Monday, January 17, 2011

UNLV Faculty Alliance membership update, spring 2011

Dear UNLV Faculty Alliance members,

Welcome back for the spring 2011 semester. This is going to be challenging one for UNLV and its faculty as the state government grapples with the next round of a budget crisis that has already inflicted significant harm on us. We all know the deep cuts that our institution has suffered in state support over the past three years, and the toll it has taken on faculty and staff -- program eliminations and terminations; unpaid furloughs; workload increases; cuts to our health coverage; and a deep unease about the future. And we know that there are very worrisome signs ahead. Last fall we learned that the PEPB Board has proposed eliminating the PPO option on our health care and raising deductibles by 125%. Two weeks ago, we learned that the Governor will expect "significant" increases in student fees and county governments to divert money from K-12 to fund higher education. This past week, we learned that Governor Sandoval will propose a 5% across-the-board pay cut, and in addition, a cut in NSHE state general fund allocations of over 20%. Only yesterday, the Chancellor and Board of Regents chair were quoted as saying that additional program eliminations this spring are "likely."   

One hopes this is all jockeying for position but there is precious little reason for optimism. Put differently, it is time for us again to fight to save what we believe in -- quality, affordable public higher education as the key to an improved economy and quality of life in southern Nevada. And our own role in that economy and quality of life, which is itself in jeopardy. I am writing to you now to discuss how NFA can seek to meet these challenges, at every level -- state, System, and on campus.

Over the past two years, as both president of the chapter and as vice-president of the state body, I've tried to be as active as possible within the existing structures of the Alliance and I thank all of you for your membership, your support and your participation. We have seen the campus presence grow both in members and visibility and we have seen the state body become more responsive to the concerns of UNLV faculty than in the past. We have taken on many legal defense cases -- most of them unknown to members due to reasons of confidentiality -- and while not every deserving faculty member won his or her case, we have developed a strong system thanks mostly to the indefatiguable work of Professor Correales (Law). We will be reporting more to you on statewide legal defense activities in the very near future.

Over the past two years, I have tried to be more available and to communicate more regularly to members, especially through email updates, through our blog and our facebook page and most recently our Twitter feed. Admittedly, there was a lower volume of communication last fall due, in good part, to my own limited time -- carrying a four course load to fulfill my obligation under the workload adjustment and the birth of my second child. But aside from those transient issues, there are structural problems we have to address in our chapter, and our state organization, if we are to meet the challenges posed to faculty in these times. To this end, later this month, NFA will roll out an upgraded communications tool -- a regular, professional-grade email update to members and an enhanced online presence, including the opportunity for online enrollment in the NFA.  Our on-campus communication effort will be enhanced as well by the welcome agreement of our Vice President, John Farley (Sciences)

In government relations, our PAC had a very active fall supporting higher-education-friendly state, regents and federal candidates. We made some solid friends in high places.
We also had multiple representatives following closely the PEPB developments and participating in the Chancellor's Task Force on NSHE health benefits -- which will issue a very interesting and thoughtful set of recommendations very soon. We have been meeting with key Regents and legislative leaders to make the case that Higher Education faculty have been very deeply involved in the "shared sacrifice" necessary for the state to meet its obligations and set out on a different course for the future, and that there are simply no corners left to cut, and that any further cuts or efficiencies must not negatively impact the quality of instruction and the faculty who provide it.

To deliver this case during the upcoming legislative session, to help mobilize our colleagues statewide, and to help ensure these efforts reflect the concerns of all NSHE faculty at all institutions, we succeeded in convincing the NFA state board to reactivate a long-dormant state "Government Relations Committee," which I will co-chair with Glenn Miller of UNR. I will report more on this important change in the near future and asking for your participation in this crucial effort.

In terms of our other areas of operation -- including governance and organizing -- I have shared your frustrating with the limitations of our efforts, on campus and statewide. After experiencing marked growth of more than 30% in 2009 and organizing well attended events on campus, we hit a plateau in 2010. To regain our momentum, I am pleased to report that our First Vice-President Al Izzolo (Hotel), has agreed to take charge of organizing a series of meetings to discuss pressing issues. Anyone interested in helping Al please contact him directly or contact me. We hope to have the first of these meetings later this month, on the upcoming legislative session and the PEBP issue. Later this spring, we will also hold elections for the next chapter board, so please consider a) what if any changes we ought to make to the structure of our current board to meet current challenges and b) if you would be willing to serve or can nominate someone you consider highly capable and willing to serve.

To enhance our efforts at outreach, we have procured funding from the state board to hire a part-time graduate assistant. More details to follow on this effort in the near future.

Like you, I have also been frustrated by the extremely limited support we've gotten from our parent organization, the AAUP, particularly during the program review last spring. At that time, I and other NFA officers requested help on legal, logistical, communications and organizing affairs but got very little response. Indeed, after much pleading, the AAUP sent one just-hired staff person with no knowledge of our state, for a 2-day visit. And the Department of Academic Freedom and Tenure has been, lets be frank, slow and tepid in its response to threats to tenure in our System. All the while failing to resolve confusion over Nevada faculty who directly enroll in the AAUP (and do not get added to the NFA rolls) and now proposing yet another increase in the dues NFA pays to the AAUP, which would result in close to 55% of our state operating budget being sent to Washington. In response, the state board at its most recent meeting invited representatives of the AAUP to share our frustrations and propose a new dues model that would enable us to invest greater member resources in providing greater member services in the state of Nevada, especially in the near future when they will be much needed. I will be reporting more on this topic as well -- and asking for feedback about how our members feel about our AAUP affiliation at such a high cost. In short, we currently pay collective-bargaining level dues but get very few direct services in return and leave ourselves largely unable to sustain the work our members rightly expect. We must find a new basis for this fruitful relationship.

Thank you again for your NFA membership and for any effort you have made and can continue to make to provide forceful, responsible advocacy for UNLV faculty and staff -- on campus, to the Board of Regents, the PEBP Board, the state government and the community. Please consider all that I have written above and share your thoughts with me. Please forward this message to any colleagues whom you think might be interested; please continue to read our blog for news; and look for additional news about our chapter and state organization in the weeks and months to come. Most of all, please join the fight to save UNLV!

In solidarity,

Gregory Brown
Professor, Department of History, UNLV

President, UNLV Faculty Alliance
Vice-President, Nevada Faculty Alliance
Co-chair, NFA PAC

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