"COLLEGIALITY" WHEN TIMES ARE HARD
Hard times are supposed to bring out the best in us, but sometimes it can bring out the worst. There is an old psychology experiment, in which a mouse and a rat are put in a maze to search out some cheese. When they reach the entrance to the chamber with the cheese, it is blocked. After some frustrating moments with the barrier, the rat then turns on the mouse.
Times are hard. In its April 17 issue, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that it had surveyed 25 colleges and universities, and found that 22 had restricted or delayed faculty hiring, 16 had frozen or cut salaries, eight had increased teaching loads, twelve had restricted travel, five had instituted furloughs, and four had restricted sabbaticals. The University of Florida reported that it had cut tenure-track faculty, while Spelman College reported that it had also cut tenured faculty. And "It's Not Just About the Money," reported the Chronicle, describing growing anxiety and many little things that are collectively making life harder. And a professor at Utah State University said, "If they face budget cuts over the next two to three years...Morale will plunge."
Since hard times are expected for a while, this brings us back to how we get along when things are hard.
One stress point is employees and supervisors. As the old saw goes, where one stands depends on where one sits, and even regular faculty and chairs sit in different places. Jan Middendorf and Stephen Benton of Kansas State University conducted a little study of an unnamed institution, and reported the results at the recent annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. It seems that chairs tended to regard their most important duties to be (a) keeping things running, (b) promoting collegiality and improvements and (c) getting external funding (see the
Inside Higher Ed article. Faculty, on the other hand, valued (a) communicating, consulting, and coordinating and, of course, (b) meeting needs of individual faculty.
Michael Fischer, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, recently suggested that declining collegiality could be the result of things like top down management techniques; or hyperspecialization that splinters departments; or department chairs "inadequately prepared for dealing with conflict." (There were several other likely causes: see
his column.) The first is a curious complaint, for universities across the country (like businesses across the country) have been renouncing top-down management techniques for over a decade now, and yet much management is still top down, perhaps because for top managers it's easier. In fact, a number of these problems such as hyperspecialization may be due to inertia as much as anything else.
Fischer's approach is interesting, for he refers to management expertise. In fact, many business and social science scholars have been studying the problem of not getting along. And it is during a crisis like a major economic downturn that people start looking at this sort of thing and asking if it is time to break some old habits.
One of these may entail rethinking "collegiality."
"Collegiality" tends to be used as if it means, "not irritating colleagues or, more importantly, administrators or politicians." But the word never seems to get defined anywhere. (In the
Winter 2000 issue of UnCommon Sense, it was noted that the dictionaries agreed that "collegiality" referred to "collegial governance".) There was a collegiality boom a decade ago, inspiring Committee A of the American Association of University Professors to warn, "Historically, 'collegiality' has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity, and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm. The invocation of 'collegiality' may also threaten academic freedom" (see
the AAUP statement). Still, administrators pushed for it, and it crept into the 2001 2003 UFF-BOR contract; but it was kicked out of the 2004 2007 USF UFF-BOT contract.
If we take "collegiality" to mean "not irritating" (and remember that "irritation" runs across an immense spectrum), we can see collegiality issues in recent events like tenured business professor Ekow Hayford's dismissal from Stillman College for violating a ban on "malicious gossip or public verbal abuse." Or the current battle at Bowdoin College over economics professor Jonathan Goldstein, who wrote an article critical of Bowdoin's emphasis on athletics, and distributed it to parents and prospective students. Or the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) cutting the pay of a tenured professor who complained about how his NSF grant was handled.
It should be noted that all three cases have been reported widely, with litigation looming, ongoing, or resolved with Wisconsin getting a potentially Pyrrhic victory: it is possible that the administration inflicted more damage on the institution than the offending faculty member. And it is conceivable that the faculty members were saying something that the administration should have listened to, rather than freaking out about. This brings us to the possibility that these three faculty were perceived as troublemakers because, well, they were making trouble.
As the villain of Anthony Trollope's novel, Barchester Towers, explained to his spineless bishop: "...it is most desirable that there should be but one opinion among the dignitaries of the same diocese. ... In this case there would be a delightful uniformity of opinion." To this end, the villain was willing to engage in all sorts of shenanigans that ultimately disrupted the cathedral more than the dis-uniformity of opinion did.
An analogous situation appears in this month's issue of the Harvard Business Review (available via the USF library portal), which has an interview with J. Richard Hackman, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard. Hackman is an expert on teams, and he described how to get teams to actually work:
"People generally think that teams that work together harmoniously are better and more productive than teams that dont. But in a study we conducted on symphonies, we actually found that grumpy orchestras played together slightly better than orchestras in which all the musicians were really quite happy."
And: " Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning. ... [T]he deviant opens up more ideas, and that gets you a lot more originality. In our research, we've looked carefully at both teams that produced something original and those that were merely average, where nothing really sparkled. It turned out that the teams with deviants outperformed teams without them."
But: "... often the deviant veers from the norm at great personal cost. Deviants are the individuals who are willing to say the thing that nobody else is willing to articulate. The deviant raises people's level of anxiety, which is a brave thing to do. When the boat is floating with the current, it really is extraordinarily courageous for somebody to stand up and say, 'We've got to pause and probably change direction.' Nobody on the team wants to hear that, which is precisely why many team leaders crack down on deviants and try to get them to stop asking difficult questions, maybe even knock them off the team. And yet it's when you lose the deviant that the team can become mediocre."
And remembering the rat, the mouse, and the cheese, it is when the barrier is in the way, and when we feel most frustrated by that barrier and irritated by deviants we might at other times ignore, that we most need the strange advice the deviant has to offer.
NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET
One of the primary sources of revenue for Florida's universities is the Educational & General (E & G) Budget allocated by the legislature. The good news is that for the coming fiscal year, E & G funding for USF increased about 2.1 %. USF does not face an immediate problem requiring immediate action.
But the structure of the allocation has some people worried, so let's take a closer look. E & G is actually four pots of money. "General Revenue," the money (from taxes) within the legislature's discretion, was cut nearly 12 % nearly $ 36 million. Lottery money increased nearly 12 %, but that was an increase of less than four million additional dollars as there isn't that much lottery money. Tuition and fee revenue increased nearly 13 %, adding an estimated $ 19 million. And "Stimulus Funding" brought in over $ 23 million. The result is a net increase of about ten million dollars.
The sober mood greeting this news reflected the concern that over the next few years, these four pots of money will change. Florida follows an "incremental" approach to budgeting, with "recurring" allocations to the same pots of money year after year. Other "non-recurring" allocations last only briefly, so planners tend to regard non-recurring funding as gravy, not to be relied upon.
The truly recurring funds among the four E & G pots are lottery money and tuition. Lottery money is expected to bring $ 35 million next year. Tuition is estimated to bring in nearly $ 170 million, and that is likely to increase over the next few years: universities have been granted the authority to raise tuition by up to 15 % this coming year, and this may continue for several years although there are limits (see "Looking Ahead," below).
General Revenue is a bundle of revenue streams that recipients like to call "recurring" in order to intimidate the legislature into not cutting it too much. $ 269,151,962 has been allocated, which is probably what we will get unless there is a problem with tax receipts.
And there was $ 23 million in non-recurring "Stimulus Funding" from the federal government.
IT'S NOT JUST A STIMULUS
As usual, Florida's legislature balanced its budget on the backs of state and public employees, needy citizens, and wildlife. What was new this year was the federal government bailing out Florida with $ 2.3 billion, nearly 3.5 % of Florida's projected $ 66.5 billion budget.
There is a tendency to call this "stimulus money" because even Wikipedia calls the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act the "Stimulus Bill." The stimulus rationales are:
But the word "stimulus" appears only six times in the 407-page act. And the title is: "An Act Making supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and State and local fiscal stabilization, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes." The summary states that the act is intended to:
- The economy faces a "liquidity trap" in which money stops moving. To get the money going, the government spends a lot of borrowed money so that people will have money to spend, and (this is a critical part) will actually spend their money, getting the economy moving again. (Hence the emphasis for lots of money to people who would spend it quickly.)
- America has been putting off many necessary chores, and now projects would be cheaper and would help the economy. For example, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently issued a
report card on America's infrastructure, and gave the USA a D. Fixing that infrastructure would cost $ 2.2 trillion over the next five years.
"(1) To preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery.
"(2) To assist those most impacted by the recession.
"(3) To provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health.
"(4) To invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits.
"(5) To stabilize State and local government budgets, in order to minimize and avoid reductions in essential services and counterproductive state and local tax increases."
In other words, by using the money to balance the state budget and preserve jobs while assisting those most impacted, etc. the legislature was acting as Congress intended. Still, many people worried that using this money would only delay the inevitable, even though it wasn't clear what is inevitable...
When looking ahead, the easiest approach is to project current trends forward a few years. For example, the legislature has just empowered the universities to raise undergraduate tuition by as much as 15 % on students who were not enrolled as of July 1, 2007. That will raise tuition at USF from $ 88.59 per credit hour to $ 101.87. Three years of such tuition hikes would come close to replacing all the non-recurring funds lost this legislative session.
While this rosy scenario suggests that the immediate problem is something we can handle, other issues suggest that we have a lot of thinking to do. For example:
The finances of higher education are inspiring proposals that universities lay off employees, shut down frills (like liberal arts), increase workload (regardless of the effect on quality), and outsource operations. After all, for two decades, this is what large corporations did to raise stock prices and look at where these large corporations are today!
- Tuition is rising as state governments shift the burden onto students and their families. According to finaid.org, the average debt of a graduating senior is now over twenty thousand dollars, and graduate students can assume a debt of several times that. This burden is a drag on the economy and a load on the next generation just as globalization is undermining the view that higher education is a private good that individuals should pay for as opposed to a public good that the government should pay for.
- The proportion of faculty who are actually tenured or tenure-track has now fallen to one-fourth, according to a
report by the American Federation of Teachers. American universities are not making long-term commitments to faculty just when universities need long-term support from faculty to survive. After all, if a public university offers an undergraduate education indistinguishable from that of the University of Phoenix, parents might as well take the cheaper alternative.
Well, exactly. And the two problems rising tuition and the decline of tenure are both the result of importing values from profit-making ventures into public institutions. It is not clear that these values were useful even in the profit-making world. What the Stimulus money has bought us is time to reflect on where to go from here. This is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the society that emerges will be different in significant ways from the society of 2007. This is a moment when we can effect great changes, and Florida's universities and Florida's faculty could lead the nation if they addressed the problems rather than let events dictate the agenda.
For example, returning to the tuition problem, the UFF, students, and university administrators supported increasing tuition in Florida because it was much lower than the national average and because Florida higher education faced a crisis. This step was somewhat ameliorated by assigning 30 % of the increase to financial aid, but it is important that we plan in the long-term to lower student debt. Three steps would help address the student-debt issue:
These three steps are all possible, but winning them would require a lot if organized work.
- An agreement between the Board of Governors and legislature that would let the legislature "buy out" tuition increases through increased appropriations;
- A continuation of financial-aid reform in the state, so that the state's financial aid is much more heavily focused on need-based aid;
- The approval of President Obama's proposal to make the indexing of Pell Grants to be inflation-automatic and to give all eligible students Pell Grants rather than limiting awards to a first-come, first-served basis.
Recalling Isadore Rabi's comment to Eisenhower that the faculty are the university, we can start with faculty working on our financial future. That is not an eccentric notion: there is a growing interest in "participatory budgeting," which is still at the experimental level, for towns and institutions. The old business models of university administration got us into this fix, and it may be time to start thinking outside of the corporate box.
DECISION-MAKING IN REAL LIFE
This is an exciting time for examining our governance structures, for just as statistics and the scientific method transformed medicine two centuries ago, statistics and the scientific method are transforming political science and management theory today. One of the new fields is the study of decision-making processes among social animals. This is not of purely academic interest, for animals face problems similar to ours, and evolution has provided them with some fairly successful problem-solving techniques.
In fact, computer scientists have been employing biologically motivated techniques for decades. While we are very different from ants and bees, we still can learn something from them. And as scholars, we are well-prepared to apply results of our research to our own lives.
Consider the problem of finding a place to nest when the old one proves inadequate. For tiny creatures like ants or bees, this means exploring a vast "search space" for candidate sites, and not only finding but also choosing among the sites found. There are differences, but this is analogous to the sort of situation colleges and universities may be facing now. Since ants and bees have been doing this for a hundred million years or so, we might look at how they do it.
Group decisions in general, and nest-seeking in particular, dominated the March 27 issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on Biology (unfortunately, USF's subscription is not current, but see
the contents; for an overview, see
the article in Science News).
First, bees. Several papers described how a swarm of honeybees selects a new nest. While most bees remained in the swarm around the queen, old scouts went out and found potential new homes, came back and conducted "waggle dances" advertizing their discoveries. (These are similar to the waggle dances scouts usually employ to advertize flower patches: Adam Smith's invisible hand shows up in many honeybee operations.) Unless pressed for time, the search can go on for a while, with scouts going back and forth, checking out the candidate homes, and then expressing their enthusiasm for the one they prefer. Eventually, there is only one site left represented by dancers on the floor, and that is their new home.
Editorial comment. With all due respect to Mr. Plato and authors of science fiction novels, a hundred million years of evolution apparently has not produced a caste of administrative bees that weigh the options presented to them and then make a unilateral decision. Apparently, bees run a democracy by attrition: each has only a limited amount of enthusiasm, so a decision is made when opponents run out of steam. So committee politics by attrition has an evolutionary pedigree that managerial rule by fiat cannot match. Fortunately, bees have discovered neither coffee nor ideology.
On to ants. The rock ant Temnothorax albipennis has advantages over bees: they're small enough to fit a colony and surroundings into a lab, they don't fly, and they don't have formidable stings. A researcher can construct an environment out of trays connected by bridges, with a nest on one tray and a few nesting spots (of varying quality) on other trays. Then the researcher can disturb the nest and watch what happens.
If the disturbance will make the ants move, then the ants behave rather as bees. Scouts go hunting for new nesting sites. What an ant does when it finds a likely site depends on how urgent the emergency is.
If the colony has time, a scout will return to the nest and by means still not clear (ant communication is largely chemical) persuade another to follow it out to the site. After a while, streams of ants are leading others to various sites. Once again, the ants are debating the sites in their own way, and eventually they reach a consensus about one site and that is where they go.
If the colony does not have time, enthusiastic scouts will take more energetic measures. A scout returning to the colony will pick up another ant and carry it to the site, show it around, and then lead it back to the colony. This has the advantage that it's a faster way of building a faction supporting that site. The problem is that when scouts do this, problems with the site and obstacles en route are more likely to be missed. The result is that the colony's own emigration and remember, the ants are carrying larvae and pupae takes longer and is more difficult. And the new site is not as likely to be as good as one they would have found if they took more time.
And that, the researchers' theorize, is why ants take the more dilatory approach to decision-making when time is available. The point is that the importance of a decision and its urgency are two very different things a distinction that allegedly higher life forms (like Homo sapiens) are prone to overlook.
Some of the problems we face are too vast for any one individual to cope with. Social insects have developed strategies for dealing with correspondingly vast problems long ago. While we should take what they have to tell us with a few grains of salt, a pecking order with an alpha male at the top is not necessarily the best way of doing things in the Twenty-first century.
TWELVE-MONTH EMPLOYEES GET THEIR THREE DAYS BACK
Last Winter Break, twelve-month employees were required to use three vacation days for three of the seven days that the university was closed. But the Administration may not unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment set in the contract. So in June 2, 2008, the UFF filed a chapter grievance, which was followed by an individual grievance filed by UFF Grievance Chair Mark Klisch.
The first step of a grievance is an attempt at informal resolution. Once it became clear that the Administration was not interested in settling the grievance, the UFF requested a formal hearing (the second Step in a grievance) in front of a representative of the University. The short written dismissal of the grievance in the Step Two hearing officer's letter led to an arbitration hearing.
At the arbitration hearing, UFF was represented by its (statewide) Executive Director, Ed Mitchell, who argued that vacation leave was the property of the employee, and that the Administration did not have the authority, under the contract, to require employees to use vacation leave. The Board of Trustees, represented by the General Counsel's office, argued that the contract didn't bar the Administration from making employees use leave. Notice that neither side addressed the issue of whether requiring employees to use vacation leave was fair, or a good idea: the sole issue was whether it was legal.
On July 1, the arbitrator ruled that the text on annual leaves has to be read in context of the contract, under the assumption that items in the contract make sense. Using this as a guide, the arbitrator concluded that the Board's position would render several items in the contract meaningless. So the arbitrator then ruled in UFF's favor, and as a remedy, instructed the Board to reinstate the three days of leave. The text of the ruling is posted at http://tinyurl.com/m6w8od .
Although the ruling applied only to employees within the UFF-USF bargaining unit, the Administration soon announced that it was reinstating the three days for all "eligible" employees.
First, it was thirteen months from the filing of the grievance to the arbitration ruling: as in all legal proceedings, these things take time.
Second, the state office of the UFF was involved in a proceeding that took considerable expense in labor and in money to pursue. Freedom isn't free, and this effort was paid for in time and dues by UFF members.
To support similar UFF efforts to defend YOUR rights, join the movement by
following the link.
ENGLISH LANGUAGE INSTITUTE
In June, the provost told the English Language Institute (ELI) director and World Languages department chair that he was considering outsourcing some or all of ELI's functions to a private British company, INTO University Partnership, which has created programs at five English universities that combine realty development with the operation of English tutoring centers.
The goal that the provost has with this consideration increasing international students at USF is absolutely admirable. We have too few international students for USF to be what it can and should be. Whether ELI's operations are best outsourced, kept entirely in-house, or mixed, is something that should be the topic of informed discussion including the Faculty Senate. USF/UFF Chapter President Sherman Dorn has sent a request for information to the ELI director about the ELI's finances in 2008-09, the extent to which ELI's current in-house operations support USF's academic programs (including graduate education), and the concrete barriers faced by ELI participants considering enrollment at USF in either undergraduate or graduate programs. The answers to those questions will appear in the August 27, 2009, biweekly newsletter.
Until then, it is important to keep some perspective on outsourcing in higher education and in Florida. Most who have lived here for at least a decade know that Florida's political branches have engaged in massive outsourcing of government work during the past decade, with little evidence that the privatization of the state's HR administration in PeopleFirst (to take one example) has either saved the state money or provided more accurate or efficient services for public employees seeking answers from PeopleFirst. There have been several examples of outsourcing in Florida higher education for example, the attempted privatization of janitorial services at Florida International University, which was reversed after the newly-privatized employees reunionized. At USF, students have seen the outsourcing of security work to AlliedBarton and the leasing of bookstore space and management to Barnes and Noble. Not all of that has worked well, and the UFF-USF blog is tracking these stories at its new
Outsource Watch category.
One item not yet discussed in the blog: USF's staff employees represented by AFSCME have the right to compete for potentially outsourced contracts (Article 19 in the AFSCME collective bargaining agreement). This and other items will appear in the blog by the August 27, 2009 UFF Biweekly.
USF has been unusually successful in weathering the economic turbulence thus far, but many of us have family, friends, and neighbors who have lost their jobs. But there are resources for people who have been laid off, and there are strategies for making it through the gloom.
First of all, recently laid off workers usually can get some unemployment compensation. Roughly speaking, a laid off worker is eligible if they were employed for six months, if the worker did not quit or was fired for misconduct, and if the worker is looking for work. For more information, see
Secondly, there are other forms of assistance available, notably cash assistance and food stamps, as well as Medicaid; see
http://www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/. In addition, for housing information, contact the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (
http://www.hud.gov/) or the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (
http://www.floridahousing.org/home/). As housing is already a drug on the market, many banks would prefer to renegotiate a loan rather than foreclose. So if someone has difficulty making mortgage payments, it is far better for them to contact their mortgager to renegotiate the terms than to let mortgage bills pile up: for information on mortgages, contact the Making Home Affordable program at
Finally, a long period of unemployment creates stresses and can result in new problems. Information about counseling services is available from the USF Employment Assistance Program (see
http://usfweb2.usf.edu/counsel/b_emp/e_home.html), e.g., the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay (see
http://www.crisiscenter.com/). Legal services are available at
Meanwhile, what does one do when unemployed? Besides look for work, which one must do (and the State of Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, at
http://floridajobs.org/workforce/os_job_search.html, can help), but which can be extremely frustrating. Times being what they are, many media companies are publishing advice, and their advice tends to boil down to: keep busy and network. Often this involves structured activities: going back to school (check for available financial aid at the school's financial aid office), doing volunteer work, or even starting a new business. There are many articles with advice, like this one posted at Nature: see
And take liberal doses of confidence. Confident and optimistic people do better in job interviews, political campaigns, and salesmanship in general. Optimism and confidence can to a certain extent be learned, and can be useful in hard times. One of the popular figures in the field is Martin Seligman, Robert A. Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, whose work on "positive psychology" was popularized in his book, "Learned Optimism"; he is the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at
http://www.ppc.sas.upenn.edu/. This is nothing new: perseverance has been a desideratum for centuries, and coaches and generals have long known the importance of confidence.