U of M faculty senate approves pay cut, but not without passionate debate and parliamentary pratfalls

College campuses may not be the bastions of progressive thought they’re often made out to be.

The University of Minnesota’s faculty senate overwhelmingly voted Thursday to approve President Robert Bruininks’ budget-cutting plan that calls for a 1.5 percent pay cut for most University employees.

At the same time, those senate members rejected a “social justice” pay cut proposal that would have asked the president to come up with a plan that would have had highly paid University employees take larger hits, while low-paid workers would have had to take no cuts at all.

Proponents of the “sliding scale” approach used as a model the University’s approach to a fiscal crisis at the height of the Great Depression. In 1932, the University cut the pay of those making more than $3,600 by 20 percent, sliding down to no cuts for workers making less than $1,200.

The debate over the issue was long, passionate and filled with some parliamentary pratfalls. (Ah yes, even the best and the brightest can get all knotted up on parliamentary procedure.)

Under the proposal offered by an organization of professors called Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education, those making less than $50,000, the median salary at the school, would not take a cut.

Solid support for Bruininks’ plan
But in the end, the vote was 130-26 in favor of the Bruininks plan, which the financially beleaguered University says will save about $18 million at a time when it is trying to solve a $132 million budget shortfall, largely because of lagging support from the state and a $36 million unallotment by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Robert Bruininks
Robert Bruininks

The rest of the savings is coming through a variety of moves, including layoffs and delays of capital projects. The 1.5 percent cuts to many of the union and civil service employees at the school comes in the form of three-day furloughs. Professors, meanwhile, will see their paychecks cut by 1.5 percent. A handful of top University administrators are taking 2.3 percent cuts.

Bruininks, who spoke first, said he opposed the sliding-scale approach, fearing that it would invite other universities to “cherry pick” some of the school’s top professors and researchers.

His approach, he said, “asks all of you to make a modest sacrifice.”

But the argument that seemed to carry the day was the “narrative” (that was a favorite word of the professors) they feared the public and the Legislature would hear if they rejected the Bruininks plan.

“I can tell you there’s a narrative we will not like if we do not support this resolution,” said Michael Osterholm, from the university’s department of epidemiology. He said that the public and state legislators would perceive a “no” vote on the Bruininks plan as professors refusing to take a small cut in hard times.

Mary Jo Kane, a professor in the school of kinesiology, was even more insistent that the profs support the president’s plan.

“I’m baffled there’s any discussion,” she said, adding that tenured profs should be “grateful” for what they have.

“We are the most blessed people on the face of the earth,” she said. “We are some of the most privileged people. We work at an institution that will never close or never move. … We’re lucky that’s all (the 1.5 percent cut) we’re being asked.”

Dissident views, too
The professor renewal group painted a vastly different picture. Though the faculty senate can vote only on issues directly affecting the faculty, proponents of the sliding-scale plan said all University employees should be considered in the vote. They said by rejecting the president’s proposal and adopting the sliding-scale plan, the University could come up with a fairer approach to cuts.

At a news conference held before the faculty senate convened, the renewal professors invited members of AFScME to speak to the fairness issue.

One of those speakers was Kim Hayden, a 37-year-old executive administrative office specialist, who celebrates her third anniversary on the job today.

“It will also be my last day on the job,” said Hayden, who has been laid off from her $28,000 position.

Among her job duties in the physiology department, Hayden said, was handling the expense statements of some of the top administrators and faculty in the department. There were times, she said, when the expense-account dinners that she processed “were more than I was paid in a week.”

The renewal profs said those sorts of stories led them to believe that the University needs to be audited in a “transparent” way to show just how money is being spent.

Their resolution, calling for just such an audit, was tabled after considerable parliamentary confusion.

At times, the senate debate was passionate. As it became clear that the sliding-scale approach was not gaining traction among the faculty senators, Karen-Sue Taussig, an associate professor in the college of liberal arts, went to a microphone and said, “Do what’s right for the community. It’s shocking people are not standing up for the lowest-paid workers.”

There were expressions of empathy, but not votes.

Even though the Bruininks plan, which had the support of the Faculty Consultative Committee, ultimately passed easily, the president didn’t get out of the senate meeting unbloodied.

Joseph Konstan, a computer science professor, said he would support the president’s pay-cut plan. Then, added a big BUT.

“I’m mad at the governor, and I’m mad at the leadership of this University,” Konstan said.

In the midst of budget shortfalls, there is “no compelling plan” to deal with financial problems that are expected to only get worse, at least in the next few years.

“Mr. President step up, or step aside,” Konstan said.

Many of the profs applauded.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/26/2010 - 09:13 am.

    I have posted a video of Joe Konstan speaking truth to power.


    This is indeed a Pyrrhic victory for the Morrill Hall gang. This band-aid is insufficient, and many folks will lose their jobs.

    Leadership matters. Time for a change.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/26/2010 - 09:44 am.

    “There were expressions of empathy, but not votes.”

    Yeah, as any leftist can tell you, demanding “social justice” is plenty fun as long as someone else’s bank account is involved.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/26/2010 - 11:10 am.

    //Yeah, as any leftist can tell you, demanding “social justice” is plenty fun as long as someone else’s bank account is involved.

    Whereas “conservatives” are always soooooo willing make a financial sacrifice on behalf of the community, that’s why they never complain about taxes. Seem to me, compassionate conservatism is the epitome of sympathy without action.

  4. Submitted by Fritz Dahmus on 03/26/2010 - 11:46 am.

    Paul Udstrand, you replied to Thomas Swift with; “Whereas “conservatives” are always soooooo willing make a financial sacrifice on behalf of the community, that’s why they never complain about taxes. Seem to me, compassionate conservatism is the epitome of sympathy without action.”

    Just to make it clear, conservatives believe taxes can be replaced (if an individual chooses) by private donations, personal expeditures, or nothing at all. You can argue about the type of society that philosophy would produce and whether that is what you want (which is a strong arguement for Federalism)…but please get the opposing viewpoint correct.

  5. Submitted by William Messig on 03/26/2010 - 11:59 am.

    As a member of the faculty of the University of Minnesota, as a member of the Faculty for Renewal of Public Education, as a member of the Faculty Senate, I am ashamed that my fellow senators voted to support Bruininks’ proposal.

    In supporting an across the board pay cut, and making no distinction between those Faculty members making $275,000 a year and those making $40,000 a year, the Faculty Senate disgraced itself. There were sensible alternatives offered and rejected. This is simply reactionary.

    In times of the financial difficuties, asserted by an administation that refuses to open its books to an outside independent auditor, why does the University of Minnesota need 44 Vice Presidents (with job titles modified with “senior, “associate”, “assistant”, …), making on an average more that $225,000 per year? Traditionally, universities were run by their faculties, not by their administrators. The University of Paris 11 (= Orsay) does fine without a DIVISION 1 athletics program. It also does fine without the DRIVEN to DISCOVER public relatios scam. It does not need to strive to be one of the top three public research universities; it already is. The corporate manner in which the University of Minnesota is run, does nothing for the academic mission of the University. It only flushes resources down the toilet.

    William Messing
    Professor, School of Mathematics
    University of Minnesota

  6. Submitted by Howard Salute on 03/26/2010 - 12:17 pm.

    I appreciate William Messing’s thoughts. But I am now curious of his viewpoint. When we get back to better times and there is money for pay increases, how should the be distrubuted? Should everyone get a percentage increase…or should we give higher increases to the lower paid workers?

  7. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/26/2010 - 12:44 pm.

    Mr. Salute you know how it works when good times come bigger increases will go to the highly paid. Mr. Grow and Prof. Messing thanks for your article and comment. The historical piece about the early thirties was in my view especially apt.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/26/2010 - 01:10 pm.

    I share Prof. Messing’s outrage at the spendthrift use of University funding.

    However I’d like to point out that he and his like-minded collegues are presented with a unique opportunity to make good on the Faculty Senate’s disgrace.

    There is nothing, I’m sure, to stop them from creating, and distributing a fund consisting of that part of their salaries they feel rightly belong to their lower income co-workers.

  9. Submitted by Andrea Schaerf on 03/26/2010 - 02:27 pm.

    Including the woman who was being laid off didnt fit in the story. Were the pay cuts to prevent her and others from being laid off? The article didnt mention the need to lay of personnel. To include her testimony was another red herring in the story. If the over indulgance of faculty expense accounts is another issue, then it should be investigated and maybe become another article. It seemed these were included to back the concept of social justice in paycuts. Were fewer people to be laid off if they pay cuts were distributed by levels of pay. It sounded like there was a set amount of salary to be cut and how to distribute it was the issue. Other issues may be newsworthy but seemed to be ways to sway the concept of social justice in ways that didnt apply.

  10. Submitted by Joanna O'Connell on 03/27/2010 - 05:42 pm.

    In response to Howard Salute’s question, faculty are never give raises in the form of across-the-board percentages. Never. If the U talks about having 2% allocated for salary increases, that has to cover all employees, not just faculty, and it is awarded based on “merit” as determined by ones departmental peers. Last year, faculty received 0 increase in salary and we knew we would get 0 this year as well. Faculty that I know had already decided in our College to give all our raise money to staff. we don’t actually mind taking a pay cut if it will save staff jobs, but we do mind –a lot–that the salary structure at the U is unfair to begin with, and the highest-paid employees (administrators and coaches) are sucking up resources that should go to our academic mission.
    The faculty who leave will not leave over raise money, they will leave because they are disgusted with how poorly the U’s administration has managed the slow-motion implosion of higher education in this state over the last ten years.

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