The Berkeley Agitator

Faculty divided over salary cuts / furloughs plan

In UC Budget on August 17, 2009 at 5:55 pm

One major component of the budget cuts announced by UC President Mark Yudof in July was a plan to save approximately $200 million through mandatory furloughs , equivalents to a 4% salary cut for the lowest-paid employees, up to a 10% salary cut for employees earning over $240,000. Among those exempted from the furloughs are student employees (keeping in mind that the tuition fee increases constitute a de facto reduction in student income), and employees funded entirely from grants – the latter on the basis that grant money is restricted and could not be directed to other uses.

The statement from the Berkeley Academic Senate, representing tenured and tenure-track faculty on campus, was in agreement with most of the plan that was finally adopted by the Regents. Public comments by UC professors, however, show a wide range of opinions on the plan, from calls to make it more progressive to a strongly elitist response.

Charles Schwartz, UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Physics and editor of the University Probe site, supports the basic idea of equity in the furlough plan, but questions whether the current plan is truly equitable. He notes that the UC is not tapping into all its unrestricted funds to cope with the budget crisis, and if it were, the salary cuts would be much more modest. He also criticizes the decision to only apply the salary cut on Base Pay, when some of the highest paid employees of the university receive more of their earnings in the form of bonuses than base pay. This is is confirmed by Jeffrey Bergamini’s very useful UC Pay website. Bergamini himself uses his impressive database of UC salaries to propose alternative cuts models that, according to his open letter, would be more progressive than Yudof’s proposal.

In the completely opposite direction, two UCLA law professors, Robert Cooter and Aaron Edlin, signed an Op-Ed in the LA Times arguing that instead of across-the-board cuts, the UC should “get rid of unproductive people”. While the two did not dare to provide criteria or examples of unproductiveness, a Berkeley law professor, Kristin Luker, responds that layoffs proposal effectively targets support staff, and disproportionately affect women and racialized people.

In the same category of “spare me, cut other people”, 23 UCSD department chairs suggested that the UC was a “three-tier” system where the third tier (campuses of Santa Cruz, Riverside and Merced) had to be eliminated. Not surprisingly, they put UCSD along with Berkeley and UCLA in their self-identified “first-tier”. UC Irvine professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom has published a number of articles questioning this rationale. According to Wasserstrom, the different campuses should be seen as essential, complementary parts of a system; he also notes that the division into tiers varies was based on a set of criteria that is biased towards certain academic disciplines.

We note that excepting a few individuals such as Schwartz and Luker, no statements from the faculty have been defending support staff against layoffs or students against tuition increases.

We only reviewed a few published statements by UC professors. Soon we will report on the Berkeley Academic Division special forum, for which a recording is available here.

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