UH Profs Need A Lesson In Humility

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - September 30, 2009
| Del.icio.us

Hawaii’s public school teachers voted overwhelmingly last week to ratify a contract with the State Department of Education that would furlough them for 17 days between October and May. Those seventeen days constitute nearly an 8 per cent cut in pay.

In the meantime, the leadership of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly urged its membership to reject a 5 percent pay cut, “the last, best, final offer” made by the university. Continue negotiating, cling to the current contract, then strike if necessary, the union leadership advised.

Who has the winning strategy? Nobody - it’s a zero-sum game for everyone.

The K through 12 teachers will get a lot of Fridays off, but they’ll also find it harder to make their mortgage payments and pay their kids’ college tuitions. Just as important, they’re going to have a gawdawful time keeping their students at or near grade level in math, reading and everything else.


 

UH professors will take their stand, leaving public school teachers with the distinct impression that we consider ourselves better than they: too much better to take part in any shared sacrifice in bad times.

It’s a bad deal for the state as well. Teachers and professors making less money over the next two years will spend less money. That, of course, means smaller tax receipts for the state - and further budget woes for Gov. Linda Lingle.

The governor deserves some woe. She has not handled the state’s budget situation well. From her “trust me” attitude during the legislative session to her insistence that she could administratively order furloughs, she’s displayed little but clumsiness. Not until late in the game did she agree to play - probably too late.

That said, Gov. Lingle deserves some help. She’s not responsible for the empty hotel rooms, the lower room rates and resulting lower state revenues. The world-wide economic collapse did that. So the state faces an economic crisis not entirely of its own making. Labor costs lead the debit side of both state and county ledgers, by far. Labor costs must be cut.

The HSTA membership acknowledged as much. It’s my guess that the university faculty will not.

Don’t misunderstand. In urging rejection of the proposed cuts, UHPA leadership made some valid arguments: the half-billion dollars in grant money the university faculty brings into the state each year, the heavier workload faculty face with exploding student enrollments across the system, and the university’s refusal to “guarantee that no one will be laid off even if their ‘last, best and final offer’ is ratified by UHPA’s members.”

That last seems particularly persuasive.

The university faculty risks more in this economic downturn. In the state budget crisis of the mid-‘90s - a far less serious one than we face today - then Gov. Ben Cayetano chose to cut the university’s funding while maintaining budget levels for the Department of Education. K through 12, Cayetano argued, meant more to the state in the long run.


He took heat from university faculty. They marched from Manoa to the Capitol, hurled white-hot rhetoric at him, refused to take the five-day pay lag accepted by the HSTA, and endorsed Republican Lingle for governor in 1998 against Cayetano and in 2002 against UH grad Mazie Hirono - in exchange for which faculty received a hefty 20 percent raise just two years ago.

For the past dozen years, as our pay days come around (five days apart), my school-teacher wife looks down the couch at me and says, “You professors think you’re special.” Her words drip with derision.

“Yes, we do,” I reply, eyes fixed on the floor. My words drip with sheepishness.

We’re not special, and in times like these we need to stop thinking that we are.

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