As you know, UNLV and the Nevada System of Higher Education is facing the gravest financial crisis in their respective histories. Although we don’t yet know the magnitude of the budget cuts that the Governor and state legislature will impose on the System, or what UNLV’s share of this cut will be, we do know that we are entering into a perilous time for faculty.
If the latest estimates of a state budget deficit of over $1 billion dollars are distributed to all state agencies proportionally, and then on to UNLV proportionally, then we’d be facing cuts in our budget equivalent to the salaries of one-third of our faculty and staff.
To some extent, this situation is nothing new. We’ve been in an environment of budget cuts since the fall of 2007, which has left over 100 faculty positions vacant and forced the cancellation of over 1000 teaching sections; students have been turned away from classes; dozens of pro-staff contracts were not renewed last summer; all pro-staff and many faculty are facing unpaid furloughs; and tenured faculty are carrying heavier teaching loads. Our health benefits have been cut and premiums and deductibles increased. In short, we’re all working harder for less.
And yet throughout the crisis, to this point, we’ve been able to retain our basic mission at UNLV as a research university, and faculty have been able to retain our property rights and contractual protections under the System Code (PDF).
The NFA, at UNLV and statewide, is proud to have been at the forefront of this fight, making the case to the legislature to support our institution, defending our compensation and benefits from the ideologically motivated and empirically invalid attacks of the SAGE commission on public service workers, and defending faculty rights and protections under the System Code with the Board of Regents.
Those who say that faculty don’t understand the extent of the crisis, because there hasn’t been widespread misery among higher education faculty may be right; if they are, then the NFA deserves a degree of credit for avoiding the worst, to date. But now, we enter a new phase of this crisis, one in which the NFA will be engaging fully on behalf of faculty – but in which all faculty seriously need to engage, by joining the NFA.
Its clear what we may be facing in the next few months; at best, further pay cuts and at worst, the elimination of academic programs and the termination of faculty contracts. Its also clear that this new phase of the crisis could continue into 2011 and beyond. If we as a campus, and if we as faculty, are to survive this crisis intact, we must all pull together, for the long term.
What can the NFA do, and why should you join?
Ø At the state government level, we’ve been meeting with legislative leaders (and candidates for the 2010 elections) to be sure they understand the extent of the sacrifice that NSHE faculty and pro-staff have already made. We will oppose any effort at the state legislative level to impose cuts on faculty out of proportion to other parts of the state workforce.
Ø To the Regents, we’ve been actively emphasizing the importance of protecting faculty, and we’ve received informal assurances that these cuts won’t simply be passed along to the faculty. Nevertheless, the Board of Regents will discuss, at their special meeting on February 2, and again at the regularly scheduled March 4-5 meeting, such grave measures as across-the-board faculty pay cuts, Code revisions to shorten notification periods before termination for untenured faculty, and changing the Code to allow the System to declare financial exigency more easily (which would be an effective declaration of bankruptcy and negate faculty contracts and the protections of tenure).
If it becomes clear that the issue of System-wide pay cuts will have to be on the table to avoid widespread layoffs, it will be the NFA, jointly with the campus Senates, at that table insisting that these measures be negotiated in the context of budget plans that preserve our academic mission by avoiding terminating essential academic programs (and their faculty). And we will insist that the Board of Regents protect faculty rights and that the System find ways to allow faculty to recoup any losses of salary in the future.
We’re also actively opposing proposals being circulated on other campuses, which would enable institution presidents to undertake curricular reviews that might result in the termination of tenured faculty.
And if it comes to it, the NFA has the legal resources to defend its members who believe they have been unlawfully terminated.
Ø On the UNLV campus, we’ve worked closely with the Faculty Senate leadership in agreeing with President Smatresk that any curricular review which might lead to the termination of programs and of faculty will be undertaken with faculty having a fully equal role, as specified by UNLV by-laws and System Code.
Thanks to this work with the administration by the Senate and the NFA, we will not be in a position that some have feared, in case of a Code change or a declaration of financial exigency by the Board – that the administration would have carte blanche to eliminate programs and staff at will. Instead, program review will be conducted will full participation of faculty representatives.
If you have wondered why you should join the NFA, ask yourself which public service workers have not already had their pay cut? And you’ll know that its those who understand the importance of strength in numbers and solidarity.
I’ve suggested for a year that colleagues consider joining the NFA, and many of you have asked what it costs have heard me say “you can’t afford not to join.” If you didn’t believe me then, you ought to now.
Over the weeks to come, the NFA will try to inform all faculty on the situation, beginning with regular updates first to members. We will be working closely with the Senate leadership on this campus and statewide to provide faculty with vigorous representation in discussions with the state and the System.
And we will be seeking from faculty a level of engagement that has never been necessary before. If you have not engaged previously, now is the time. Read our blog http://unlvfaculty.blogspot.com. Come to Faculty Senate meetings. Come to Board of Regents meetings. Call your legislators.
But begin by joining the NFA.
Professor of History, UNLV
President, UNLV Faculty Alliance
Vice-President, Nevada Faculty Alliance