UH faculty needs to grasp reality


POSTED: Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aloof from the nation's economic crisis, faculty at the University of Hawaii threaten to go to court to block reduction of their wages due to budget limitations. The professors instead should abandon their insistence that any pay cuts be followed by extraordinary increases that would amount to the payback of a loan.

The university had proposed that the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union, accept a 5 percent pay cut over two years, with restoration of the current salaries in the third and fourth years of a new contract. The union said it would accept the reductions only if UH were to promise 7.5 percent pay increases in the contract's last two years.

The university would have been negligent in accepting such increases without being able to forecast the economic landscape. Like other college professors across the county, those at UH apparently regards themselves as at least one step removed from the economy.

As Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, puts it: “;In some cases, administrations seem to be using the external economic crisis to justify extraordinary internal measures without sufficiently consulting with faculty, providing them with adequate information about the financial condition of the institution, or taking into account alternative measures for addressing whatever financial challenges the institution faces.”;

In other words, the national recession should have no effect on the ivory tower unless its inhabitants go along with temporary pay cuts and, as the UH professors insist, be repaid for any temporary inconvenience caused by the “;external”; crisis.

When the external economy was healthy, UH faculty received a 7 percent pay raise in 2007 and an 11 percent raise last year under a six-year contract that increased salaries by more than 30 percent. The median salary now is $79,671 throughout the UH system—$91,200 on the Manoa campus and $68,613 at community colleges.

UH President M.R.C. Greenwood has suggested that the university would impose a 6.7 percent salary cut Jan. 1 to help meet the $154 million general fund budget cut and an additional 13.8 percent cut next year to save $22 million a year.

J.N. Musto, the faculty union's executive director, said the union is “;fully prepared”; to go to court to block such reductions.

If the union's legal challenge is successful, the UH administration may be forced to lay off some professors and raise student tuitions. The professors then will need to teach their students that external economic problems somehow, inexplicably may have an effect on campus.