Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dean, Dean -- Who's Got The Dean?

One of the biggest laughs I ever heard in a Zenith faculty meeting was several years ago, when a member of our administration was explaining a number of strategies the institution was exploring for raising extra cash. The final one was a patent on discoveries made under the auspices of the institution. A colleague from one of the humanities departments said she didn't understand (thinking, "Hmmm- I wonder if my examination of the Lack in contemporary French poetry is worth more than I know?"), and the administrator said, "Well, for example, the discovery of a new gene." Drat.

At which point the semi-comatose Dr. Grumpo awoke, came to full consciousness and shouted from the back, "WHAT? CAN'T HEAR YOU!" The administrator repeated himself. And Dr. Grumpo shouted, "AH! I THOUGHT YOU SAID YOU'D DISCOVERED A NEW DEAN!" Needless to say, everyone howled and added to the fun while the administrator fidgeted and waited out our capacity to act like your average eighth grade. We haven't heard of *that* plan again.

But here is what is not so funny. As followers of this blog may recall, the Zenith faculty is organizing for better pay and benefits, and finally doing a good job of it. We may even start an AAUP chapter which, as denizens of other schools know, can -- despite the Supremes' precedent setting decision in re. Yeshiva -- serve as a bargaining unit when a school or university agrees to treat it as such. Despite constant reassurance from Zenith's top brass that we really are paid fairly because we are paid what they can afford and not what the market might establish as fair, a newly organized faculty continues to push forward in its efforts. We had a big meeting the other day at which the university continued to insist, despite the fact that they have come up a little in next year's offer, that they simply haven't got the money to pay us decently, nor have they got the money to give administrative staff a raise that will even cover inflation next year. And they say this even when presented with figures that suggest the longer all of us have to work at Zenith to ensure that we aren't living off dog food in our nineties, the more it will cost the university in the long term. In fact, according to members of our math and economics department, it will cost them about half a million dollars per tenured faculty member not to pay us more now so that we can retire decently when we are 67.

Sometimes they also say that if they pay us more the only place they can get the money is from the financial aid budget, and if they want us to admit stupid, rich students we should just give them the word.

And here's the kicker: they seem to create well paid administrative positions a mile a minute. This fall they hired two new deans in Student Services, brand new positions, probably at 80-100K each. Now, everyone knew they were hiring one new dean, a much talked-about position to try to stop the students from pulling racist and homophobic pranks on each other, and talk to them sternly when they do. But it appears, as I see from a recent announcement, that they have broken this position into two positions-- one for co-curricular programming and workshopping, and one for what they are calling "academic support."

Hence, I would argue -- they do have money. They are just spending it elsewhere.

Can I say that this pisses me off a little? Heck, it's my blog -- I will! And it isn't just these deans -- we have added vast amounts of staff in our development office, in academic affairs, in admissions (because Zenith has so succeeded in making itself sought after *and* exclusive that we are barraged with applications every year), our continuing education department and in our finance section. If I were to guess, I would say that our administration has doubled in my 15-plus years at Zenith, while the faculty has not only not expanded but our salaries have slowly crept to the bottom of our comparison group.

Meanwhile, all these bureaucrats have raised our quotient of busy work unbelievably. Almost non-stop, we file reports, requests for research money, justifications for spending the research money they gave us, course justification forms, and we write endless "recommendations" for our expanded study abroad programs and the internships prestigious universities make available through alumni. An untenured colleague, who has courageously joined our movement, observed, "Of course they give us more to do for them -- they have to justify their own jobs. And it used to be you had to stuff envelopes to require the faculty to do an administrative task. Now you just hit a button and send them an email. There's no pain for them in that." On top of all this extra bureaucratic hoo-ha that comes our way, a great many faculty I know are also teaching extra courses because the cost of living ordinary middle-class lives is not keeping pace with salaries.

In a big meeting the other day which, I am proud to say, about 95% of our faculty attended, the current VP of Finance (yes, everyone has a corporate title now) berated us by asking how we could dream of asking for a bigger raise when the university had to pay such unexpectedly high energy bills last winter. What nobody said was -- so did the faculty! With the result that several people I know had to teach a summer course because they used their property tax money to pay the oil company instead. That is how little money people can save because they are not paid enough, and because the prudent among us are committing as much as we can afford to pensions that the university hasn't committed enough resources to.

Can you tell that Dr. Radical is getting revved up for a return to the trenches?


Flavia said...

This is inspiring for someone who spent fruitless years pushing for a grad student union at INRU--and who encountered, even more than administrative resistance, the resistance of other grad students, who said, "well, we're lucky to be here, and we teach smart students, and we're living the life of the mind; yeah, I'd rather have more money/better benefits/more control over my teaching, but I don't want to make a FUSS about it." (Happily, I'm now at a unionized institution.)

Kudos to you and your fellow faculty members for pushing back. I'll be interested in hearing what happens.

Dean Dad said...

From experience (and the other side of the divide), I can say with confidence that good salaries -- even six figure salaries -- are no guarantee that anybody will retire at 67. Sometimes, I wish they were.

You're also conflating cost centers with profit centers. Expanding Admissions or Development means increasing income to the university. To lump those together with true costs -- like expanding academic affairs -- distorts the picture.

As a dean, I smiled ruefully at your junior partner's notion that there's no cost to us to sending an email. Would that it were so! Any request I send generates pushback, whining, threats, grievances, and all manner of cost. That's not to say that all admin requests are valid, obviously. It's just to say that the Manichean view you're endorsing isn't reality.

I'm not trying to defend your administration -- I don't know which one it is, and it's certainly true that administrators are capable of being really awful. I'm just saying you're painting with a very broad brush.