Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Board of Regents to consider NSHE recommendations on faculty and professional salary cuts

Since the end of the legislative session, the NFA has remained very active in advocating for faculty to the Nevada System of Higher Education. As you will recall, the System appointed a "Personnel Task Force" to consider how to implement the state legislature-mandated 4.6% pay cut for all state workers.

NFA was well represented on this task force, by incoming state president Scott Huber and three of NFA members (Jim Richardson, Mark Rauls (representing Faculty Senates), and Judy Stewart (chair of the System Compensation Committee). These members deserve our thanks and recognition, as do Vice-Chancellor Dan Klaich who appointed the committee and System Counsel Bart Patterson who chaired it.

In addition, the NFA submitted a memorandum to this task force . And, in conjunction with a majority of Faculty Senate chairs, we issued a joint set of "General Principles" which has been circulated to institution presidents and the Board of Regents.

In all of these documents, we advocated strongly for the Board of Regents to respect the integrity of faculty protections under the System Code, which protect tenured faculty from changes to contracts and require one-year notification for most non-tenured faculty and professional staff (including administration). We also urged that the issue of faculty pay cuts be considered in the context of more general budget planning, so that cuts to operating costs and other payroll savings be used to limit the impact of the pay cuts on faculty. Any cuts to faculty pay, we urged, had to be for the purpose of protecting programs and not for symbolic, or political reasons. Lastly, we urged that campus presidents be given leeway to work with faculty senates to implement budget plans that achieved payroll savings rather than pay cuts, as much as possible and that whenever possible, faculty be given as much choice as possible in determining how the budget will impact their workload and compensation.

The work of the task force was relayed to the presidents and to the Chancellor's office, which today, through a lengthy memorandum from the Chair of the Board of Regents, has set forth its recommendations.

The recommendations will be discussed by the Board of Regents at its June meeting, which takes place tomorrow (Thursday June 18) and Friday (June 19th) at DRI - Las Vegas. All NFA members and all faculty are encouraged to attend Friday morning's session, when the issue of faculty pay cuts will be discussed.

NFA members can be pleased with several aspects of the recommendations. First and foremost, there is no recommendation for financial exigency or for amendments or deletions to faculty protections under the System Code .

The recommendations do propose a code change that would remove the requirement that those professional staff and faculty (ie, untenured) whose contracts are subject to pay cuts after one-year's notice be notified through a letter of non-reappointment. Instead, a blanket notification and a more tailored letter will be sent by each institution, to avoid giving the impression that a laarge number of pro-staff and faculty are being laid off. The recommendations also propose a one-time-only Code change to allow adjustment to tenured faculty employment conditions only as necessary for the System to conform to SB 433.

While an ad hoc policy change may be subject to some discussion as to the legal and philosophical soundness, NFA members can be pleased that it was at the request of the NFA that any code changes are limited in scope and duration to this biennium and this particular circumstance of a legislative-mandated across the board pay cut.

More importantly, in the cover letter of the memorandum, Chair Wixom notes the importance of avoiding changes to the Code now and in the future that would diminish faculty rights and protections. In the key passage, he writes

we freely acknowledge with great pride that the backbone of our institutions is in the instructional faculty that serves our students and the administration and staff that guide them make them run smoothly. We deeply value their service and understand that already over the current biennium that these groups have made financial contributions to help meet budget reversions and have expanded work hours to protect our core missions. For all of these contributions we are profoundly grateful and our recommendations below are in no way a negative comment on the work they have done or the salaries they receive, but rather a recognition of the economic reality that we face and must address.

The following, then, are the recommendations that the Board will consider Friday

1. For the first year of the biennium each institution should be required to demonstrate an equivalent reduction in the overall cost for professional employees in lieu of a mandated furlough program. Any other year one implementation strategy would require significant Code changes and/or declaration of a financial exigency. This “equivalency reduction” is consistent with Section 3(5) (b) of SB 433.

2. For the second year of the biennium all System professional employees who may legally have their salary reduced should be subject to mandatory one‐day a month unpaid leave (furlough). The only group exempt from this recommendation is tenured faculty who, according to our legal analysis, has a vested property right in employment and salary which cannot be abridged without significant legal peril.

3. For those tenured faculty not subject to the unpaid leave option above, it is recommended that their workload be increased by an equivalent amount (with an option of taking unpaid leave). Given the diverse nature of System institutions it is recommended that implementation of this workload increase be delegated to the President of the respective teaching institution who shall report back to the Board regarding the implementation of this workload increase requirement.

The NFA will endeavor, at the Board meeting and on each campus in the coming weeks and months (presuming these recommendations are adopted), along with Faculty Senate leadership, to ensure that faculty voices are heard in these important deliberations.

We are particularly concerned about two aspects of these proposals -- the possibility of a differential impact on untenured faculty, who could be subject to a pay cut under a literal interpretation of SB433 an the System Code. We hope that provisions will be made to allow for units to protect junior faculty from pay cuts through unit-level workload adjustments.

Secondly, we are concerned that the Board specify that presidents must confer with Faculty Senates on the implementation of workload adjustments (such language is included in the proposed Code change.) We have every reason to believe that the UNLV administration will do so.

Any faculty who can attend the BOR meeting Thursday or Friday morning are encouraged to do so; feel free to contact me at this email.

In solidarity,

Gregory Brown
President, UNLV Faculty Alliance
Vice-Presient, Nevada Faculty Alliance

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