Last September, Gov. Matt Bevin proposed draconian budget cuts for community colleges and universities. In response to the potential 10 percent to 15 percent cuts, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System initiated the creation of a reduction-in-force policy.
RIFs are typically well-defined policies that provide specific benchmarks resulting in worker layoffs due to shortage of funds, lack of work, restructuring or eradication of position or reorganization.
The KCTCS Board of Regents discussed a draft RIF at a meeting in March. A review of the proposal raised many concerns from faculty and staff. What followed was a series of rebuffs in the form of votes by KCTCS faculty and from the Kentucky Faculty and Staff Alliance. The emerging consensus understood the proposed RIF policy was too vague, would convert all employees to an at-will status, and eliminate tenure.
An “at-will” worker can be terminated at any time, for any cause, with or without warning. Faculty tenure is an integral part of the success of higher education in the United States. Tenure is earned after a rigorous vetting. Tenured faculty can only be terminated for just cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial emergency and program termination. Contractual procedures must be followed to fire tenured faculty.
One week prior to the June 14 board meeting, KCTCS President Jay Box sent an email to all faculty and staff announcing the publication of a revised RIF. To his credit, the revision acknowledged some concerns of faculty and staff. These alterations are a good first step.
The revised proposal lacks specific benchmarks that will trigger the execution of the RIF and does not stipulate who determines the need for a RIF. The policy also allows KCTCS to ignore tenure due processes, essential parts of the current policy and specific to the various personnel classes.
Employing tenured faculty provides KCTCS and the communities we serve with the long-term experiences mandated by 21st century educational and training needs. It allows faculty to participate in governance as honest brokers. Tenured faculty can candidly present alternative points of view without the real fear of retribution.
We are not the only state facing these draconian budgets. This is a nationwide consequence of the radical libertarian and austerity policies that have dominated the U.S. for decades. The constant refrain is that all government is bad. Like our public-school brothers and sisters, higher education faculty and staff have done yeoman-like work in our efforts to make ends meet with declining state revenue.
Writing for Insider Louisville, Joe Sonka reports in Kentucky “the level of direct postsecondary funding in the 2020 fiscal year is 35 percent lower than what it was in 2008, when adjusting for inflation.” On the other side of the ledger, the Herald-Leader reports that Kentucky, through tax breaks, credits and incentive payouts, gives away $13 billion annually.
This is more than the taxes we collect. With the backing of the radical libertarian Koch network and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, our governor has championed the cause of tax breaks for the rich.
In recent years, KCTCS has laid off more than 500 faculty and staff. This has saddled those still employed with the weight of taking on the tasks of our departed colleagues while still providing quality education. Since 2000, tuition at KCTCS has increased by approximately 350 percent.
These actions have increased student debt and forced many students to work more hours and attend fewer classes. These changes made it harder to teach and for students to learn and earn a degree. This is happening, despite all the lip service paid by too many politicians and others who talk about the importance of higher education for Kentuckians and the Kentucky economy.
The KCTCS board should table its new proposal until the many concerns surrounding it are properly addressed. “Measure twice, cut once” is a saying that has served carpenters well for generations. The faculty and staff of KCTCS along with the citizens of Kentucky deserve a second and thorough measurement and vetting.
Roy Silver is a professor of sociology at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College. Reach him at Roy.Silver@kctcs.edu.