A Paycut By Any Other Name Is Still a Paycut

There are at least four ways of meeting a decline in labor demand: laying off workers, cutting nominal annual salaries, cutting hires, or reducing hours. It is difficult to lay off tenured faculty; but in this recession, universities are using two other methods of cutting payroll.

Some schools have imposed faculty hiring freezes. Others are furloughing faculty: Arizona State, for example, has imposed 15 days of furlough over the next six months. Many years ago, Michigan State met a budget crisis by postponing the implementation of a previously agreed salary increase, essentially a wage cut.

Despite tenure, senior university faculty members are not immune to recession-induced budget crises. Our only consolation is that layoffs are rare. On the other hand, in the real world a furlough usually means less effort is required of workers; not so in universities. North Carolina State is proposing a five-day furlough this spring, with each faculty member choosing the days; but teaching days cannot be taken as furlough.

I was furloughed by Michigan State many years ago — but the furlough was the week between Christmas and New Year. These are really just pay cuts by another name, and I resent the attempt to hide that fact and the attempt to deliver the same service to students at lower cost. University administrators should be more honest about this.

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  1. Megan says:

    I fondly remember the email that I got some years back:

    “The pay raise this year will for some of you be less than 0%” (Um, isn’t that a pay cut?!?!)

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  2. mike says:

    Yeah, tenured professors really have it rough.

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  3. Ryan says:

    You “resent … the attempt to deliver the same service to students at lower cost?”

    That’s what a business is about. To somehow believe that education is some supremely noble endeavor that should be immune to market forces and permitted to spend without concern for efficiency is the height of folly and hubris.

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  4. John M says:

    Is there a purpose to this other than to whine about the possibility (not yet the reality) that you might be included in the hard times?


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  5. Nerf says:

    Hundreds of thousands of people are losing 100% of their income and you’re complaining about losing 1.3% of yours.

    Only in academia…

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  6. Harlan says:

    @mike: The job security is good, certainly, but in most fields, professors work relatively long hours, for relatively low pay (compared to what they could make in industry), with particularly annoying colleagues, students, and bureaucracies.

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  7. MikeM says:

    Yeah, being tenured is a real nightmare, isn’t it?

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  8. C R says:

    Isn’t it really the rules of tenure that make this move necessary? What would be the effect of having universities be more honest in their approach and words? (Seriously, I’m curious.)

    It isn’t accurate that in other areas, furloughs reduce the amount of work expected–at least not in other professional jobs. People then have to take on the work of others who are either furloughed or let go.

    Universities have had a tough time figuring out how to increase productivity. It would be quite interesting to hear your thoughts on that–how can universities increase productivity–esp vis a vis students? (Using students more as assistants in pursuing research springs to mind…)

    C R

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