Long Thoughts and Unanswered Questions: U of I and the State Budget

If you follow my twitter feed, you will see that I frequently alert people to job opportunities at my library and I have blathered at length about being on search committees and my recommendations for improving cover letters, resumes, etc. Last year, facing down my 5Y paperwork, I asked for and received a year off from library search committees. Of course, I was then almost immediately tapped for a search committee for Dentistry.

We have a high rate of turnover in the UIC library compared with many academic libraries. I have heard utter shock from colleagues when I talk about a near constant state of being on search committees, as they have only sat on one or two ever.  I keep a running tally of librarians who have moved on and the general reason they left–there have been a lot of retirements in recent years and a solid smattering of people moving on for promotions, family, going back to school, and not worrying about having to buy their own post it notes. That tally is high.

And I am probably about to miss those days and those complaints.

Earlier this week, my University President Tim Killeen sent us a letter telling us that the state legislature has continued not to fund higher education. We are thru an entire year of waiting and hoping they will get budget things sorted. But they haven’t and it is unclear if or when that will be happening. There isn’t much optimism at this point. And President Killeen started using phrases like “layoffs” and “all options on the table.”

UIC has brain drain issues and at least some part of it is financial. Before I got here there were furloughs. The first three years I was here, my paycheck went down each year as health insurance and taxes rose while salaries did not. We eventually did get raises, following the negotiation of our first union contract. But many faculty left during that time and churn tends to be pretty constant across departments. And this doesn’t include the ongoing and equally damaging challenges of staff turnover that has been happening simultaneously due to multiple years without a contract, salary compression, etc.

This announcement will further accelerate people leaving the three University of Illinois institutions. Private universities in the Chicago area are likely looking at UIC and deciding who they might be interested in recruiting. Who has grant money that they could bring over? Who are the top teachers that they could add to their faculty? Who has a national or international reputation that could be leveraged?

From the view of everyone here, it raises a lot of questions. There has been a long year+ now of trying to hold the line. But now we are looking around wondering just who is going to be cut, how deeply the various cuts will be, how fast, and if the cuts will be permanent. Certainly they will be long term.

There are conversations already happening about if one should stay or try to go. Yes, I still have a tenure track line and I am on track to get tenure. I am one of the fortunate. But what will that look like if we lose more people out of my department? If I stay as others leave, what will be the implications for my workload and for how long? The expectations of the subject faculty, students, and administration generally don’t go down and we’ve spent years developing strong relationships and engagement. How will we staff a building if we need to be out teaching or meeting for research projects? Will my research go entirely by the wayside? Will students chose to go elsewhere as course sizes rise rapidly or they are otherwise frustrated by lack of support and opportunities? How do we meet emerging student needs? Will we be able to get grant dollars without the research infrastructure developing at other institutions? What research will slow to a grind or a halt? How do we meet ever increasing demands with constant and ongoing reductions?

Is it a reflection on us professionally if we stay? It’s a horrible thing to ask but it has run through my mind more than once. Are we perceived as not good enough to be recruited elsewhere? Not passionate enough to be jumping to other institutions? Obviously we have many reasons to stay–we deeply enjoy the work we do here, work with excellent students, believe in mission of the institution, love living in Chicago, have had the opportunity to collaborate with great peers, etc etc… and we could be assets wherever we worked. But having watched our institution lose some described as best & brightest, it raises self-doubt. And if a faculty member is having all of those nagging thoughts, or fielding calls from other institutions, how does their work here suffer?

I raise these questions without answers, presently seeking only to exorcise them from running in circles around my brain. I have external reviewer paperwork to think about as I go into my 6Y year, edits for a paper that I wasn’t expecting back just yet, several interesting research projects and so many things I’m excited about. I do not want these worries to take over.

I feel for my President, Chancellor, Provost and Dean. The former three are very new to the institution, the Provost only started a couple of months ago. And my Dean is trying to lead a college in a time of complete lack of financial information. I hope for transparency from them and a lot of communication. And perhaps that Springfield will get its act together soon.

 

 

 

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