Top Ten Reasons Why I Haven’t Blogged Lately

A few people have asked why I haven’t blogged lately.  Today is a furlough day, so I’ll pick up where I left off in trying to record this year.  But first, here’s why I haven’t added to it.

Reason #10:  I have only had two furlough days since Thanksgiving.  The first one, I used for Christmas shopping with the hopes that my taxes would go to education.  Instead a number of my gifts were wrong and I had to take them back.

Reason # 9:  The second furlough day, which turned out to be an all faculty furlough day on the first day of classes, I didn’t use to not work.  (That is the kind of sentence I read all the time in student papers, so figure it out.)

Reason #8:  What’s new to add?  Furloughs have become a way of life.  Next year, we will complain because we don’t have them any more–just as we got used to the 10% pay cut.

Reason #7:  I realized that everyone has a blog and that is the same as no one having a blog.

Reason #6:  Even fictional characters have blogs—Betty Suarez from Ugly Betty has a blog; Jim and Pam from The Office have a blog about their pretend baby.  I had a brief fear that if I kept on blogging, I’d cease to exist.  I would become a character on some TV show and have a constant narrative about my life running silently through my head.  Eventually the little blog voice in my head would drive me crazy.

Reason #5:  Reason #6 seemed even more a dangerous possibility after I watched Julie and Julia (or is it Julia and Julie)?  Anyway, it was proof that a real person with a blog can become a fictional person with a blog.

Reason #4:  The CSU Chancellor is implementing a program based on deliverology, which turns out to be a philosophy used by the Tony Blair to streamline government in Great Britain.  Basically, it is an efficiency strategy and we are going to use it to push, I mean encourage students, to graduate.  I decided that blogging didn’t seem so efficient until I read how unpopular deliverology is in Great Britain and decided that perhaps efficiency isn’t that good of an idea anyway.

Reason #3:  In a newspaper article, I read that part of CSU’s deliverology program is for faculty to take attendance and call up students who miss more than two or three classes.  I realized after my first couple of years at CSUSM that in order to get anyone to show up, you have to take attendance.  And I can let the CSU know the reasons students give for not coming to class which, in addition to illnesses, overtime at jobs, deaths of relatives and friends, and family obligations, include “I was on my honeymoon” and “I thought we weren’t having class for two weeks” followed by “Did we do anything important?”

Reason #2:  I’ve been trying to find out how much deliverology experts make consulting with large university systems like ours and if I qualify to be one since I’ve heard every excuse in the book.  (Did I mention the student who had told her mother that I was missing class not her and that was why she wasn’t coming to school?)  Possibly my expertise in deliverology might be a way to restore the 10% of my paycheck that I’ve been missing.

Reason #1:  I bought a Wii and have exercising using Wii Fit.  I’ll never be a downhill ski racer nor a skateboard champion but the game with the penguin on the ice burg trying to keep from falling into the frigid waters while catching leaping overhead fish for dinner seems like a skill I should cultivate.


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Thanksgiving Red Zone

It is Monday morning and Thanksgiving break is nearly over—nearly over thanks to the furloughs.  Usually on Sunday, I’m racing home to get ready for the next week.  But I’m furloughed today and using my Monday furlough day to travel.  I don’t have to go far, so I’ll probably fill it in with other things I need to do later.  I can’t say what.

This year Thanksgiving has been different and it is because of the furloughs.  While they have clearly negatively impacted the learning environment, in some ways, through the forced absence from the workplace, life has taken on a slower pace.

It is true, in order to keep up, everyone (I believe this includes administrators as well as faculty and staff) has to secretly work through furlough days which actually have proven to cost more than they save.  But it seems like the more time away from campus, the more time for other things in life.

In a way, Thanksgiving started early for most of us.  We had a number of mandatory furlough days and a lot of faculty worked more in with the idea that it would be hard to get students to stay on track then anyway.  There wasn’t a mad rush to get home for Thanksgiving and a lot more time to grade all the stuff that we made due before Thanksgiving week.   (Of course, we can’t grade on furlough days.)  So there was, in one way, less pressure this year and more time for family.

Usually Thanksgiving feels like a sandwich.  On the one side you drag the students through to the Wednesday before the break by giving tests or making assignments due.  On the other side, is the dash to the end of the semester.  (This year there are two more weeks of classes along with finals week.  I need to work in at least one more furlough day before the semester is over.)

It has become harder and harder to get students to take the three days before Thanksgiving seriously.   There has been an alarming increase in the number of vague family emergencies, odd travel impediments, dire illnesses, and even deaths that occur on those three days before Thanksgiving.  In more recent years, these tragedies have started to occur in a higher rate on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.

I remember my first year of graduate school when our Wednesday night seminar met as usual until 10:00 P.M.–the night before Thanksgiving.  One of our professors announced he would be holding office hours on Thanksgiving Day.  But those were the good old days, when, as Sister Mary Lazarus in the film Sister Act put it, “nuns were nuns” and hard work was the rule.

But with the furloughs and the normal break—I’ve had, at least in theory, eight days off.  So there has been time to get ready for the holiday and then enjoy it a bit.  It has been a nice change of pace.  I feel guilty about it.  It is probably some confusion from my hybrid background of mixed religious impulses that all converge to reinforce guilt.  Or it could just be the influence of my Grandmother Watts who was the Queen of imparting that sinking feel of guilt each time you had to leave.  “Well . . . come when you can,” she would say weakly.

But on a more serious note–the truth is I can’t get out of my mind the looming realities of what the university is facing.  Really the blog isn’t about the furloughs but the state budget cuts.  As the holiday season commences, I’m well aware that I have colleagues, both faculty and staff, that are facing layoffs as early as next semester.  A number of campus employees are struggling—their pay cut of 10% hurts and some of their spouses and partners have lost their jobs.  Many are helping out family, friends, and even students who are unemployed or dealing with pay cuts and reduced hours at their jobs.

But the state keeps cutting.  With each cut, more revenue is lost and the loss of revenue mandates more cuts.   It is an accelerating downward spiral.  I can’t think of anything that more closely replicates the paralysis of the Hoover administration between 1929 and 1932 when the country plunged into the Great Depression.  We hear things are getting better outside of California.  But it is hard to believe when we are dealing with students who suddenly find themselves homeless or going without food.

I’ll just make one more observation.  Over the holiday, the news barely mentioned the continued threatened cuts to education.  This was after the huge media fest over the UC students’ protest against the 30% raise in their fees.  Maybe everyone is tired of thinking about it but it is more likely that the media doesn’t want to spoil the mood of shoppers.  No, the big story was that Arnold Schwarzenegger, our governor and boss, was photographed parking his sports care in a red zone.  (I believe that Maria Shiver was caught doing the same thing just a few weeks back.)

I know very few people who park in red zones—it seems like a sacred space.  It seems dangerous and risks other people’s safety.   When you see people doing it, nearly everyone seems upset and angry.  There is always an alternative to parking in  a red zone, no matter how inconvenient it is.

But perhaps this really was about the cuts.  Maybe it was a thickly veiled  story about what is happening to us and why.

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Rainy Days and Furloughs

Rainy Days and Furloughs sounds like a really bad Carpenter’s song.  Maybe this is just like being in a really bad Carpenter’s song.

I’ve slowed down on blogging about the furlough year as the semester has accelerated.  Keeping a record of what is going on takes a backseat to papers that need grading, student crises, and the demands of class preps and committee work.  Research and writing–forget it.

For most of the past six weeks, it felt like we were on a roller coaster.  The budget allocations for spring were released.  As the coordinator of our graduate program, I help build the class schedule, so I got to see it.  I was floored (whatever that expression means).   It seemed impossible to reconcile the budget we had been given with our enrollment targets.  People would lose their jobs and it appeared that tenure line faculty would have to teach another class each semester.  The need to deliver the major, cover our graduate program, and participate in general education emerged as competing interests—which mouth do you feed?  Some people began talking about discontinuing the graduate program.  Others argued that we should just bow out of general education.  Outside the department, someone argued to me that the history majors, like other majors across the campus, will just have to take longer to finish up their degree.  If the students don’t feel the pinch and start complaining, they reasoned, then no one will ever realize the folly of cutting back eduction.

Then we learned that the campus received stimulus money for instruction.  At first we thought that meant extra sections.  But now it seems less clear.  The adjunct faculty hang in limbo.  I’ve seen some editorials that regard them as toss offs, that the entire budget crisis would be solved if they were all let go and every tenure line person taught another course.  These are smart people with PhDs, active members of our campus who contribute important components to the curriculum, and the numbers belie that.  The idea that “not renewing” them (we don’t say “laying them off”) centers on the notion that if the lowest paid employees are released, then somehow magically everything will be fine.  That isn’t where the big money goes in the CSU system, I’m sure.

So then the roller coaster hit a wall full force.  Frustration is really the best way to describe it.  The students, who seemed a few weeks back to have settled into a peaceful acquiescence of the furlough year, are now agitated.  The library closure has impacted all of them and it is noticeable in their work.  I’ve heard students exclaim in exasperation “I hate the furloughs” and “the furloughs are so frustrating.”   I came to realize that my digital history class can’t really complete one of their assignments–the video editing can’t be done because the resources are closed all weekend and after 6:00 at night.  One of my graduate students indicated that the furloughs have impeded her progress on her degree significantly.  So the students feel the pinch—anyone listening?

And I shouldn’t say but I’m sure that most faculty are finding that to survive–to deliver this deeply flawed semester of instruction–they must work (in secret of course) through their furlough days.  Of course, you can’t do that, otherwise you could be dismissed.  Fired for working.

Several faculty, both tenure line and adjunct, have told me how hard it is to feel motivated.  “It isn’t the loss of pay,” one good friend of mine observed.  It was somehow all the energy has been drained away.  I think much of it has to do with the students who seem increasingly less motivated—their energy fills the classrooms whether it is positive or negative.  It is apparent that some see the semester as a throw away—like a rainy day in third grade when you know there isn’t going to be any recess and you are going to eat lunch in the classroom.  You spend an eternity playing heads-up seven-up just to kill time.  This semester, probably this whole year, is like one long rainy day in grade school.

One of our alumni who is in Ph.D. program dropped in for a visit.  Although she was homesick for CSUSM and missed the close contact with the faculty, her new environment had opened her eyes up to the limitations of the CSU.  “Why do you stay?”  She asked me.  I know she is pondering her own future.

When people ask me that, and they ask me that a lot, this is what I always tell them:  When I first came to CSUSM, I missed the big research university atmosphere and, while it was exciting to be a part of a new university, it was often wearisome.  But several years ago, I had a terrific student—an ideal student who was totally engaged in everything he did.  He also had an extremely rare and likely fatal disease.  One semester, his condition worsened and the experimental treatment he was undergoing wasn’t working.  He looked horrible but soldiered on.  In office hours, he talked about how awful he felt and his dire prognosis.  I told him, “Take some time off and relax.  Don’t pressure yourself.”  He looked at me with utter surprise and said—I remember his words to this day–“No, no, no.  I love this place.  I love this place.  If this is it for me, then this is where I want to spend the rest of my life.”

So the doubts about what I was doing here were erased.  To be a part of something so meaningful is (or it should be) the highpoint of any university career.

So I’m thinking that the true goal during in the budget crisis is not just to survive as a campus but also to preserve the quality of what we offer and who we are.  Students don’t come to CSUSM to party and they don’t come for the big box university experience.  They come to learn and to be valued as individuals.  (Okay—some don’t but a lot do.)  This is a place where students find their passion for learning; it is not trivial statement to say it really does give meaning to their lives.

Budget crises come and go but the impact that the university makes, the special place it creates, endures.  That is what we need to concentrate on.


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Secrets of a Furloughed Professor

(With thanks for Brooks for the title)

Just to let you know, we don’t talk much about the furloughs anymore—we have heard that the CSU isn’t even considering them for next year.  Why?  No one knows.  What does it mean?  It probably means layoffs and salary cuts.  But all that is still a secret.  If academic years had themes, this one would be “The Year of Secrets.”

This will be a long blog, but I’ll tell all the secrets I can.

There are a number of places at CSUSM where you can hear secrets, if you can define them as such.  Often people will preface something with “no one knows this, but . . .” and then tell you something that you have already heard from at least three other people.  The campus rates high on student confidentiality, but in regards to nearly everything else, well . . . forget it.  You can hear secrets behind closed doors, over email, in the parking lot, and in the bathroom.

But, strange enough, the best place to learn secrets is in large meetings.

One of the first meetings of this year was an Academic Senate meeting.  It was a special session (though not secret) and it focused on the proposal to increase the course load.  I came late and when I walked in, I thought we were having a raffle.  People had submitted numbers and the senate chair was calling them out.  I said to myself, “Here’s a way to raise money.”  It turned out, if your number was chosen, then you got to speak.  No toasters, no George Foreman Grills, or movie tickets.  And they had given out the numbers for free, so . . . no money raised there.  No wonder we have a problem.

In an effort to combat what I assume would be a H1N1 outbreak, the moderators passed around the microphone wrapped in a paper towel.  However the towel was never changed, so everyone just used the same towel over and over again.  I’m not so sure about our strategies for disease control.  But I came late, so perhaps the towel was being used to prevent electric shock from malfunctioning equipment.  That would cost the university a considerable sum in lawsuit if a faculty member with sweaty palms was electrocuted while trying to speak at a meeting.

At this meeting, the faculty made impassioned pleas to preserve the quality and uniqueness of the university as well as for the maintenance of faculty jobs.  The administration made no response here—that was the agreement for the meeting.  Why, I’m not sure.

Subsequently, there have been forums and town halls, more and more meetings.  I’m spending more time on university service than on students.

I’ve been going to meetings for as long as I recall.  My father was an elementary school teacher and I remember at about age four being at a PTA meeting in a large dark auditorium.  That is all I remember.  But my family says that I had a friend, another four-year-old, and we spent the meeting running across the back of the room and colliding head on with each other.

This is kind of like the meetings we have been having.

The faculty makes their case.  Then the administration makes their case.  Then the faculty ask questions and either don’t get responses or don’t get the responses they want.  I’m sure that the administration feels they don’t get the responses they want either.  The faculty for years has asked for a clear accounting of the campus budget and for years, it has remained secret.  The administration has insisted that the faculty workload hasn’t been transparent—but, as faculty member, I don’t get what that means at all.  Collisions in the dark.

I could detail every meeting and every argument made on each side.  But it would be about as interesting and as current as watching a game of pong.  Every few days, things change and all news seems dated.

So here are the highlights and lowlights.

The 3+3 committee, which is a misnomer because it gave people the wrong impression that our workload would be three courses a semester, discovered that the work load didn’t have to be increased.  Courses and jobs could be preserved.

Hope rose and everyone waited for an announcement.  It didn’t come.

The President had a forum.  Most faculty wore black.  It was a secret that we were all going to do that.  The President, who usually wears bright and cheerful attire, was in black as well.  (I don’t believe that she is reading our emails.  She is a person of fair play and good nature.  I do believe that someone advised her to wear black.)  The faculty asked her to take a workload increase “off of the table.”  She didn’t but said, “it wasn’t for everyone, forever.”  (It isn’t like diamonds?)  One of the truly most reasonable people in the College of Arts and Sciences–he keeps a supply of refrigerated water and a vacuum in his office–asked her to address the impact a course load increase would have on the educational quality.  He asked twice.  She didn’t really answer the question specifically and, frustrated, most of the faculty rose and walked out.  She seemed puzzled but carried on.

Still, no clear announcement about the workload came.  Then Academic Senate held a meeting in executive session, which excluded all administrators.  Robert’s Rules of Order bound us to secrecy.  But I will tell as much as I can:

[Professor ______  looks like he has a headache.]
[What a great shoes.]  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.  XXXXXXX   XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX!!!   xxxxxxxxx   xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


[I remember teaching a night course in this classroom and I got the stomach flu during the class.  It was awful.]     XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
[This chair is uncomfortable, no wonder students squirm.]  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx   [huh?]  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX   [It is almost 3:00]

The following Friday the Department Chairs in Arts and Sciences went to a meeting—still no announcement but they went through some information on layoffs.  Later that afternoon, they received an email asking them to come to a late meeting on Monday with the President and Provost—no substitutes allowed and no agenda specified.   Word spread and everyone assumed the worst.

False alarm.  It turned out the President wanted to “reset the tone.”  She talked about where the faculty and administration agreed and encouraged everyone to work from there.  She also stated that we would solve the problem together in creative ways.

Elation reigned until around noon the following day.  The Provost was going to accept the recommendations made by the 3+3 committee.  But, as people started speculating, it became apparent that once the enrollment targets were given to the departments, it was going to be impossible to meet those targets without increasing the course load.  There would be no other solution to the problem as presented.

Just before they took their furlough last Friday, the administration released the targets.  No one was available to assist the chairs in “interpreting” the targets.

This week another senate meeting–will we be sworn to secrecy again?  Hard to say.  Each day brings new news.

What you don’t know, will hurt you, I’m almost sure.

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Week Five of the Furlough Year

This week as I was entering the office building I ran into a friend who is on the staff at CSUSM and who was headed out to the parking lot.  After saying hi, we both headed off our opposite directions.  But just as we parted, she called out something.  I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or someone else because I was certain that she said, “keep on clogging.”  A couple of beats later, I realized she was saying, “keep on blogging.”  (Sorry Joanne for the confusion.)

I have to admit it is a challenge to “keep on blogging” much less take up clogging especially this semester.  (Although clogging would provide diversion on furlough days.)  There are a lot of things that can’t go in a blog that’s for sure–things people tell you in confidence, interesting but often unfounded rumors, and other things that fall outside of any categorization.  Keeping up with schoolwork has been hard and I’ve acquired a new committee assignment and realized that I was elected to another committee last year when I was on leave without knowing I was even running for it.  Sandwiching in the students during the non-furlough days makes for even longer workdays.  It is impossible to turn them away—how can you tell a student who earnestly wants help they can only have 90% your time now?

We are now almost one-third the way through the term and the wear and tear of the shortened workweeks are apparent.  We had a department meeting on Friday and everyone looked horrible.  I guess no one seems to be sleeping in on furlough days.   In fact, I’ve heard that with all of the chaos and uncertainty most people aren’t sleeping at all.

How are the students fairing?  It is kind of hard to say.  The undergraduates seem to be in a daze—more so than is usual for this time of the semester when the first assignments are due.  New students always have problems adjusting but the furloughs only confuse them more.  Some (returning and new students) still haven’t figured out that staff furlough Fridays doesn’t mean that the faculty are also furloughed.  So there are a few students who have only come to my Friday class for a total of two weeks or so.

When I’ve asked students how the furloughs have impacted them, some have shrugged and said that they haven’t noticed it much.  Others were vocal about their dissatisfaction and one student even said that she planned on asking for 10% of her fees back.  Overall, the two biggest complaints from students are not about how furloughs have impacted their classes but that the library isn’t open enough and that it is hard to get food.  I think the focus of the hungry young scholars’ complaints indicate that most faculty are working hard to make sure that their education remains the paramount focus.  But it is undeniable that the furloughs have impacted the university adversely.  Classes and office hours are cancelled here and there.  It is nearly impossible to set up meetings between faculty.  There is no routine that can be followed.  If we have an influenza outbreak combined with one of our enormous California Wildfires, I’m not sure what we could do.

The graduate students in our program have taken the cuts very seriously; many want to pursue careers in higher education and have realized that the declining commitment to education will impact their goals.  Some are bitter—I’ve seen that happen to people even in good times; others remain hopeful that the economy will turn around and that somehow President Obama with his stated commitment to higher education will rescue us.  A bailout for higher education?

Our system isn’t the only one that is shrinking—even the Ivy Leagues are on the ropes thanks to the financial downturn.  But state universities are taking the hardest hits.  In our case it costs, from what I can tell, $15,000 to educate a CSU student.  They pay about $5,000 of that in fees—the state has footed the other two-thirds of the bill.  Most of our students would be priced out of their education quickly if the state withdraws much more public support.  University education would become the domain of only those who could afford to pay now what would be tuition at a private school.

The students have started a campaign called “SAVE CSUSM” and they are collecting signatures on petitions and holding meetings to protest state cuts to education, the fee raises, and the campus proposal that the tenure line faculty should take on a heavier course load beginning in the spring.  All threaten student access to quality education.  The student government passed a resolution in the same spirit.   Many were shocked to hear that the CSU will be cutting enrollment throughout the system by 40,000 students next year.  They are thinking, “that could have been me.”

For each student turned away, there will be an even bigger tax on California’s private citizens and businesses.  The CSU produces most of the state’s teachers, many of the state’s nurses as well as some of California’s best doctors, lawyers, and public servants.  Investing in them pays off.  Citizens who would never set foot on a CSU campus benefit both directly and indirectly from the educational opportunities offered by the CSU.  But now we hear that next year campuses will cut programs and majors and layoff faculty while possibly increasing student fees yet again.

So I’ll end this entry by asking, if anyone is out there reading, how have the cuts to the CSU impacted you so far?  I encourage you to leave a comment on the blog for others to hear about your experience.

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First Furlough Day

I had my first furlough day last week and I’ve got one tomorrow.  What I learned is that I need to plan better because if I don’t, thoughts of work consume the whole day and, I fear, if I’m thinking about work, I’m working and I could be fired or, at least, disciplined—whatever that means.

My furlough day was on Thursday and I spent the first part of the week trying to cram four days into three.  Early in the week, we received approval on our furlough forms, which had been due almost three weeks earlier.  Along with this came the offer that, if we needed it, an administrator would counsel us on how we could reduce our work “effort” to be consistent with the furlough agreement.  It is easy in theory to downsize on “effort” but much harder in practice when you know you personally have to reap the consequences standing before a class of already annoyed (and sometimes hard to motivate) college students who are paying 30% more in fees to get 10% less education.

In my graduate seminar on Wednesday night, the students suggested things for me to do—go to the beach, take the dog for a walk, read a book, or take a long bath.  Those are the kind of things that graduate students who never have any time dream of doing.  I can’t imagine what my undergraduates would suggest.  I bet if I watched some MTV reality shows I would find some ideas that would probably get me fired for sure.

My days always start early—I’m up at 5:00 to feed the dog, who really would rather get up at 4:30.  Instead of working on classes or answering student email or writing the numerous letters of recommendation that are in the queue, my plan was to go back to sleep.  I couldn’t do this because I started watching a local morning news show that ran a segment on women who want to eat a lot and then not gain weight.  The reporter interviewed a representative from a company that markets a special drink for women which will help metabolize whatever the diner just binged on.   Having dealt with eating disorders in college students, I was so appalled I started thinking about work which only made me more appalled since I’ve been told that not to think about it.

I went upstairs to check my email but stopped myself since that seemed to be work as well.  After reading some more appalling news online and checking my various morning links (carefully avoiding the academic ones–of course), I decided that deleting all the junk mail from my inbox wouldn’t get me fired.  While I was doing this an email arrived from a colleague who was also on furlough.  The subject line read “Don’t Work.”  He was having the same problem.

Fortunately for me, I had to take my mom to the doctor and that took up most of the rest of the morning.  Lunchtime came and eating kept me busy.  Between one and three, I can’t remember doing anything but wondering if I would be on top of things for my Friday class.  At three, I tried to take a nap, but my dog, who had spent most of his day napping, decided I shouldn’t.  I tried to read a book but realized it had historical content so I immediately quit.  I found the same true of a magazine—The Smithsonian.  What a curse to be a historian surrounded by the inescapable past.  I’m sure people in other fields are feeling the same kind of angst in their confinement.   Sociologists are probably fleeing from large crowds and the psychologists avoiding personal interactions.

Dinner finally came and afterward I took the dog for a walk—I try to do that anyway on most days.  Later I watched TV—an episode of The Office where Michael starts rumors about everyone in the office to cover up the one true embarrassing fact that he has already spread that will potentially ruin Stanley’s marriage.   In the end, Michael’s plan fails, Stanley’s wife finds out, and everyone is unhappy.

Michael Scott’s attempt to control what people thought not only didn’t work but completely disrupted the workplace.  That line of  reasoning underscores the furlough program’s assumptions except that, in this case, the goal is to prevent people from thinking at all.  It establishes a dangerous precedent—that thoughts can be turned off and on like a faucet.  Faculty are charged with teaching people how to think and to encourage students to be “critical thinkers”—and that skill, we tell them, should never been turned off.  It is part of being actively engaged citizens.  After students graduate, they don’t remember much of the specific information we share with them.  But they do remember how to think.

So what does this furlough program really model for students in the end?

The day after my furlough was a campus furlough day and guess what?  Attendance in my class slumped.  In addition to staff and administrators, some faculty had taken the day off.  A number of my students emailed that they had the flu.  I’ll believe that—it is starting to go around.  But I also know that some of them didn’t want to drive in just to attend one class with no library or other services open.  The only incentive is intellectual engagement (and a better grade) but that is downplayed in the philosophy behind a university furlough program.  Effort can be reduced, the mind can be disengaged, and “days” don’t matter much.

As one student told me, he decided to give himself a furlough day since most everyone else had one.  The real costs of the furloughs seem to be enormous.


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First Two Weeks of the Furlough Year . . . . or . . . . Can You Turn Away Eva Longoria?

The first two weeks of school this year have been hectic.  They always are but these have been compounded by a special anxiety on everyone’s part.  The faculty, staff, and administrators have been overwhelmed by their days off.  The students are overwhelmed that we will have days off.  In talking with some students, it took me awhile to convince them that furlough days weren’t just open office hours for drop in appointments all day long.  It was kind of like trying to tell him McDonalds was going to be closed.  They couldn’t believe it.

Some students have offered me tips on how I can get around the furloughs—how I can work without anyone knowing it.  Some have suggested that I have my email forwarded to a non-university account, that way I can still be in touch.  A few had elaborate schemes that would require me to sit for long periods in Starbucks across the street from campus.  I think it would be strange to be fired because I was secretly reading my email or hanging around in a Starbucks but I suppose it could happen.

The start of classes is always crazy with students adding and dropping.  But this year the chaos is far greater.  The halls have been filled with crashers waiting to be the first in the door for the next class.  I have seen students literally bolt from one class to run off to another as they try to add.  We were instructed by the administration not to exceed our enrollment caps which after all the cuts in the course offerings, leaves students scrambling.  The usual California leisurely student stroll looks more a fast walking competition.

I think that the administration is trying to spread classes around—to make sure that everyone has some classes and to fill up classes that run empty.   While its intention is to work within our limited budget and serve everyone, it presents a harsh predicament for students.   Just because a seat is available in a class, doesn’t mean that the student should or could take it.  Sometimes they don’t even have the prerequisites or skills.  Often it can’t count for any of their requirements.

Before classes started, I begin receiving a trickle of emails requesting to crash my US Film History class that meets on Friday mornings for about three hours.  It is a popular class because of its topic made even more attractive by the fact that it fulfills numerous graduation requirements—the history major, film studies minor, upper division general education, and general electives.  Soon the trickle became a flood.  And the requests reflected the students’ desperation.  Some just needed an extra course to fill out their schedule.  But many were graduating seniors who, if they don’t find a course, will have to stay an extra semester.  Others, if they can’t carry the required units, will lose their financial aid and have to drop out.  Some had personal issues, like childcare or jobs, that made my class the only one they could take.

Sob stories, you say.  Some are but most I am sure are not.

So I started a waiting list and added even more names on the day of the class.  So far, I have only had four people drop the class.  I’ve added as many people as I can from the waiting list.

Throughout the week I’ve received desperate emails from students trying to find a course.   I’m certain I can’t add anyone more.  I know that I have turned away at least twenty-five students but I’ve lost count.

Turning away crashers isn’t anything new here.  But the number of crashers is.  I also noticed something different in their mood.  In the past, crashers either casually leave or try a little pressure or storm out in a huff.  This year all I saw was despair and, this is true, even tears.

The students seem generally puzzled by the furloughs.  They were shocked to find everything on campus closed during our first Friday class—it was a campus furlough day for staff and administrators.  They couldn’t buy their books, go to financial aid, study in the library between classes, and had a hard time finding food.  We (or at least I) had a brief scare when the technology station wouldn’t play the DVD that I wanted to show—a big deal in a film class–and later when it refused to display the PowerPoint presentation that went with my lecture.  There wasn’t anyone to call to work out the glitches in the classroom technology.  They were all on furlough.

I read online, thanks to a friend in Latin American Studies, that Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives fame, has signed up for a masters degree in Chicano Studies and Political Science at one of our sister campuses, California State University Northridge (CSUN).  It turns out that she has a B.S. in Kinesiology from Texas A&M.  She is active in civil rights causes and has been driven by her commitment to seek a higher degree.

I was wondering if she was able to get all of her classes?  If her classes were cut or degree program discontinued, how would that impact her quest?  It would be hard to turn away Eva Longoria, I think.  Everyone knows her.  But that is what is happening all over CSU campuses. The names aren’t familiar but their goals are similar and they too, with the opportunity, promise to make their state, as well as their country, a better place to live.

So, now turning away our students would be the same as turning away Eva Longoria.  Somehow that might make it seem more real to not only the public but the leaders of the CSU and the lawmakers who have so drastically cut the university’s budget.

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