Faculty vote ‘no’ to fairness

Thursday’s faculty senate vote failed the lowest-paid staff, and the U.

In a 130-26 vote last Thursday, the University of Minnesota faculty senate approved the administrationâÄôs pay cut scheme, which will see a 1.15 percent, across-the-board reduction in compensation, with certain top administrators slicing off 2.3 percent. These reductions will save $18 million in a bid to close the UniversityâÄôs swelling $132 million budget gap. If historical trends are any indicator, the difference will be recovered with tuition. Dig in for talk of double-digit increases. This across-the-board proposal was not the only option on the table last Thursday. An alternative proposal, deemed the âÄúsliding scale,âÄù would have yielded equivalent savings with a more progressive cut schedule. During the height of the Great Depression, the University cut pay according to salary level, where wages at the bottom were held steady while larger percentages were cut up top. This time around, across-the-board cuts will inflict greater harm on the lowest-paid staff than on tenured professors or the ever-growing cadre of vice presidents. Clearly, not everyone was disappointed with the vote. President Bob Bruininks said the debate showed that âÄúeveryone was united on one principle: that they are willing to share in the sacrifice âĦâÄù Provost Tom Sullivan said, âÄúI think the vote speaks of the voice of the senate; it was a very robust, thorough, lengthy debate.âÄù For clerical workers, janitors and other low-paid University employees, the vote came as a stinging rebuke of progressive principles. AFSCME 3800 President Phyllis Walker said after the meeting, âÄúThis means that some clerical workers wonâÄôt be able to buy presents for their children this holiday season.âÄù So why the lopsided vote? ItâÄôs complicated. Political science professor Teri Caraway, a member of the Chop from the Top Coalition and a supporter of the sliding scale, explained that administration had coerced faculty into approving the administrative plan. âÄúHe held a knife to our throats,âÄù she said. In an e-mail sent to faculty mid-March, Bruininks spoke in not-so-veiled terms: âÄúIf there is not a vote in support of a reduction in pay for faculty, our budget plan going forward will necessarily include deeper college- and unit-level cuts, which will inevitably lead to additional job losses.âÄù Under direct administrative threat of layoffs and with word from St. Paul that failing to vote for pay cuts would further erode what little remains of legislative support, itâÄôs understandable that so few faculty members were willing to âÄúrock the boat.âÄù While we applaud the faculty for (mild) self-sacrifice, they failed to use their consultative power to craft a more just and sustainable solution that would have spared vulnerable employees from financial pain and scrutinized the very real potential of the University to price itself out of the market. With little say in the budget process, students should be disappointed that faculty legislators were not more willing to craft and consider alternative budget proposals, which wouldâÄôve been a clear sign of challenge to ever-more-expensive administrative lock-step. Microbiology professor Pat Cleary, who voted with the majority, partially blamed the vote on procedural limits: âÄúWe shouldâÄôve been able to amend the main proposal, but parliamentary procedure wouldnâÄôt allow it.âÄù The faculty senate failed to adopt motions that would have compelled the administration to justify expenses âÄî from public relations to athletics âÄî in relation to the UniversityâÄôs core academic mission. We can only hope that Bruininks uses the annual State of the University Address on Thursday as an opportunity to offer a more focused, sustainable and just vision for the UniversityâÄôs future. Many left the meeting looking to the future. Walker was energized regarding the students, staff and faculty who fought for the lowest-paid. âÄúThis is the beginning of a coalition that is going to go far,âÄù she said. Cleary, too, looked ahead. âÄúThis is just the beginning … to get rid of the fluff thatâÄôs accumulated over the years.âÄù