I knew you were trouble when you walked in / So shame on me now

Now that I am back from sabbatical, I am becoming involved in all of the areas of my job again.  I’m teaching again, and that’s going great.  I’m identifying committees that I want to work with to improve accessibility issues on campus.  And I’m looking for certain fights to pick.  This post will be devoted to one of them.

Louisiana has been in the national news recently, because the state is claiming that it cannot afford to keep their state universities running.  The Governor is claiming that in order to keep the universities open, the state needs to increases taxes.

The argument here is that the universities are not taking in enough money to cover their expenses.  So what are their important expenses?

For starters, the football team.

The LSU football team employs ten coaches: one head coach and nine assistants.  This staff earns nearly $10,000,000 combined in annual salary (not including incentives and other bonuses).  That’s nearly $10,000,000 for ten employees.  Let that sink in.

No, really, let that sink in.  It will probably take a while.

I’m pretty smart, and not bad with numbers, and I cannot make any sense of this.  This is not how much money the university spends on football.  This is how much the university spends to employ ten people on its very large football staff (which includes trainers, recruiters, administrative assistants, grounds crew, etc.).  And that’s just one of the sports.  There are other sports, with other coaches, who also earn rather large salaries.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that if all of these coaches found their salaries cut in half, they could still find a way to get by.  If Les Miles only earned $2,000,000 per year, he would still be – by far – the highest paid employee at LSU.  (Hell, even if he were only paid his incentives, he would still likely be the highest paid employee at LSU.

LSU is just the latest high-profile example, but we see this at universities across the country. The institutions pay salaries for top executive positions that is modeled on private sector business salaries. And because they see this model as expected, they do not consider cutting those salaries as a budget-saving device. The budget shortfalls are always responded to with either cuts to programs or tuition spikes.

It’s not just LSU, and it’s not just Louisiana, that is facing this problem.  New York is facing a similar problem – budget shortfalls – and shows a similar refusal to rethinking how it spends money.  Top executives are paid massive salaries – especially when compared to the salaries of the faculty and non-executive staff – and the ask others to make up any budget shortfalls.

For instance, a few years ago SUNY Potsdam faculty renegotiated their contract, and a major concession in that contract was a mandatory salary reduction, meaning that every paycheck, a portion of our salaries would be held back by the state to offset budget shortfalls.*  Executive administrative salaries were exempt from this.  The budget was bad enough for faculty and staff to kick back money, but not nearly bad enough for executive administrators to do so.

Budget problems are also the reason why departments cannot hire tenure track replacements for needed lines.  My department offers a BFA in Creative Writing – one of the few of such programs in the state – and we currently have only one tenure track line devoted to this program.**  We used to have two.  This means we are down one tenure track line, which translates to roughly 1/3 of the courses offered, for this program.  We have been arguing that we need to replace this line, and have been told that the university cannot afford it.  However, we can afford to create a new Associate Vice President position for diversity.***

So instead of hiring a new tenure track faculty member for Creative Writing, we are hiring a 2/3-time 3-year Visiting Assistant Professor in Creative Writing.  (The title suggests that this is a full-time position, but it is not.)  This position will pay $30,000 annually (which is roughly $15,000 less than what we would offer a new tenure track hire), and will not be subject to cost of living raises.  This person will teach 4 courses per year (as opposed to the 6 that a new tenure track hire would teach), and be expected to engage in university service as well as maintain an active creative output.  Other than advising students (and keeping in mind a 2/3 teaching load), this person will be asked to do the same work as his/her tenure track colleagues.

When I objected to this, noting that such a hire is exploitative, I was told that this is a standard type of hire for this kind of position, and that this is a good compromise given that we are not approved to hire a tenure track line in this area.****  Neither of these are acceptable excuses.  First, that this is standard does not mean it’s not exploitative.  It’s also standard to pay executive administrators massive salaries and keep adjuncts below the poverty line.  “Standard” is simply another word for which abuses we have learned to live with.  Similarly, I refuse to accept that this is a compromise; we are hiring less than what we need, paying less than what we should, and thanking the administration for the opportunity.  This person will be replacing a tenure track colleague who taught a full load and advised students, meaning that her work has been shifted to other colleagues (or simply left undone), and the new hire will only pick up 2/3 of that workload.

Universities are increasingly relying on a non-tenure track and non-full time teaching force, while simultaneously constructing larger executive administrative staffs whose salaries increasingly out-pace those of the rest of the employees.  New campus initiatives often mean new executive administrators to oversee those programs, while those new programs rarely result in new faculty or non-executive staff to help develop and implement these programs.  (Increasingly, we are told to make various changes on “existing resources.”^)

This system will eventually topple.  This kind of thinking is unsustainable.  And it exposes a blatant hypocrisy.  Bloated salaries for executive administrators are often justified in terms of the market: to get competitive executive administrators, we need to hire a competitive salaries.  And I am left to wonder why this is not true for faculty and staff positions.

Or perhaps it is true, but the institution has decided that faculty and staff needs are not important enough to hire competitive applicants.

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*At first, this was pitched to faculty as a furlough.  In the first year, we were furloughed over Thanksgiving break, and told that we were not expected to show up to work on the days that the university was closed.  Our union representative told us that we were expected to take Thanksgiving off, and put off any work – committee work, grading, course preparation, etc. – until the following work day.  In short, we were supposed to do the same amount of work, but not get paid for it.  The following year, the university stopped bothering with the pretense of an imaginary furlough, and just kept taking the money.

**We have a few faculty members – including one non-tenure track colleague – who offer courses for this program.

***I want to note that I do not think such a position is frivolous.  In fact, I support SUNY’s desire – as a system – to improve its approach to issues of diversity in administrative, curricular, and personnel matters.  However, what I object to is the idea that the best way to serve that need to is create another executive administrator position (and every campus in the SUNY system is being asked to create such a position), while faculty and staff positions that directly serve the students go unfilled.

****For full disclosure, I should note that we are hiring a tenure track position to fill a line in Composition.  We were given the opportunity to hire one tenure track position and one non-tenure track position, and this is what the department decided.

^The former dean of Arts and Sciences came to my department once and told us that our new plan for the college was to “do less with less.”

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