Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Do the Faculty and Staff at SUNY Fredonia Think of the Empowerment Act?

With the University Faculty Senate conference call only a few hours away, I've been thinking about how best to pass along the gist of what my colleagues at SUNY Fredonia have been telling me in response to the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEE&IA). I haven't gotten a huge volume of feedback just yet, but what I can do is pass along the key ideas/themes in what I've been hearing, along with the number of people who have voiced them and representative paraphrases/quotations from my respondents. At the risk of misrepresenting the vehemence of support for the PHEE&IA as it is or with certain amendments, I'll turn the ideas/themes I'm hearing into questions, so as to further preserve their anonymity, and rank them by how often they were aired.

1. Should we support the PHEE&IA as it is, oppose it, or propose amendments to it? (9)

5 favor supporting it as is.
1 favors amending and supporting it.
2 favor opposing it.
1 is on the fence until after Phil Smith's visit to campus on March 24th.

2. Can we live with the consequences if the PHEE&IA doesn't become law? (6)

This breaks down into several related questions:

(a) how will the New York state government treat SUNY?

One of my colleagues talked to Jack Quinn (co-sponsor of UB 2020), who pointed out that Medicaid and P-12 will also need massive amounts of state support just to avoid draconian cuts when federal stimulus funds run out, and came away worried that SUNY is low on the totem pole compared to other worthy state programs.

"I suspect we will be in deep trouble when the federal stimulus money runs out. Ironically, if the Legislature had agreed to small incremental tuition increases ten years ago, we would not be in this situation. The Governor's tax on tuition was unprecedented and has deeply troubled students and faculty alike."

(b) what will be the effect on campuses, programs, employees?

"[I]f the act doesn't go through, academic programs will be cut to make up for the budget shortfall. That means loss of faculty jobs and secretarial jobs. It will mean (likely) fewer students which will be less money coming from [on-campus revenue generators like the book store, food service, and dormitories]. The domino effect is frightening...."

(c) what will be the effect on students?

If the expected cuts to campuses, programs, and employees go into effect, it'll become more difficult for students to graduate on time, which will mean they'll pay more tuition, anyway.

(d) what will be the effect on planning?

"I have worked in five states at great universities, and SUNY could be among the greatest. However, the system has been politicized and weakened by the inability to plan and implement innovative programs. Something must change soon."

3. When the state-wide leadership of UUP opposes the PHEE&IA, how well are they representing their members? (5)

This breaks down into several related questions:

(a) procedural: how did UUP's leadership arrive at their position? did they consult with local chapter leaders? did they seek input or feedback from delegates before the winter Delegate Assembly? did they give delegates time to consult the members they represent?

(b) content-based (representation as reflection, speaking as): do UUP's ad and advocacy campaigns represent their members' views on the PHEE&IA? do they present a persuasive case to oppose the PHEE&IA?

"The commercials that give the doom and gloom outlook of tuition getting beyond the reach of families fail to mention the LACK of tuition increase for how many years? That the miniscule plan developed two years ago went almost entirely to the state and NOT back to the campuses."

"The misleading television advertisements had NOTHING to do with representation of the membership, but are making political statements I find offensive, purposefully misleading and loaded with misinformation."

"I think this is one of the most important issues facing us and the rest of the SUNY system. I don't feel the UUP is right in this and it seems like the UFS is trying to be the voice of reason. I've had extensive experience with unions in my past career and I think the UUP as a whole feels threatened. They make good points but something has to be done, and the only solution I have seen from the UUP is to restore funding to past levels. It just ain't gonna happen, plain and simple. Especially once the stimulus money dries up."

(c) interest-based (representation as delegation, speaking for): is UUP leadership really acting with its members' best interests in mind?

"Union supporter or not, how someone can say a union is looking out for our interests as union members when programs will be cut which will mean loss of jobs, and union dues, is beyond me."

"I've heard a suspicion that UUP opposes the Empowerment Act because it may have a negative effect on the hospitals. If that's true, then UUP is doing the colleges a major disservice and is not representing us at all properly."

"And how, on God's green earth, when retrenchments start to happen and layoffs and all the rest, does the union justify their anti-employment stance? If members lose jobs because of their truculence and unwillingness to get out of the 'them/us' mentality, we are all going to lose, future generations most of all."


So that's it, so far. I'll add to this (and note updates below) as more comments come in.

[Update 1 (12:27 pm): In the interests of fairness, here's what I just received from UUP in Albany this morning:

Keep up the pressure: PHEEIA not a panacea

UUPers are succeeding in convincing lawmakers, colleagues, students and community members that further budget cuts and flexibility without oversight will cause SUNY more harm than good.

But we can't stop yet.

Despite signs that lawmakers are beginning to see the problems inherent in the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA), SUNY administrators are relentless in billing the flex legislation as a solution to New York's economic woes and as a way to strengthen public higher education. SUNY has expended a great deal of time and money in an all-out effort to sell PHEEIA as a panacea.

The union is fighting back.

In addition to statewide efforts to convince the powers-that-be to reject PHEEIA, UUP is asking chapters to step up their efforts to educate everyone on the facts of this ill-conceived legislation. And everyone means everyone. Don't assume that your colleagues or your students understand UUP's position.

Ask your students: Do you realize tuition could skyrocket? Chances are, they've seen SUNY's eye-catching propaganda and have been reeled in hook, line and sinker.

Ask your colleagues: Do you really believe SUNY will act in your best interests if your campus is able to enter into public/private partnerships without legislative oversight?

If you're looking for ideas on how to proceed, follow the lead of the UUP chapters at Albany, Farmingdale, Plattsburgh and New Paltz. Here’s what they’re doing:

• On March 18 at UAlbany, UUPers are hosting a forum on "A Progressive Vision of SUNY’s Future: Alternatives to PHEEIA." Presenters are UUP President Phil Smith and Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. The program is from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the Campus Center, Room 375.

• New Paltz UUPers, along with NYPIRG, students and community members, are rallying at noon March 24 in the Humanities Concourse to protest SUNY budget cuts and tuition increases.

• Plattsburgh Chapter President Dave Curry was a panelist during a PHEEIA forum sponsored by the campus Student Association. Curry faced off against John Homburger, VP for administration and business affairs.

• Farmingdale has distributed fliers that direct people to SaveSUNY.org, left.

What else can I do?

• Reprint UUP ads in chapter newsletters or post them to chapter Web sites. The ads are available on UUP LeaderNet or from the union’s Communications Department.

• Keep the faxes coming. Tell family, friends, colleagues and students to get the facts on PHEEIA and budget cuts and encourage them to send letters to lawmakers by going to SaveSUNY.org. The letters can also be found at uupinfo.org.

• Share the union's recommendations for revenue enhancements to help overcome New York’s fiscal crisis. Working in coalition with A Better Choice for New York, UUP and other labor and community groups crafted viable alternatives to spending cuts. For more details and an easy-to-read handout to share with lawmakers, go to www.abetterchoiceforny.org.

• Urge your members to take part in advocacy days in Albany. Coming up are NYSUT's Committee of 100 on March 16, and UUP Constituency Group Advocacy Day on March 23.

• Schedule visits with lawmakers in their district offices. Contact the union's Legislation and Communications departments if you need assistance or materials.


No time for a comment.]

[Update 2 (3:05 pm): Updated the numbers above. Got a very thoughtful comment from a colleague that's better to quote at length:

1. Of the 4 choices given I would have to favor opposing it. I would support something that was crafted jointly between SUNY, GOER, and UUP. However, I do not think that qualifies as favoring amending and supporting the act. I think, like we did locally with the personnel policies, the initial proposal could be considered but that this process needs to start over and happen with all parties represented from the beginning. SUNY and the Governor should not be striking back room deals. Proper protocol should be followed and basic things like involving all stakeholders from the beginning should be observed.

2. Yes.

2.a. The state already treats SUNY like the red-headed stepchild. SUNY gets cut the most and more frequently than even CUNY and the SUNY Community Colleges and certainly before Corrections or other areas of the budget. The PHEEIA will not change that, even if it becomes law. The only way to fix this problem is to remove the anti-SUNY Governor we currently have, along with any anti-SUNY legislators and anti-SUNY SUNY Board members, and get people in power positions who understand the value of a strong public higher education system outside of NYC.

2.b. Even if the PHEEIA becomes law it will not magically make money fall from the sky. It is naïve to think that the state will continue to provide funding to SUNY, even at its current low levels, if SUNY retains all of its tuition dollars. The tuition that SUNY pulls in will not be able to pay the bills either. Cuts will continue to happen.

2.c. See the answer to 2.b. These cuts will affect students' ability to graduate in four years. More troubling is that if the PHEEIA passes, economically disadvantaged people may be priced out of the higher education market completely.

2.d. Those doing the planning should understand the rules and procedures in place and play by the rules. The PHEEIA is simply those people saying I don’t understand the rules, I can’t be bothered trying to learn them, so here are rules I want to follow. It is irresponsible to do this. Any entry- to mid-level employee who refused to follow procedure and instead created their own rules would quickly be replaced. Why is it OK for the SUNY elite to collect their giant salaries while gutting the NYS public higher education system?

The 31 SUNY Presidents plus Chancellor Zimpher collectively earned $7,701,228.15 according to 2009 payroll data from SeeThroughNY.org. If SUNY is hurting so bad for money why don’t these elite earn a regular salary (capped at $150,000 perhaps?), and maybe even pay rent to live in the State owned properties and other perks they have access to, instead of threatening to cut the jobs of the common people? Capping the salaries of just that small number of elites at $150,000 would save almost 3 million dollars annually. Why hasn’t that proposal come forward? Capping dean’s salaries at $100,000 would save more than 6 million dollars annually considering the 146 deans listed on SeeThroughNY. Similarly, capping the VP salaries at $125,000 would save almost 7 million dollars annually of the 116 VPs listed. Where are the proposals to cut from the SUNY administration? Let’s retrench the deans and VPs alongside the faculty.

3. Of those who are informed of all of the issues, I would say pretty well. Of those who want to trust the SUNY administration blindly, or who are pushing a privatization agenda, probably poorly.

3.a. I would counter with a question: How did the SUNY elite and the Governor arrive at the PHEEIA? Did they consult the citizens of NY? Did they consult the employees of SUNY? Did they consult the unions representing the employees of SUNY? Did they consult the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations?

3.b. Do the SUNY pro-PHEEIA ads and anti-union propaganda represent the views of NYS citizens? Do they present a persuasive case to support the PHEEIA? The SUNY elite are acting like the spoiled child who when things aren’t going their way takes their ball and goes home. If they don’t get their way (passing the PHEEIA) they will take their ball (jobs) and go home. The SUNY elite need to understand that a public higher education institution is a PUBLIC institution, not a private one. If they want to work for a private institution they should apply at one, not try to gut SUNY and turn it into a private institution.

3.c. Are the SUNY elite really acting with NYS citizens' best interests in mind? Remember, the poor and disadvantaged are citizens just like the wealthy and privileged. This argument is falling along class lines, with the SUNY elite wanting to become more elite and the union trying to keep SUNY a public institution. We are allowing a few highly-paid people to lay the groundwork for removing the one chance at social-economic advancement that many NYS citizens have. Pretty soon the only place the poor and disadvantaged of NY will be able to go is to prison. Maybe some people don’t have a problem with that, but I do.

I agree that something needs to be done and that we can’t just expect money to come falling from the sky. However, whatever proposal that comes forth must be a product of at least three groups working collaboratively from the beginning: SUNY, the unions representing SUNY employees, and the GOER.

Keep those comments coming!]

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