I am writing to report on Monday’s developments related to the college FY15 budget and the Administration’s announced plans to close programs and lay off faculty and staff. The Association is very pleased to report that at nearly the last minute the Administration pulled back from its plan to inform faculty members yesterday of the Administration’s intent to propose reducing/closing their programs and cutting their jobs. The scheduled meetings were canceled at the last minute, and presumably the written notices have now been shredded.
We believe the proximate cause of the Administration’s shift was likely our communication to the Board yesterday morning asking it to support the college’s governance process, and to support the then-hopefully-pending “Consensus Proposal” that I hoped to bring to the Budget and Finance Subcommittee yesterday morning. We thank the Board and the Administration for supporting that request. We learned during that Subcommittee meeting that the Administration had withdrawn their planned layoff notifications, and as hoped, all committee members were able “to live with” a budget proposal that limited tuition rate hikes to an additional $3 per credit and pulled all program cuts and layoffs off of the table. While the Administration chose not to vote on the proposal, they also didn’t veto it, and so it went forth to the Board of Education as a “Consensus Proposal” from the Budget & Finance Subcommittee.
The Administration did present their original proposal to the Board, including the layoff proposal, but just prior to coming to that budget item they asked if the Board wanted to consider raising tuition rates slightly and not consider program cuts. After much discussion, the Board agreed to request that the Administration provide a proposed budget at the next board meeting that did not have program cuts or layoffs of permanent faculty or staff. Thus, while no decision has been made on either tuition rates or layoffs, because our contract requires layoff notices be given to faculty members by May 1, and since the Board is the only party able to authorize layoffs and doesn’t meet again until May 13, the “non-vote” on layoffs last night means that there will be no layoffs of faculty for next year.
We believe that a great mistake has been (narrowly) averted. Trying to cut our way to fiscal health, by eliminating programs that are our primary source of revenue, didn’t make sense financially; students would lose access to programs they come here to study; the community would lose the educated students and employees our programs provide; and faculty and staff who have built our college’s programs would see their life’s work dismantled and find themselves jobless. Fortunately for all of us, wisdom prevailed.
With that said, not all negative consequences have been averted. Most problematic is the very late decision to not reappoint three of the eight “Teaching Only” positions. Normally, such reappointments are determined and announced in early February; instead, three faculty members were informed yesterday that they were not being appointed for financial reasons, only three days from May. We have asked the College to reconsider these decisions, and are hopeful that the College will do so. The cost difference between the “TOs” and moving the work to part-time faculty, especially when factoring the unemployment benefits that such faculty members may be eligible for and that would be paid for by the college, is negligible, and cannot justify such late notice to long-standing faculty, nor the cost to them and their families (two of whom have been in their positions for five years).
We thank all of the faculty who came to the Board meeting last night to ask the Board to find an alternative means to resolve next year’s budget, and to challenge the budget process. We especially thank the firemen, doctors, and other community leaders who came to the Board meeting prepared to call on the Board to protect the community’s programs. Those of you there last night also heard two of our students speak eloquently and movingly about the quality of our programs and the vital importance that these be recognized as such and maintained and supported. Faculty members from our Action Team also spoke very powerfully and persuasively about the budget process, calling for a more rational, less “fear-based” budgeting process, one that doesn’t first project millions of dollars in deficits almost every year, then miraculously resolve the problem with a few changes, only to be followed by another multimillion-dollar deficit projected the next year, even in years we were building a $21M ending fund balance! We will work hard to ensure that this call for rationality and collaboration, rather than fear and threats, becomes the norm for budget processes in the future. We believe there is support within the Administration for doing so, and look forward to a much more rational and reasonable process next year.
Thank you all for your incredible expressions of support during this very challenging and very busy month. With a Tentative Agreement signed, and a huge mistake avoided, we can all breathe much easier now, and work on restoring our well-being and moving our college forward.
P.S. We will forward the remarks that faculty members provided at the board meeting, both for those not able to be there to hear them, and for all of us to reflect on as we try to collaboratively build a better college.