In the last installment of "To read a memo," we saw the way in which the new president of UH, M.R.C. Greenwood, attempted to bond with the community through her repeated uses of the words "aloha" and "ohana" and "mahalo." (See also here.) That was before the faculty union (University of Hawai`i Professional Assembly) rejected "the last, best offer" by the administration, to the tune of 86% nay. One friend, Kathy Cassity, noted that the news she watched referred to the number as "only" 86%.
The day after UHPA's vote was announced, the university community received a new mass email. The tone had shifted; there were no Hawaiian words in this memo to bind us together; no longer is there a sense of "us." Instead, the body of the message begins like this:
"The university is disappointed in the UHPA vote to reject our contract offer."
I was hardly alone in feeling a gut punch as I read this sentence. For what Pres. Greenwood has accomplished here is to create a neat (too neat) division between "the university" (here conceived as what? administrators? buildings?) and the faculty. If the faculty have rejected the proposal, they are no longer members of the institution. There's violence in this sentence. As I will argue thoughout this post, the violence is not directed only at the faculty.
"The highest priority of our offer was to protect students. There would be no loss of instructional days and the resulting salary savings would have helped minimize program cuts and layoffs."
Another cut of the knife, this time to divide the faculty from the students. Here, the administration sees itself as ministering to student needs, whereas the faculty, by extension, are leaving students hung out to dry. And what are the details of this very benign and reasonable offer?
"We believe our offer was fair and reasonable. We proposed a 5 percent wage reduction, the lowest percentage proposed for any state employee. Other state employees are reportedly being asked to take cuts in the 8-9 percent range. UH has already implemented a 6-10 percent wage reduction for management. The university's offer included initiating tuition scholarships for faculty dependents and minimum salary levels for faculty, two benefits UHPA has long sought. Our offer also included 13 days of paid leave which does not include instructional days."
That does sound reasonable, given the widely-bruited budget crisis in our state. But what Greenwood does not mention here is the loss of health benefits written into the new contract (to the tune of another 5% of wages) and the refusal to guarantee that there will be no retrenchment, no lay-offs. The president as much as admits this in the next paragraph:
"The university's offer to UHPA makes no changes in the current retrenchment procedure and commits to no retrenchment during fiscal year 2010. In addition, I had publicly committed that there would be no layoffs of tenured or tenure track faculty for fiscal reasons through fiscal year 2011."
No lay-offs of tenured faculty until 2011! Who wouldn't leap at that offer! No retrenchment until 2010! Again, who would not find that reasonable?!
"The university is now considering its options for resolving this dispute. Budget reductions of $76 million have already been imposed on the university and the UHPA vote does not change that fact. The university believes that the most balanced approach to managing these reductions is through a combination of salary savings from pay reductions, payroll lags, vacancies and retirements, tuition revenues, and increased efficiencies and other cost saving measures."
She does not acknowledge there that the union's refusal to go along with this contract does not mean the union has refused to negotiate. To the contrary, the membership is telling the administration that they want to negotiate further. But Greenwood, like Governor Lingle, is already leaping into the "we must do this ourselves" mode, imposing the terms of this "last, best offer" rather than returning to negotiate.
"The university is an essential resource to the state of Hawai'i. The Board of Regents and I are determined to sustain the state's only public institution of higher education for our students and the community, and we will continue to advocate on their behalf."
Here, the President has aligned herself with the Board of Regents, most of whom were appointed by our Republican governor, Lingle. She promises to "advocate" on the behalf of the "students and the community." Nowhere does she say she or they will advocate on behalf of the faculty. The faculty are no longer "the university."
The memo is signed simply, with her name, without a closing in either English or Hawaiian.
Both Greenwood and Lingle are attempting to manage the news that comes out of this dispute. We hear on the evening news that professors make an average of well over $100,000 a year (I'm a full professor who has published and edited seven books of her own, dozens of publications through Tinfish Press, have a good teaching record, and I make tens of thousands less than that); that professors recently received a 30% pay raise (we just finished several years of pay raises that we earned after the strike of 2001, when we tried to make up the considerable difference between our salaries and those paid most professors on the continent). Denby Fawcett's question to Governor Lingle was especially noteworthy: she referred to the faculty as "lollygagging" until next year. The comment streams in the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin are full of hate for the university's professors (lazy, spoiled, pointy-headed, mainland haole, etc. etc.)
So let me respond in my own way. The professors I know are not as upset about being docked 5% of their pay as they are in the way the university itself is being destroyed. This is not the first such hit we've taken. The 1990s were recession years in Hawai`i--we suffered through several hiring freezes, a couple of years when the library bought no books, deferred maintenance, and much more. So it wasn't really a surprise the other day when one of the buildings on campus was condemned and everyone ordered to leave it empty because it might fall down. The men's rooms in Moore Hall do not work; nor can they be fixed. Kuykendall Hall, where I work, is due not just for repairs, but to be replaced. We do not have adequate technology in our classrooms--where there are computers, they are ancient. The classrooms in my building are moldy, despite the over-active air-conditioning.
Given the sorry state of the campus, there is nothing left to cut but people. Under threat of their jobs are the ever-vulnerable lecturers and instructors. Yet those of us who will keep our jobs will witness a tremendous change in those jobs over the next few years, if we don't fight back (and probably even if we do). We will teach more classes, and they will be larger. We will not get to know our students nearly as well. And we will not have time or resources to do our other work--editing, writing, researching. The UH will be--effectively--a community college, instead of the one research institution in this state, and one of the finest in the entire Pacific.
As Prof. Jonathan Osorio encapsulated it: "But perhaps that is the real message the state is sending. Good education awaits those who can afford to send their children somewhere else. Nothing could more appropriately sever the state government from the community it is supposed to serve than that message."
What we are demanding is not a few percent more shekels, President Greenwood, but advocacy on behalf of the university as an important institution. We don't mean lip service about its being the economic engine of the state, which we hear all the time, but real advocacy. What we are demanding from Gov. Lingle is a return to the social contract. We need to make it clear that public education is a moral right, not simply a convenience in good times, a line item, or liability, when times are bad.
Refusing the contract was one way to say this. That the vote is being interpreted as selfish intransigence is not a surprise, but "the university" (that's UH faculty and students) must fight back. If the university is wrecked now, it won't be rebuilt later, no matter how much the economy improves. Precious little was spent to improve UH during Gov. Lingle's boom times.
I conclude by quoting Prof. Osorio's eloquent and historically rich speech at the October 8 UH Teach-In. The uses of the rhetoric of Hawaiian nationhood in this dispute will require other posts:
"The Kingdom [of Hawai`i] knew what every public official in Hawaiʻi today should also know: That an ignorant people are a poor people; less effective; less able to contribute to their own society, and more likely to despair and desperate acts."
You can find other photographs of the teach-in thanks to Ian Lind of ilind.net. h/t to Prof. C. Franklin for suggesting we read Greenwood's memo in conjunction with Osorio's speech.
The Trumping of Politics
4 years ago