Saturday, October 10, 2009

Another Installment of "Read a Memo": President Greenwood's response to the University of Hawai`i faculty rejection of the "last, best" contract offer

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 h/t to Prof. C. Franklin for suggesting we read Greenwood's memo in conjunction with Osorio's speech.


Tom Humphreys said...

Yes, I found MRC Greenwood's memo to be the place where the rubber hits the road when it comes to defining who she is. As said above she has placed herself as representing the "University" as defined by modern management concepts, where the faculty are not the "University" but the ones to be managed. I did not get the feel that she might think of herself as part of the "Academy" which she is here to lead.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan, for expressing the pain I felt when I read the email from MRC (I've been trying to find out what MRC stands for to no avail). However, you say "The memo is signed simply, with her name, without a closing in either English or Hawaiian." Not exactly true. It ends with this:

"This message was sent on behalf of President M.R.C. Greenwood.
Please do not reply to this message.
It was sent from an address that cannot accept incoming email."

Cindy Ward

Anjoli said...

Right on, Prof.! I'm going to post this to my profile too. --Anjoli

Anonymous said...

Great reading of her obliviously insulting memo.

The only thing you left out was a reference to considering the source. This person who IS the university, and who cares about the state, and lectures us on having no dedication, has been here for three months. She left her previous job in disgrace, because she was accused of using the perks of her office to benefit friends and family. And as a very senior administrative official in the University of California system--just like Chancellor Hinshaw--she must take at least some of the responsibility for not heading off a very similiar, and perhaps irreversable gutting over thirty years of what at one point was the greatest comprehensive education system, from K to 24, in the history of the world.

I'm sure you saw Krugman's editorial. I'm actually more upset about K through 12. How could we ever get to a point where anyone could accept the idea of a 3 1/2 public school day?

Hope San Francisco is great.


Robert Littman said...

A wonderful analysis of Greenwood's response. I would add that our tuition is one of the lowest in the nation. An increase of $1000 per year per student in the system would make up more than enough to remove the financial crisis. Another solution is to increase the number of non-resident students who would pay higher tuition. UHPA has proposed some of these options, but all the UH administration can do is its usual reactive response. Also, no one has looked at whether curtailing the medical school could solve the financial crisis.
Robert Littman

susan said...

[Ed note] This last message should read, near the end, "3 1/2 day school public school week."

susan said...

[further ed note] "3 1/2 day public school week." You'd never know Craig and I are both editors, would you?!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the us against them line is what she came across promoting... terrible move for a new administrator. Whatever happens most of us were here before her and we will be here after her. She is a poor leader and has poor advisors... there can be no other answer for this very poor and inappropriate e-mail.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear, Susan Schultz! I, too, felt gutted when I read Greenwood's email. While she may try to divide students from faculty, know that students support faculty, wholeheartedly. To cut your pay 5% is an insult to your intelligence. To cut your healthcare is an insult to humanity.
Annette Priesman

Tim Rose said...


This is a tragedy. As a current student of the University of Hawai'i since 2005, I am certain of two things: Every year, the services goes down, and the tuition goes up. Having said that, I have had such great experiences with the TEACHERS at this university. Especially those of the MUSIC and ENGLISH departments, two areas of the university who are suffering.

You nailed it on the head about Kuykendahl and Moore halls, i have classes in both. I can't use the restrooms in Moore, and Kuykendahl smells worse every day.

I had to work during the teach-in. What can I do to help?

Tim Rose

Susan said...

via email--

Thanks Jonathan and Susan....

List of important people on campus: In my view

1. Of course students are #1 at the U.

2. Librarians (they walk on the water) are #2: because any student who really wants an education can get it in the library if they are willing to spend 20-30 years doing it.

3. Faculty are #3: because they distill the 20 years worth of information and make it usable for those who want it.

4. Janitors and other blue collar workers are #4 [actually, maybe blue collars are #1]: because if the johns don't flush, no one will be able attend the U.

Then there is .....


carol a. dickson, PhD

Life is short. Make fun of it. : ]

Jill said...

Thanks for posting this. After I read those depressing emails, I often come here to read your posts.
I'd like to mention the way public school teachers were blind-sided by our contract. We were told one day before the vote was to take place on what we were to vote. I feel our union leaders and the State did not want to give us much time to consider what were agreeing. After the layoffs last year at the district level, teachers were scared and I think they capitalized on that fear even though those were all tenured teachers who found work elsewhere.

Jill said...

PS I am going to use your post and Greenwood's email as an example of how to write an argument for my tenth graders. Many of whom will attend UH for college.

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Susan, as always! - Allison

Anonymous said...

I first felt regret for allowing myslef to be hired by the U.H. eighteen years ago. I immediately saw the substandard state of facilities and education. I learned to baby my poor students along because they had trouble reading and communicating and did not have sufficient background to handle what I wanted to teach them. The stupefaction and decay of the university has progressed unimpeded to the present moment. Here, President Greenwood slices and dices her way to the head of the class of thugs who run Hawaii. I will retire at 20 years to escape this madness and while I still have unbroken knees. Aloha, Hawaii.

Anonymous said...

i'm wondering if there is a way to unsubscribe from getting these ridiculous e-mails on announce.

susan said...

Sorry, I have no idea who's announcing, but I'm glad of it, myself . . .

Richard Bowen said...

I appreciate Susan's very insightful comments. But lets not get too anal and think we can figure out President Greenwood's motives from those comments. We should not widen the rift between administration and faculty, even if you think her remarks did. Better to believe, until proven otherwise, that she has the intersts of faculty in mind. She needs our support, and should not be drug down at such an early point in her position. I am still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Anonymous said...

What really made me mad was the audacity of the UH negotiators who decided to ask for money back AND then try to screw us by striking out the evergreen clause. So, if we signed this contract, after 2 years we could really be screwed. Greenwood is a highly paid experienced professional and has no excuse for this behavior. She still has a chance to redeem herself - fire the UH negotiators and let real bargaining begin.
Aloha, Harry

Anonymous said...

It's "Mary Rita Cook."

wii controller said...

Its a critical situation for both administration and faculty union as well. They both need to be supportive to the community.

keith Webster said...


Thank you for the eloquent synopsis of the situation at UH. It seems to mirror the solution in K - 12 education. Times of crisis are when our priorities become apparent. Hard decisions must be made and in Hawaii, a good, rigorous education appears to be optional. I agree that if the current standards are allowed to decay the system will not be rebuilt later. We must make a stand for our youth and for the future intellectual and economic vibrancy of our island home.

Keith Webster
Kaneohe, HI

disgruntled student venting said...

to: Robert Littman

(I would add that our tuition is one of the lowest in the nation.)
Our cost of living is also the highest.

(An increase of $1000 per year per student in the system would make up more than enough to remove the financial crisis.)
This increase would only bring money in from the students who could afford to stay in school, most of whom would come from the upper classes of society. It would not remove the financial crisis it would simply move it to the backs of students.

(Another solution is to increase the number of non-resident students who would pay higher tuition.)
How do you propose to do this? Is there a line of non-residents???

(UHPA has proposed some of these options, but all the UH administration can do is its usual reactive response.)
I believe a response is reactive by its nature, Are you asking for no response at all?

(Also, no one has looked at whether curtailing the medical school could solve the financial crisis.)
Go for it I hate doctors

(Robert Littman)
NO Aloha or Mahalo you just signed with your name

I am very disgusted by your "solutions" Robert. Your plans hurt the very foundation of the University, the students. You propose to move the burden to the poorest members of the University.

I understand the UHPA's anger, but this thread seems to further divide the University. Remember the saying "divide and conquer". I think the University admin. and the faculty need to work together. Both parties say they are but all I see is a blame game.

The reason I am so angered by your post is because I as a student who can't receive Financial Aid will not be attending HAWCC because of the cost. How can a student with one semester left who has a 4.0 GPA and actually inspires his teachers be allowed to forget about higher education simply because of cost. Not to mention the fact that I have actually helped to procure grants for the University and volunteer at numerous University fund raising events. I do not want to see this happen to other students.

disgruntled student