Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Modest Proposal to Private and Public Employers

by Norman Markowitz

I teach at Rutgers, a public university which, like many many others, has followed a "corporate model" of central administration for many years. Previously, university central administrations followed for generations a "feudal model" meaning that working faculty, deans and other administrative staff of arts sciences and professional schools, were given by the Vice Presidents, Provosts, etc, of universities the "privilege" of working as scholars, teachers, etc, with the central administration taking a cut from these bodies as a matter of tribute.

The "corporate model" hasn't so much changed this but made it much worse, that is, there has been a proliferation of high priced Vice Presidents and their support staff while the working faculty has been reduced significantly by having more and more of the undergraduate teaching function of universities turned over to "adjuncts," called at Rutgers partime lecturers, who are paid per course and operate as a reserve army of very cheap labor, providing what can only be called, given their situation, inferior education to undergraduate students who are made to pay more and more in tuition costs for education that for the great majority gives them less and less.

This has been true in good times and bad, but at Rutgers, where we, unlike the majority of public universities, have a unionized faculty, the administration at all levels is scurrying about seeking to follow the state government which is pursuing policies of "furloughs" (forced unpaid leaves which are de facto salary cuts) and suspensions of contracted salary increases).

The larger problem of the fiscal crisis as it effects the states can only be solved through restructuring state and federal relations, re-establishing some system of progressive taxation at the federal level especially but also at the state level so that state governments are not compelled to act like third world countries, providing every conceivable benefit they can to get business at the expense of their citizens in the hope that this will trickle down to the citizens.

But that is not what I am suggesting here, tongue angrily in cheek. In New Jersey, Governor John Corzine, who has put forward these draconian state cuts, has nevertheless also advocated positive policies like the merging of various communities and agencies to save money, along with trying to get more federal stimulus money for the state.

Let me combine Corzine with our present university system and Jonathan Swift and make a modest proposal to crisis ridden administrations---adjunct administrators. Since central administrators have been very distant from faculty and the role of central administration is very confusing to those who do the work of the university, individuals with administrative/ managerial skills could be hired as adjuncts at a tiny fraction of what the present VPs are receiving and of course without pension and health care benefits, like teaching adjuncts.

Since central administrations do computerized budgeting, much of this might in effect be outsourced to foreign countries the way other sorts of administrative work has been outsourced. The savings that this would bring about would then permit the universities to maintain salaries and benefits for working faculty and increase the number of working faculty as against adjuncts, since it is really to the benefit of everyone to have an adjunct doing the work of a Vice President that very few really understand than the work of a professor.

It might also be possible to replace university Presidents (ours is or used to be a good historian who would be welcomed by me at least back to the faculty) with professional fund-raisers or even actors to meet with potential university donors and sit with them at Football games. I have been careful not to suggest that the football coach, the highest paid public employee in the state of New Jersey, as he is in many states, have his job turned over to an adjunct or outsourced, because that would be too radical and besides, American football isn't played outside the U.S. too much.

These "modest proposals" should be food for thought as those of us who are public sectors employees and all workers for that matter seek to resist attempts by employers to make them bear the brunt of an economic crisis that was the result of policies that had nothing to do with them. Our unions here, as unions everywhere, will be carrying forward the fight to sustain jobs and purchasing power, which is the only rational policy to follow in this crisis, not "tradeoffs" of givebacks vs. layoffs, which is the same old race to the bottom. But we must also begin to think of structural changes since "bailouts" that permit managers to save themselves and go back to business as usual is not only philosophically indefensible but practically impossible.