As I mentioned earlier,…

As I mentioned earlier, UIC is owed about $436 million from the state (93% of our annual state allocation), and is requiring faculty and staff to take four furlough days this semester, one per pay period, to help stave off payroll shortfalls for a few more days. Furlough days are days when we're not paid, and when we're legally required not to work. I'm taking one today, which means I won't be teaching my three classes today.

Initially, I had planned on taking my furlough days on days I didn't teach, to try to minimize disruption for the students. But after the big faculty meeting last week, I was convinced that that was exactly the wrong approach. In part because not-teaching-day doesn't equal not-working-day, although many people think that faculty only work a few hours a week, when they're in class. That's part of why the state university is so underfunded, I think (even before the current crisis, support for public education has been decreasing steadily over the past thirty years). The public has a perception of professors as rich and lazy, that we get paid a lot for hardly working. Really untrue, but we need to make that clearer to the taxpaying public.

In reality, I spent several hours on Monday prepping for this week's classes; re-reading Minal Hajratwala's history/memoir, Leaving India, preparatory to teaching it this week, writing up lecture notes and a lesson plan, preparing quiz and study questions, grading last week's work. If I had taken Monday as my furlough day, Tuesday's classes would have been a complete mess -- I would have walked in and had nothing to say. So just taking the furlough day on a non-teaching-day is a bad solution for the students too. (I haven't even addressed the value of research; since I'm not research faculty, it doesn't really apply to me. But federal research grants make up about a quarter of our budget; if professors like Kevin didn't spend significant amounts of time on their research, we'd lose that money, which would lead to the university shutting down.)

I spent some time on Tuesday explaining what was going on to my students; most of them had no idea how bad the university's financial situation currently is. The university has already started firing staff. If things go on like this, if we don't get our promised money from the state, we'll not only have to keep firing staff and instructors, but we may have to cut back severely on classes in the fall, or institute a severe tuition hike. We may also have to admit fewer grad students (or none), stop funding the ones we do admit, offer fewer undergrad classes, which may delay students' graduation plans, and shut down the smaller departments (such as Classics). If the situation goes on long enough and things get really bad, it could lead to not accepting students in the fall and effectively shutting down the university. For real.

I'm planning on spending a fair part of today educating myself further on what's really going on with the governor, the comptroller, and the state legislature, so I can try to understand why they've only given us 7% of our promised budget. If you're a UIC student, faculty, or staff, or, for that matter, an Illinois taxpayer, I hope you'll do the same. And once you come to an understanding of the situation, I hope you'll make your opinion heard. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, petitions, pickets -- whatever it takes to send a message to the Illinois politicians.

The state has a massive budget deficit; they're going to have to decide whether to cut important programs, raise taxes significantly, or, more likely, do both. The question is, how important is a top state-supported research university to the taxpayers of Illinois? Do they care enough to support a school that makes the highest quality education available to students who aren't rich? My students are paying around $6000 this year for tuition, compared to around $45,000 for attending the University of Chicago. Do the taxpayers of Illinois want to keep supporting our bright young people with an excellent education for an affordable price?

I don't know.

4 thoughts on “As I mentioned earlier,…”

  1. I completely agree that it had to be done on a class day. The students really need to SEE what’s happening, because they’re the ones who are paying for a service they are now not getting.

    Much sympathy heading towards all of you, students and profs and staff alike.

  2. What a tough, tough situation for everyone involved.

    My understanding of your state’s severe underfunding of UIC is that they just don’t have the money coming in to send. They’re not against education, exactly; they just don’t have the money for funding it. That’s what’s so scary about this. What happens when there’s no money?

    The cynic in me says that in a slash programs/raise taxes environment, education is bound to suffer.

  3. Jenna, they definitely don’t have the money for all their programs, so the question is, which ones are they going to decide to support? (There’s also apparently at least some option of borrowing money; I don’t know how viable that is, or to what extent.)

    If I were governor, I’m not sure what I’d do, honestly. But one problem with under-supporting the university now, is that we work on multi-year cycles to support our students; you can’t really cut back for a year without affecting their education significantly for several years to come. Ditto re: our research projects.

    I’m sure that’s true in some other professions as well, of course, but I don’t know to what extent.

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