Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NFA statement on System Personnel Policy Review Committee

The Nevada Faculty Alliance , in its role as the advocate for faculty and professional staff, urges the Board of Regents and institutional presidents to consider the following factors as they develop plans to implement the 2009-2011 budget:

First and foremost, we underscore the importance of the legal rights of faculty and professional staff ensured by the NSHE code. Our code provides the only legal basis for our job security, academic freedom, and workplace rights; any effort to suspend the code or any of its provisions must not be taken lightly or without following the full and proper procedures laid out in the code itself. Options that preserve the Code ought to be pursued over options that do not.

These include (title 2, chapter 4, section 4.6): consultation with faculty prior to any such action, adherence to the specified role of faculty in implementing any cuts under any suspension of the code's protections for faculty, and finally (5.4.7) a right to grievance or appeal for any faculty member adversely effected by actions taken during the suspension of the code. (These passages are excerpted below.) Moreover, without a declaration of exigency, the Code stipulates that tenured faculty cannot have their pay reduced for financial reasons and that furloughing or cutting pay of non-tenured faculty and professional staff requires a one-year notification. Creating a new, ad hoc solution for circumventing these provisions of the Code would set a dangerous precedent for the future.

Secondly, we urge the Board and institution presidents to keep in mind that the faculty of NSHE institutions have borne a large part of the sacrifices that the entire System has been making for some time already, during the current fiscal biennium. These sacrifices include loss of six months of merit pay in the past academic year, loss of all merit pay and cola for the coming biennium, and diminished operational and research budgets resulting in many faculty spending personal funds for instructional and research materials. At the same time, we are undertaking a heavier workload as a result of cuts to part-time instructional staff and vacancies among full-time staff, resulting in larger classes, more classes in many cases, enhanced advising duties and service obligations.

We have borne this additional burden in the face of rapidly diminishing retirement accounts, rapidly declining property values (leaving many newly hired faculty owing more on homes than they are worth), and a significant increase in out of pocket family health care costs. Thus, we are already losing ground fast. We entered this crisis with our University faculty earning compensation and benefits that were barely in the middle range of comparable institutions (according to the most recent AAUP data) and with all System faculty already carrying course loads above the national norms for comparable institutions (according to Department of Education data). Finally, we note that not all public service workers who are paid from state funds are enduring cuts to pay, so that there is indeed a basis for the System to seek to absorb the reduction through cuts in operating budgets rather than pay cuts.

Thirdly, we emphasize the importance of attracting and retaining top faculty to the success of the System and each of its institutions. Given that health benefits for active workers are being reduced and retiree benefits for current workers will be restricted to those with lengthy terms of service and that retiree health benefits for new employees may be eliminated entirely, the signal sent by action taken on salary ought to keep in mind the highly competitive national and international market in which we compete for intellectual capital. Moreover, on the level of the local market, we highlight that the Clark County School District and other county school districts across the state appear to be recognizing the need to avoid cuts to salary in implementing the state budget, and we urge the System leadership and the Board to seek to demonstrate the same level of commitment to preserving our competitive profile for academic talent.

In short, we are already doing more work for less money, and the System and each of its institutions is already struggling to recruit and retain top faculty in a highly competitive national and international market. For these reasons, we urge the System and each institution to seek every other available means of implementing the budget cuts before seeking to take extraordinary measures of suspending the code or declaring a financial exigency in order to implement salary cuts, furloughs or layoffs. Clearly, any cut in pay for professional and academic faculty in the current situation amounts to doing even more work for even less pay.

Given the uncertainty of the current budgetary and economic situation, we urge the System, the Board and each of our institutions to approach the budget discussionwith full deliberation . For instance, we would highlight that the current discussion is really a matter of two different budget years within the biennium, and the conditions for each fiscal year are likely to be different. Moreover, if in the course of the coming biennium, it becomes demonstrated that a cut in compensation will be necessary to balance our budget, sufficient to prevent to terminations, and feasible to implement under the Code, we suggest that for most faculty, furloughs would likely be preferable to cuts in base salary. Moreover, any salary reduction should be temporary and should include a trigger to restore the original level of base pay at the end of that budget year -- or in the case the budgetary situation improves during that year.

Any proposals for pay cuts to faculty now or in the future ought to be made in the context of a full review of academic and administrative programs on each campus and in the context of a clearly specified budget plan, which clearly demonstrates that such salary cuts are both essential to prevent the termination of programs and involuntary separations and sufficient to achieve that goal over the coming biennium. A simple 4% off the top cut to faculty salaries, without a clear budget plan, would not necessarily help the students or our classified colleagues and would likely hurt our recruitment and retention for faculty across the University. (This loss of competitiveness would be most noticeable in disciplines where salaries are already lower than median salaries for professionals in the private sector.) Finally, it is incumbent on the System and each institution administration that seeks to implement salary cuts for faculty to demonstrate how this could be implemented in a fashion consistent with the Code.

Last, but by no means least, all faculty are highly concerned about equity among different categories of workers within the System. Therefore, we urge the System and each institution to take all possible measures to mitigate or make-up the salary cut for classified staff and to lessen the likelihood of similar cuts in the future by bringing our classified staff into the NSHE. NFA members and all faculty can be proud that we have and continue to advocate alongside the representatives of the classified staff during this legislative session on behalf of our common health benefits in the PEBP program -- and on behalf of PERS even though most faculty are not in it. So we can feel proud that faculty have been embodying that sense of equity throughout this difficult period.

While we realize the need to pull together with our fellow NSHE employees to implement this budget, the concept of a "voluntary" furlough or salary reduction by faculty is confusing in the absence of prior consultation with the affected parties. Any serious discussion of such an option must address such essential questions as: How would any collective, "voluntary" pay cut be agreed to, in the absence of collective bargaining; any such question must be posed to each institution's faculty senate for full deliberation and approval. If these voluntary pay cuts would be on an individual basis, how would the System ensure that such donations are strictly "voluntary". Will a System administration be made aware who does and who doesn't donate? How will the System ensure that there will there be no adverse consequences for faculty who choose not to donate? How will the institution and the System ensure transparency to the donation process? Will there be a public accounting of how much is collected and how it is disbursed? Will there be a mechanism to return any funds not needed to make up the loss of classified staff pay?

Until and unless such questions can be answered clearly, the Faculty Alliance does not endorse any plan for voluntary pay cuts.

Addendum: Excerpts from Board of Regents Handbook, Title 2, Chapter 5:

section c: steps necessary for declaration of fiscal exigency which must precede any termination or furlough of a faculty member for financial reasons:

1. The chancellor and the president or presidents shall be satisfied that all available means to reduce the expenditure levels (i) are exhausted, (ii) would not be adequate, (iii) would not be feasible or (iv) would not be appropriate.

2. The president or presidents shall seek the advice of the senates or senate representatives of System institutions to be affected by the proposed declared financial exigency concerning said exigency and such advice shall be forwarded to the Board of Regents along with recommendations of the chancellor and the president or presidents.

section d: once a financial exigency has been declared

1. Each System institution affected shall select an ad hoc financial exigency committee to prepare recommendations for a plan to implement the discontinuance or reduction in size of administrative units, projects, programs or curricula, to include furloughs or faculty lay-offs if necessary, due to the financial exigency. Each such plan shall establish the criteria necessary for recommending and determining such actions.

2. The president shall determine the number of persons to serve on the ad hoc financial exigency committee, shall choose the chair of the committee and, in addition, shall choose one half of the remaining membership of the committee. The senate shall elect one half of the membership of the committee. ...

section e: to end a financial exigency

Before making a recommendation to the Board of Regents on whether a state of financial exigency should be continued or be declared ended, the president or presidents shall seek the advice of the senates of the System institutions to be affected by the financial exigency and shall obtain their respective recommendations concerning whether the state of financial exigency should continue or be declared ended. The senate recommendations shall be forwarded to the Board of Regents along with the recommendations of the chancellor and the president or presidents.

5. 4. 7 procedures for furlough or layoff of a faculty member under financial exigency include

e. ......Notice of furlough for financial exigency shall require at least 15-calendar days notice...

f. ...The notice shall also inform the faculty member of the right to reconsideration, the procedures for reconsideration and the identity of the person or persons to whom a request for reconsideration should be directed....

g. 1. Within 15 calendar days after receipt of the notice of furlough or lay off, the faculty member may request reconsideration of the decision to furlough or to lay off... 2. In the event decisions are made to furlough or to lay off faculty members under this section because of financial exigency or because of curricular reasons, the president shall establish one or more employment review committees....The senate shall elect one half of the membership of each committee.

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