identify eight percent of their budgets for possible cuts. The cuts are expected to take another bite out of student services. But the rub, says AAUP reps, is that this starvation diet might not be necessary at all.

“There’s this history of uneven investment on the campus,” Mary King, economics professor and president of the PSU chapter of the AAUP, told the Mercury.

On King’s wish list of possible cuts are what she says are some of PSU’s more ill-conceived investments. Not the least of these is the University Place Hotel—the former Double Tree at 310 SW Lincoln Street that PSU bought and has been running since 2004. King says the hotel has sucked money from student tuition and should be sold.

Of course, union members have their own more personal complaints against their bosses, and—surprise! surprise—it’s over money. But before you think the teachers are greedy bastards not pulling their own weight, consider their argument. (Which, if you wanted to incite class resentment, isn’t a bad one).

The AAUP claims there’s a lot of fat at the top of PSU’s food chain. According to numbers compiled by the union, over the last decade, the average administrator’s salary has gone up substantially. The provost’s salary shot up 46 percent. For vice provosts it was 43 percent. For vice presidents it was around 29 percent. To give this some perspective, consider PSU President Wim Wiewel’s salary.

According to a Chronicle for Higher Education study released earlier this year—and partially disputed by the Oregonian—during 2011-2012 accounting period, Wiewel was paid $627,000 in salary and compensation. The Oregonian’s Betsy Hammond puts the number closer to $513,000. Ranking him somewhere between 42nd and 70th highest paid university administrator in the country.

During the same period, according to Oregon University System numbers, salaries for PSU faculty were $92,800 for full professors, $73,600 for associate professors, $60,300 for assistant professors, and $41,700 for instructors. PSU also has a lot of part-timers, about 52 percent of its faculty, well above the OUS average of 35 percent. In fact, the school has about 173 adjuncts compared to 409 tenure-track faculty members, and 100 “fixed term faculty” (whatever that is).

Yet, in its on-going negotiations with the university—the union’s current contract with the university expires on November 30—AAUP rep Marissa Johnson says PSU administration has asked the faculty to take just a one percent cost of living increase despite the fact, she says, cost of living has gone up by more then two percent recently, and administration salaries went up by 13 percent in the last biennium.

The context for this bickering is, of course, a slow and steady divestment of state funds away from PSU and other Oregon universities. As a result, much of the financial burden for propping up Oregon’s higher ed—and, if the union is right, its well-paid administrators, and an occasional hotel—have fallen on the backs of students in the form of tuition hikes.

King tells the Mercury the AAUP is planning on releasing a study with a larger set of numbers that’ll further break down and compare the salaries of PSU administrators with that or its faculty. (And, presumably build more resentment against the school’s administrators).

On November 25th—that’s next Monday—the AAUP will also be hosting a meeting to further discuss the budget, and nail home its point. The meeting will be at Cramer Hall from 3-5PM. And it’s open to the public.

PSU Faculty Union Protests Budget Cuts | Blogtown, PDX | Portland Mercury

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Citing Series of Conflicts, San Jose State U. Asks for Governance Review - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education

November 19, 2013, 4:59 am
Academic leaders at San Jose State University on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution asking the chancellor of the California State University system to review governance at the university, where unease over the introduction of massive open online courses has exacerbated difficulties caused by tight budgets.
The resolution cited “a series of conflicts over the past year” that have highlighted “communication and transparency” issues and “opened serious rifts in our shared sense of community.”
The Academic Senate passed the resolution by a vote of 38 to 2, with five abstentions, but delayed until its December meeting a vote on another measure related to the president’s push to adopt MOOCs.
“In my 24 years at SJSU—most of that time on the Senate—I have never heard such widespread and deep concern about the direction our campus has been taking,” said Kenneth B. Peter, a professor of political science, in a prepared statement provided toThe Chronicle.
Mohammad H. Qayoumi, San Jose State’s president, spoke at the meeting and endorsed the resolution.
“As I said during the meeting, communication is the basis for effective governance,” Mr. Qayoumi wrote in a blog post on the university website. “I am hopeful that today’s Senate conversation, and others to come, will bring us closer together and help us exceed our individual and collective aspirations.”
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Citing Series of Conflicts, San Jose State U. Asks for Governance Review - Wired Campus - The Chronicle of Higher Education