Boise State University administrators and instructors are meeting this week to discuss a $1.1 million faculty furlough plan.
For the state’s largest university, faculty furloughs are the latest reflection of hard times caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Boise State lost $15 million in revenues, due to canceled events and refunds on student room and board. The athletic department will take a multimillion dollar hit from an abbreviated — and possibly fan-free — football season. State budget cuts total about $10 million. Boise State spent about $8 million to get ready to reopen for fall.
Boise State hasn’t had to furlough faculty in at least 20 years. While the long-term goal is to preserve teaching jobs, interim provost Tony Roark also says the move creates one more time crunch for professors who routinely work 50- to 60-hour weeks.
“I can’t argue with them,” Roark said this week. “They’ve been asked to do a lot … (and) their frustration is understandable.”
Some parts of the plan are set.
The furloughs will apply to all faculty working on nine- to 11-month contracts. And much like the staff furloughs Boise State imposed in the spring, higher-paid instructors will take more of a hit. Instructors making $40,000 to $74,999 would take the equivalent of four days’ unpaid furlough. Instructors making more than $150,000 would take 10 furlough days.
The logistics and the timetable are still up in the air. It’s unclear when the furloughs will start, how long they will be in effect, or how instructors will schedule the downtime. Faculty might take time off in blocks, such as four hours at a time.
One non-negotiable item: Furloughs aren’t supposed to cut into instruction. For example, instructors can’t call off classes in order to take time off.
That means professors and instructors might have less time for research, and less time to work on strategic planning — a campuswide project, as Boise State navigates the pandemic and its budget crunch.
“If we don’t do strategic planning right now we won’t come out sustainable in the long term,” said Amy Vecchione, a Boise State associate professor and president of the Faculty Senate.
Vecchione says she is hearing two recurring concerns from faculty: time management and timing. As instructors think about how they will juggle their downtime, they’re wondering why they’re being asked to take unpaid time when the state is projecting a surplus of more than $500 million. Faculty would like to have more of a discussion about budget options, Vecchione said.
Boise State is keeping much of its discussion to itself, however.
The university is holding two virtual town hall meetings with faculty this week. One was held Wednesday and the other is scheduled for Friday. Boise State would not allow Idaho Education News to attend the town halls. University spokeswoman Lauren Griswold described the meetings as an internal forum to allow faculty to discuss the furloughs.
The furloughs did not come up during a Tuesday afternoon Faculty Senate meeting, which Idaho Education News attended. The Senate meets again on Nov. 10, and Vecchione said senators are likely to discuss some technical points — such as how to evaluate professors’ performance when furloughs change their work schedule.
The University of Idaho and Idaho State University have imposed faculty furloughs, and during the pandemic and the economic downturn, they’ve become commonplace on many other campuses, Roark said. But Roark — who has pledged to join in the faculty furloughs, along with university President Marlene Tromp — acknowledged that furloughs are still a sacrifice for faculty.
“This is their livelihood,” he said.