What went down in Faculty Senate

Bruininks’ regressive plan ignored long-term budget realities and the U’s academic mission.

On March 25, the Faculty Senate voted 130-26 to accept a temporary pay cut on the terms proposed by University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks. While on the surface it may appear that those who voted yes did the right thing by agreeing to take a very modest cut, the story of how this outcome was achieved is far less salutary. BruininksâÄô plan calls for reducing all faculty salaries by 1.15 percent, with an additional 1.15 percent reduction for senior administrators, while reducing staff compensation through mandatory furloughs. Together these cuts are projected to yield savings of $18.5 million, amounting to less than 1 percent of the UniversityâÄôs total budget. Many faculty have objected to this plan on the grounds that 1) uniform cuts are inherently regressive, 2) such cuts do nothing to remedy the UniversityâÄôs worsening financial situation over the long term, and 3) massive amounts of money continue to be spent in ways that contribute little to the academic mission. Therefore, several faculty (ourselves included) brought forward two alternative motions. The first called upon the administration to provide complete budgetary information, justifying each expenditure in relation to the UniversityâÄôs core mission; this motion was tabled for future discussion. The second demanded any cuts to employee compensation be implemented on a sliding scale, so those earning the most would take the largest cuts while those earning the least would suffer no cuts at all. Both motions received substantial support, even from senators who also asserted their support for BruininksâÄô plan. Why, after all, would anyone argue that the administrationâÄôs stewardship of financial resources should be exempt from scrutiny? Why wouldnâÄôt top earners be willing to take a larger cut in order to help sustain the University? No principled argument for uniform salary cuts was presented. Bruininks himself argued sliding-scale cuts would encourage the best faculty to engage in âÄújob-seeking behaviorâÄù âÄî implicitly identifying the best as those who are paid the most. Some faculty supported his view, warning of a âÄúbrain drainâÄù if top earners were required to take a larger cut than those who work for less. Others argued for voting in favor of BruininksâÄô proposal because otherwise we would be portrayed as selfish elitists unwilling to sacrifice for the common good. Nevermind that our proposal would require many faculty to take larger cuts than the presidentâÄôs plan would. Resolutions by the senate are nonbinding. If the senate voted down the presidentâÄôs proposal and instead passed the resolution requiring sliding-scale cuts, Bruininks could just ignore it, imposing deeper cuts on academic units to make up for not cutting faculty salaries, thus causing more layoffs. Bruininks had emphasized his was the only plan he would consider. So faculty who supported our proposal faced a disagreeable choice: Vote according to your principles, and the president may hurt the very people you mean to protect, while blaming you for it. Suddenly it becomes clearer how dictatorial regimes exert their will using âÄúdemocraticâÄù means. We voted against BruininksâÄô proposal because we believe any plan to cut employee compensation should be equitable rather than regressive. We reject the argument that the University will lose its âÄúbestâÄù faculty if a sliding-scale cut is imposed. Meanwhile, we believe the citizens of Minnesota can understand spending must be cut judiciously to preserve the UniversityâÄôs integrity. The administrationâÄôs bullying of faculty is of a piece with its diversion of resources away from our core academic mission. Most of us are not motivated primarily by money. Those who are will seek it regardless of what plan is adopted to address financial stringency. Those of us who desire that the University be guided by ethical and intellectual values will seek jobs elsewhere if it is not. Eva von Dassow, Karen-Sue Taussig, University faculty