Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem should serve as a summer reflection for all of us. We assure you that the NCCFT has not been silent regarding the elimination of the jobs of 66 full time faculty members on temporary appointments. Nor will we be silent over the summer. And we will need you to add your voices to ours.
The language that frustrates us most is that which identifies the elimination of these positions coldly as “instructional efficiencies” that helped close the budget gap for the coming academic year. These are not efficiencies. These are talented professionals who have provided excellent education to our students and dedicated service to our departments. If efficiency, for a college, means providing more education with fewer faculty, then we reject that proposition.
Greater “efficiency” should not be our goal. Obtaining appropriate funding is the goal.
Think about some of the (unintended?) consequences of this action: 2015 may be the “silent spring” of the Promotion and Tenure committee, when there may be only one or two faculty eligible to apply for tenure. This erosion of tenured faculty erodes academic freedom, shared governance, and the college’s basic capacity to fulfill its mission.
While it is incumbent upon each of us to continue to support all efforts to obtain adequate funding from both the State and County, it is a primary component of the job of the members of the Board of Trustees and President of the college to obtain funding. At the general faculty meeting last year, Prof. Elizabeth Wood, NCCFT Treasurer, asked Dr. Astrab if obtaining funding for the college was part of the job of the Board of Trustees, and he answered affirmatively. This year, Prof. Evelyn Deluty (Philosophy) asked about progress the Board was making in terms of finding funding. The only answer Dr. Astrab could give was that a former Board member was generously paying to renovate a house on campus. We are grateful to former Board member James Large and his wife. We miss his service on our Board. But we are angry that current Board members seem to be unable to secure adequate funding for the college. Indeed, they seem to share a mission of reducing the college’s budget rather than increasing its funding.
In many instances it appears that this administration would actually prefer a college with fewer faculty. Perhaps you have heard the references to the Suffolk Community College budget, whereby they teach as many students as we do at less cost. Suffolk’s entire structure differs from ours, physically, logistically and governmentally. The comparison is pointless unless it is the intent of the Administration and Board of Trustees to simply rationalize cutting costs at the expense of full time faculty positions. Thus far, with the elimination of the 66 temporary lines it would seem so, and such a reduction amounts to an attack on shared governance and on the union itself.
In addition, evidence that the administration would prefer simply not to deal with the faculty came at the Academic Senate meeting on May 12, 2011, during deliberation on a resolution that would reverse the Administration’s unilateral decision to cut off email access for retirees who had attained the rank of Professor Emeritus. A Senator asked whether anyone could explain the rationale for the decision. The College Attorney was recognized, and her response was to dismiss the question. She said she could answer the question, but she would not. She said that she had spoken to the people she needed to speak to, that the decision had been made, and that she was not going to say anything more. Administrative Senators largely refrained from voting on the resolution. Many did not even formally abstain. They simply refused to participate. And yet they accuse the faculty of creating a hostile environment. Since when did “spirited and collegial exchange of ideas” become “hostility”. Hostility is what the administration demonstrates when it refuses to participate collaboratively within the system of shared governance that is the backbone of the college. We can find additional examples of this in the minutes of the Academic Senate, the NCCFT posts, the recent letter from the Academic Chairs and even the editorials of the Vignette.
Various Administrators have been meeting with faculty groups throughout the campus explaining the dire financial future. Some of the messages have included compelling frightful scenarios should faculty not “step up to the plate”. The scenarios seem to be different across the campus, and they seem to change over time. We are not suggesting that we ignore the structural deficit that is facing us, nor the political realities of the lack of state and local revenues. However, it begs another question: why are the faculty being burdened with the responsibility of generating the entire revenue stream to support the rest of the college infrastructure? What is the cost/benefit of the Administration? Perhaps we should revisit the suggestion Bruce Urquhart made at the Academic Senate which would force all Administrators to teach a course as part of their job. This will not only save money, but will give them a glimpse at what life in the classroom is really all about. We have seen the extreme actions that this Administration is willing to enact in order to close this year’s budget deficit. The “University” is being challenged at every level and Nassau Community College is no exception.
This Union is committed to shared governance, to the absolute highest standards of academic integrity, to the rational operation of the campus and to the integrity of our Collective Bargaining Agreement. We need everybody to be willing and ready to stand up and speak out to protect the college that we have devoted our careers to serving.
Now, more than ever we must trust one another, stand together, and fight for the basic principles of public higher education. A Senator at that May 12 meeting spoke the truth when she said that we risk surviving this financial crisis but losing our soul as a college.
What can you do? To return to Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem, one thing we all must do more than ever is speak up. Speak up when you see violations of the contract. Speak up in committees when you question the direction of a policy. Speak up in objection to budget cuts that undermine the academic integrity of higher education. And speak up in your communities, and to your local and state representatives. Our work as educators doesn’t stop at the classroom door. We must be vigilant in educating our neighbors, our County Legislators, our Board of Trustees, and our State Assembly Representatives and Senators. Here are some things they need to understand:
- Higher education is essential to solving our nation’s economic problems. Nassau Community College’s mission is to provide access to higher education to all members of our community, not just a privileged few who can afford high tuition, and not just those who excelled academically in the past.
- Public higher education is essential to economic justice and democracy. It must be a priority of state and local governments to provide adequate funding for community colleges and state operated university campuses.
- The increasing costs associated with higher education are, indeed, largely related to salary and benefits of faculty. That is as it should be. We make up the overwhelming majority of employees at colleges. Our salaries are not bloated compared to any others with similar education and experience. Our benefits are not overly generous, but rather they represent what all workers should be able to expect.
- The economic crisis facing the nation was not created by public employees and teachers. It was created by the irresponsible behavior of elite financial institutions. The scapegoating of teachers and public employees, without whom our communities would be denied essential services, is shameful and must be countered at every opportunity.
The NCCFT will be active all summer and we all must be ready to hit the ground running in the Fall. We will not let them come for the rest of us, and we will work as hard as we can for the restoration of those whose jobs have been lost.
NCCFT Executive Committee
Ready to be inspired? Look at what these SUNY Cortland students put together to protest the budget cuts affecting their campus:
(If your browser won’t show the embedded video, click here: http://youtu.be/GRoFQi-Vrck. Does anybody feel inspired to make a Save SUNY NCC video?