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Faculty Fears in Washington, Paul Fain, Inside Higher Education, October 17, 2011

lundi 17 octobre 2011, par Bobby

It just got easier to lay off full-time faculty members in Washington State, thanks to a declaration of financial emergency last month by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. But some faculty leaders say the board’s move is more about a power grab than saving money.

Either way, faculty members are worried about the possibility of layoffs. And some observers say other cash-strapped states could try similar maneuvers.

A Washington law enacted in 1981 enables the board to declare a financial emergency if the state’s contribution to the two-year system is reduced compared to the previous budget. (Washington operates on a biennial budget cycle.) The declaration allows districts that oversee Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges to empower the campuses to dismiss tenure-track faculty members more quickly and easily — essentially the same way the colleges can currently lay off adjuncts. Tenured instructors make up about half of the system’s faculty members, teaching roughly 55 percent of credit hours.

“These are extraordinarily challenging times, requiring us to make many difficult decisions, including this one,” said Sharon Fairchild, the board’s chair, in a written statement.

This isn’t the first time the board has dropped the fiscal emergency bomb ; it did so in the previous budget cycle. The system’s faculty unions contested that move, too, arguing that layoffs were unnecessary and not likely to occur.

“The faculty just fought this tooth and nail the first time,” said Sandra Schroeder, president of the Washington State chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “We told them that nobody needed it.”

Only one college laid off full-time faculty members after that ruling. Schroeder said colleges don’t need the flexibility this time around, either, and that the board has used the financial emergency declaration as a weapon in ongoing faculty contract negotiations. “It destabilizes the bargaining table,” she said.

However, she said the possibility of layoffs is more real now, and that the threat does not appear to be empty. There is a growing disconnect between faculty members and the board, Schroeder said ; she called them “two groups of people talking completely different languages.”

Charlie Earl, the board’s executive director, said presidents of the 34 institutions had strongly recommended that the board declare a financial emergency.

“The presidents don’t know for certain how they’re going to meet these reductions,” Earl said. “They’re really out of options.”

Tenure Threats

One thing the faculty unions and board agree on is that the system’s budget situation is dire. Two-year colleges have absorbed a cut of $165 million since 2009, a 22-percent reduction in state funding. And the future looks bleak.

Pour lire la fin de l’article sur site Inside Higher Education.