Letter to University of Illinois Faculty Regarding Finances

February 19, 2010

To all faculty members of the University of Illinois system,

We thank the University of Illinois University Senates Conference for their comments on what is coming to be referred to as the “Bunsis Report.” (.pdf)  This response is offered, as was the original report, in the hopes of stimulating a fuller, more thorough discussion of the finances and future of the University of Illinois campuses and system, with more meaningful involvement of faculty in the decision making about the future of the university.  Our particular interest, as representatives of the national association that established, defined, and advanced the concept of shared governance, is in promoting meaningful faculty involvement in decision making, to the benefit of the institution, its students, and the society it serves.  Thus, we are pleased that the University Senates Conference close their comments by recommending a top to bottom review of the finances of the university.”  It is precisely that sort of review and analysis that we have called for.

In our response, (.pdf) we speak in detail to the comments of the University Senates Conference, clarifying the bases and thrust of our analysis as well as the data we drew upon.  We also reiterate and emphasize the data that are required for meaningful faculty involvement in decision making, and indeed for the deliberations among various parties that are key to good decision making. 

Here we offer three overriding points: 

First, the University Senates Conference acknowledges that “furloughs are a short-term effort designed to help keep the ship afloat by buying time until the State begins to pay its bills.”  And at the end of their first point they acknowledge that one strategy proposed in the Bunsis report, refunding the furloughs, should be considered.  The point is that rather than buying time with faculty and staff’s monies, at worst the university should be borrowing those monies from its faculty and staff, and repaying them, with interest.

So, our report has successfully triggered consideration of an option that previously was not on the table.  We continue to believe that the other options we identified should be pursued first, but at least there is agreement on this one option.

Second, the University Senates Conference suggests that we are posing a roseate view of the situation, because we do not support furloughs.  But it is not the AAUP that posed the short term “solution” of furloughs to the short term problem of cash flow; rather, it was the university administration, and an administration that did so even with a 2010 budget that built in continued disproportionate increases in administrative costs. 

We quite clearly believe that there are long range patterns that compromise higher education institutions.  We made such points in the statement, “The Failure of Furloughs,” recently sent to UIC and UIUC faculty by General Secretary Gary Rhoades; there are long term patterns in resource allocation within universities, as well as to universities (from the state) that are compromising the quality and core missions of our institutions, and we believe these patterns need to be redressed by rebalancing investment, for instance, in educational versus in administrative expenditures.  This was a case we also set out last year in a statement on furloughs issued by our Collective Bargaining Congress’ Executive Committee.

Thus, our position has quite clearly been that furloughs are a failure to address the trends that are undermining public higher education. 

So we are pleased by and support the call of the University Senates Conference for a top to bottom review of university expenditures, a review that puts everything on the table; and we appreciate their recognition in our report of the significant issue of administrative costs.  That is precisely the sort of action we would have hoped our report would trigger.

As a friendly amendment to this, we would emphasize, as we discuss below, that what also must be on the table is the most recent audited financial statement of the university.  An open review requires the university to open its books to faculty more fully and in a more timely fashion than has been done this academic year. 

Third, the University Senates Conference indicate that, “This review needs to occur within the context of shared governance, involving faculty perspectives and a common sense of responsibility for the institution.”

Of course.

As a point of reference, the AAUP is the association that established, defined, and has advanced shared governance in U.S. higher education.  It is the association that is currently working with faculty senates in various peer institutions of the UI to revise handbooks to explicitly assure the academic freedom of faculty in speech about institutional matters (for obvious reasons, in these hard financial times, but also because of a series of troubling court cases—see our Speak Up, Speak Out campaign to protect an independent faculty voice.

So we are quite gratified that faculty groups within the UI are now addressing and seeking to gain more substantial input into the sort of shared governance deliberations with an independent faculty voice that the AAUP sees as being essential to the well being of the university, to the benefit of students and society.

Finally, if the University Senates Conference’s reference to shared governance was a veiled reference to collective bargaining being somehow distinct from or antithetical to such governance, then it is important to clarify that the longstanding position of the AAUP has been that collective bargaining can and should be an effective vehicle for strengthening traditional shared governance structures in the university, such as academic senates, to the benefit of students, the institution, and society.

Thus, we encourage faculty throughout the UI system to exercise an independent faculty voice, through the mechanisms and structures of their choice, to reshape the future of an extremely important system of public universities.

We encourage you to link to our response, (.pdf) which addresses in some detail the comments of the University Senates Conference.

Howard Bunsis, Treasurer, and Gary Rhoades, General Secretary, AAUP