Bruininks’ plan bad for the U

The University’s lowest-paid workers deserve budget fairness.

by Drs. John Conley and Gilbert B. Rodman

The nationâÄôs economy is in free fall, the state Legislature has slashed the University of MinnesotaâÄôs funding and the University finds itself facing a serious budget shortfall. In the face of this crisis, President Bob Bruininks has repeatedly claimed that he wants to protect the UniversityâÄôs academic mission. And yet, he also insists that an across-the-board pay cut for all University employees is the only reasonable solution to the problem at hand. As faculty, we share BruininksâÄô desire to maintain high standards of educational excellence, but we strongly disagree with his claim that cutting salaries for all University employees is an acceptable or even ethical way to achieve this goal. Clearly, the University needs to find ways to cover the budget gap. But to date, the administration has demonstrated a stunning lack of imagination and leadership in its efforts to meet this crisis. The responsible way for the administration to address the budget shortfall successfully would be to make deeper cuts in units and programs not central to the UniversityâÄôs core educational mission. Despite repeated requests for transparency, however, the administrationâÄôs overall plan to resolve the current crisis remains a mystery. For example, will the University stop pouring money into UMore Park (nearly $10 million since 2006)? Will University athletics (subsidized to the tune of $4 million in 2009) feel the same sting of budget cuts as academic units? Will upper-level administrative positions (which have increased by 75 percent during the past decade, more than five times the rate of growth in faculty positions) be on the chopping block? On these (and comparable) questions, Bruininks has remained mum, which suggests that he believes across-the-board wage cuts are a higher priority than trimming non-academic programs. Such misguided policy undermines the UniversityâÄôs educational strengths and core values. If pay cuts and mandatory furloughs (which are, of course, pay cuts) really are necessary, even after other budget cuts have been implemented, the administrationâÄôs top priority needs to be protecting its lowest paid workers: i.e., the members of the University community already hit hardest by the economic downturn. BruininksâÄô plan would impose mandatory three-day furloughs on all hourly workers, reduce salaries for all other workers by 1.15 percent for the coming fiscal year, with an additional 1.15 percent reduction for a handful of senior administrators. Given BruininksâÄô rhetoric about how severe the current crisis is, however, his proposed pay cuts are both unfair to the UniversityâÄôs most vulnerable workers and inadequate to the task at hand. Faced with a similar crisis during the Great Depression, the University implemented a series of sliding scale pay cuts that explicitly protected its lowest paid workers from any wage reduction. The current administration seems unwilling to implement a similar plan, however, even when those of us who would see sharper cuts in our own wages explicitly say that we are willing to do so in order to protect those workers who can least afford to shoulder the burden of any pay cut. On March 25, the Faculty Senate will vote on BruininksâÄô proposal to cut faculty salaries. Bruininks has insisted that the senate has no power to affect pay cuts for other University workers. Strictly speaking, heâÄôs right. The senate is not authorized to vote directly on pay cuts for other workers. Faculty, however, are the only workers who have the privilege of veto power over their own pay cuts, and Bruininks needs the facultyâÄôs assent to his proposal so that he can slash the wages of clerical workers, shuttle bus drivers, custodial staff, dining service workers and the like. As such, it is our responsibility to exercise our veto power on behalf of our non-faculty colleagues. Rejecting the presidentâÄôs pay cut will send a clear message that the administration needs to find more creative, more ethical ways of dealing with the current crisis. We urge the faculty senate to vote âÄúnoâÄù on BruininksâÄô proposal and, in so doing, vote âÄúyesâÄù on a better University. Drs. John Conley, CSCL, and Gilbert B. Rodman, Communication Studies, on behalf of Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education