BY NICOLE MONNIER
When my article on taking the “contingent” out of “contingent faculty” appeared in the recent issue of Academe, I was feeling the irony, and not the good kind. Because I had just learned that thirty-eight of my NTT Mizzou comrades were likely to lose their jobs for the next academic year.
When I was writing the piece in December, the most immediate cloud on the Mizzou horizon was the upcoming Missouri legislative session. As we braced for the budget battle that every spring session now brings, we were also concerned about a legislature still nursing a hostility towards MU a full year after the fall protests of 2015. For many faculty heading off for semester break, this state-level animus was symbolized by rumors of a proposal to eliminate tenure for future hires at Missouri’s public colleges and universities.
As it turned out, that bill died in committee. The real threat revealed itself as additional state budget cuts combined with a steep enrollment decline. Facing state revenue shortfalls, newly elected Missouri governor Eric Greitens (Duke University graduate, Rhodes scholar, Navy SEAL, former Democrat, and current aspirant to the national political scene) announced midyear budget cuts, through which the MU campus alone would lose $20 million. And as the spring continued to unfold, the other shoe began its agonizing drop: projected fall 2017 enrollments suggested that MU would see its smallest entering freshman class in twenty years.
Even as we were preparing for a 5% cut for FY18, on April 3rd the new UM System president, Dr. Mun Choi, issued a system-wide budget memo calling for a 12% cut to academic operations at Mizzou, with smaller cuts on the other three campuses. All campuses were charged with presenting draft plans by May 10th. The final budget is to be announced on June 2nd.
In his memo, Choi acknowledged possible “separation” of staff and faculty at MU. The draft budget proposal released by our campus on May 19th made that possibility a reality. About 181 currently “occupied” positions will be eliminated through retirements (43), contract non-renewals (38), layoffs (84), and voluntary separations (16).
In MU speak, “contract non-renewal” refers to ranked NTT faculty. In times of fiscal challenge, staff experience “layoffs”, and tenure-track/tenured faculty may face “separation”—but only when programs are closed. Significantly, this euphemistic terminology carries with it very specific benefits—at least, for staff and T/TT faculty. Layoffs are defined by HR policy and include severance pay based on years of service, payment for accrued vacation time, extension of health insurance, etc. For TT/T faculty affected by program closure, the collected rules and regulations provide detailed processes, a generous timeline, and for tenured faculty, additional benefits, such as extension of insurance. But as I write this, the only articulated provision for NTT contract non-renewal fiscally motivated or otherwise is that the affected faculty member be informed of her “non-renewal” at least three months before the end of her current contract.
Writing in December, I touched on the problem of contract non-renewal in the context of academic freedom, in part because our NTT faculty campus standing committee had begun work that fall on a campus-wide contract proposal. We had just approved a final version of it when President Choi’s memo raised the specter of NTT job loss. In response, our committee quickly drafted a resolution asking for the creation of NTT-specific policies before such budget-motivated job loss occurred. Among other things, we asked for a policy that would acknowledge the timeline of the academic job market and the consequences thereof for faculty who learn of their non-renewal in the spring or summer semester.
I’m going to channel the optimist in me for a moment to focus on the positive, for the creation and reception of our resolution has the shine of good shared governance upon it. Our committee brought it to MU Faculty Council, which endorsed it vociferously and unanimously. The FC chair then literally handed the approved resolution directly to the provost, who happened to be in attendance. The provost in turn has professed herself sympathetic, as demonstrated by her discussion of NTT contract-related concerns at two campus budget forums held last week. The resolution has been endorsed by the MU Graduate Professional Council, our local AAUP chapter, and the Coalition of Graduate Workers; it also received the unanimous support of the UM Intercampus Faculty Council. Finally, members of the NTT committee met with the vice president for HR at UM System, who understood our concerns and promised to try to address them with concrete policies. As our committee members thanked her for her time and commitment, the vice president replied, “Well, judge me on the outcome!”—a welcome (and unusual) expression of administrative accountability. And to linger a last moment in the glow of shared governance, our NTT committee has every reason to be proud of the way that it has worked with faculty and administration alike on this and other issues to make a determined, reasonable, and well-articulated case for our status as faculty. In the process, I think we have done much to “prove” ourselves—no matter the occasional frustration of having to prove ourselves.
And here that idealistic glow meets the harsh rays of daylight. For with the announcement of the final budget expected this very Friday—and the pervasive rumor of a pull-off-the-Band-Aid mass announcement of eliminations to follow—we NTTs are still waiting to see whether any of our proposals will be implemented. The UM Board of Curators has the final say, and with an optimism that is slightly strained, I can hope they do the right thing. Because the impending layoffs and “non-renewals” are only a short-term remedy; next year promises program reviews across the campus and the strong likelihood of consolidations and closures. Even with non-renewal/separation policies in place, our NTT faculty will remain vulnerable. And every sign is that more losses of faculty and staff are, alas, to come.
Guest blogger Nicole Monnier is a teaching professor of Russian at the University of Missouri, vice president of her AAUP chapter, and a member of the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance.
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