State University cuts and Federal funding

Jun 29 2009 Published by under Careerism, NIH Budgets and Economics

The President of the University of California system oversees one heck of a lot of NIH-funded research. As we have discussed the biomedical research enterprise has been put under pressure not just by the prior interval of flat-lined (un-doubled, actually) NIH budgets.
President Mark Yudof raises some interesting issues in a video to his University.


An entry on the University of California Budget News website has an embedded video from the President.

Given the magnitude of the state funding deficit facing UC, President Yudof recently proposed that UC consider systemwide furloughs and/or salary cuts. He welcomes feedback from UC faculty and staff about the proposals.

(The embedding is disabled for others so here's the direct YouTube link. )
The interesting question as far as I am concerned has to do with NIH-grant supported salaries (and by extension other non UC sources of funding). The fraction of Investigator, trainee and tech salaries that is paid from NIH grants...is this to come under the proposed 8% UC-wide salary cut?
Clearly, such moves would do zero for the state contribution since they can't just take the direct costs that are allocated for the purpose of that extra 8% of salary. I suppose the PI could then spend the savings on more research supplies and equipment but that is an uncertain contribution to the overall economy- as likely to benefit companies outside the state as within. Seems doubtful when the downside is ticked-off staff; the people I know in some of the bigger UC institutions suggest that their mortgage payments and rents and food bills are not being reduced by 8% any time soon!
It is probably no surprise that I have a number of readers from within the UC system who are sending me comments on this issue. What are the rest of you folks hearing from within other state University systems?
For further reading see Drs. Stemwedel and IsistheScientist on the bogosity* that is furlough.
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*When you have a task-based rather than hours-at-work based job, like that of being a professor and/or research scientist, furlough is just exactly like a pay cut.

21 responses so far

  • becca says:

    I think it's fine here.
    From PSU's president: "our financial stability is strong" "we have adequate liquidity"
    "no salary increases" is about as bad as it gets (even there, they point out they're not increasing healthcare or parking fees to try to soften the blow)
    From Pennsylvania's 2008 state education budget: "An additional $14.5 million will be provided to the State System of Higher Education to keep the tuition increases at our four-year state universities at record lows." (talk about spin!) I suspect this doesn't apply to the state-affiliated unis like PSU, but I don't know for sure.
    Also, Pennsylvania is increasing funding for tuition grants to students and funding for community colleges (while I wouldn't mind more money to higher ed in general, I can't fault them for allocating what they have in those ways).
    Perhaps now is a good time to point out: (from DM's NIH funding numbers) Pennsylvania: $1,354 M
    This has been a paid advertisement of the Pennsylvania State University; void where prohibited; subject to tax title and license; Warning: processed in a plant that also processes peanuts.

  • Alex says:

    I'm in the other public university system in CA, and it's bad. All I'll say is that untenured folks like me need to be rock stars on research, teaching, and service if we want to have a chance to survive, and even then there are no guarantees. Polish the CV, read the job ads, network as much as possible at conferences, and pray. Yeah, that's the same as the advice for good times, but in good times you do that so you can look for even better opportunities, or so you can get an offer and then negotiate a pay increase. This time, it's about survival.

  • juniorprof says:

    We've got system wide furloughs for everyone on state funds (faculty and staff). If you're fully paid on NIH grants you don't have a furlough. If you're proportional, your furlough matches the proportion. Management of the MRU has voluntarily taken double furloughs for morale purposes.
    On the bogosity of furloughs... its pretty clear at my MRU that cuts have to be made. Either we take a furlough or they start laying people off. The people that are going to get laid off can least afford it. I don't really like it, but I'll take my furlough over more lay-offs.

  • anon says:

    I'm at a UC, and it does seem like they're going to do the 8% cut over the furlough (I believe its because of the nightmare that the furlough days would cause for hospital staffing. or something). The furlough wouldn't actually be as bad as the pay cut, IMHO, because even though they're effectively the same when you do this kind of work, at least with the furlough, on paper your pay rate would look the way it should- I can't imagine we'll ever get back this 8%, given the way the state is going, but we might have gotten the work days back.
    And, as far as I know they ARE planning to cut the salaries that are funded by NIH or by seeing patients (like my job, which is a soft money position 100% covered by NIH, and 0% covered by the UC). They seem to know that this won't accomplish anything in terms of helping the state, but I guess the logic is that it would be too complicated to have people with the same title getting different salaries based on the source of their salary (and the UC does have an amazingly complex system of steps and salary scales). There is a lot of talk about how it would be 'unfair' to only take money from people with hard money and no grants... I think that would make more sense if it didn't take a hell of a lot of work to get the grants in the first place. I think it would also make more sense if anything at all (other than dodging some red tape) would be accomplished by cutting the pay from grant money.

  • Alex says:

    anon-
    If they don't cut salaries for everyone, then some reporter can do a great story about how this poor freshman, first in his family to go to college, was unable to get into a required course and now his academic standing and financial aid are in jeopardy, while this bigshot lab chief in a fancy building is still collecting his full salary to go to conferences while his army of grad students do all the actual experiments. And when's the last time that guy taught a class anyway? This poor student can't get into freshman bio 101, and this bigshot biologist is simply too elite to stoop so low as to teach a section in this crisis, but he still gets his fully salary.
    Is that narrative in any way accurate? Of course not. Will it make the UC look really bad? Damn right.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    @juniorprof, I guess when I said they were bogus I meant versus pay-cut, not versus layoffs. I agree that, in theory, preserving jobs is good even if everyone has to suffer a little. But, of course, I'd rather those that can afford it suffer more than those that cannot. How are low-salary employees, techs, etc being treated? How about junior professors versus those at NIH salary cap? Profs versus admins?
    anon@#4- good point about keeping the full salary on the books as a benefit of furlough. I didn't consider that enough. Totally agree that the salary cut is more likely to have lasting impact down the road. although in the video the UC guy says something about preserving benefits which makes it seem like they'd have to keep the peak salary on the books somehow...maybe that would position an automatic restoration in the future?

  • juniorprof says:

    How are low-salary employees, techs, etc being treated? How about junior professors versus those at NIH salary cap? Profs versus admins?
    I would say that this is a time for those in positions of power to lead in one manner or another. I was heartened to see that our administrative higher-ups decided to take longer furloughs than everyone else. This made everyone feel better about the situation. In terms of how are people being treated, its my perception that it is clear that everyone is going to have to shoulder some burden on this. Some are scared and those that are scared are disproportionately in the janitorial or maintenance ranks. We cannot operate without these people so we are pitching in to make sure that they know that we appreciate them. This takes different forms depending on your economic position, if you know what I mean.

  • Pain Man says:

    4% cut for salaries under $46K, 8% cut for salaries over $46K. regardless, a significant brain drain is about to occur.

  • ponderingfool says:

    4% cut for salaries under $46K, 8% cut for salaries over $46K. regardless, a significant brain drain is about to occur.
    *****************
    And where will these people go? There are not tons of places hiring, that will mitigate the brain drain.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    @Pain Main, well that's a start. but geez just thinking about mundane issues maybe that could have been a little more gradual and progressive? Still a big and meaningful difference between a senior postdoc who is making $50K and Full Prof up around the NIH cap of ~$190K...and the senior admins go up from there, no doubt. A gallon of milk or gas costs the same for all these folks.
    about the brain drain, I echo pondering fool. where is anyone going to go? industry? many states are hurting, from what I hear, so it isn't like academic jobs are going to be freely available and automatically better than staying put with the 8% hit.

  • Pinus says:

    I got furloughed for less than a percent. It was an across the board furlough for every single person at the university.
    I would not be surprised if the % furlough went up again next year...or if there was a freeze on raises of all sorts.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I got furloughed for less than a percent
    and did this actually alter your workaday behavior? 1% would be about 20 hrs out of the technical work-year, no?

  • whimple says:

    where is anyone going to go? industry? many states are hurting, from what I hear, so it isn't like academic jobs are going to be freely available and automatically better than staying put with the 8% hit.
    This is especially true if you've squandered your academic career cultivating irrelevancy by studying bunny hopping. Your inbred navel-gazing study section can't save you now, fool.
    0.5 🙂

  • pinus says:

    It altered nothing. The only thing is will actually do, is force me to fill out some sort of sheet that says I took my furlough time off before the end of the year.
    Even if it was 10%, it would have altered nothing. I still have things to do, it sucks that theoretically I won't be paid for it...but the clock is ticking...and I am sure the tenure committee won't give me any extra time because of furloughs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Even if it was 10%, it would have altered nothing. I still have things to do, it sucks that theoretically I won't be paid for it...but the clock is ticking...and I am sure the tenure committee won't give me any extra time because of furloughs.
    Exactly. Furlough is bogus, except in so far as it preserves one's peak salary on the books. Still, since that is not to be sneezed at, I'm now a bigger fan of furlough than of paycuts. Unless the latter come with ironclad* guarantees of automatic restoration to the previous peak salary.
    *HAHAAHAHHAAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • neurolover says:

    "I am sure the tenure committee won't give me any extra time because of furloughs."
    In a state university, I think you would be able to argue for a tenure extension because of a furlough situation. Of course, it would apply to everyone at your university, and the data on tenure extensions don't particularly suggest that they're effective. But, if you were in a situation where significant changes were going to occur over the course of a year, it might be something to advocate for.

  • The sheer stupidity of this proposal is made clear in detail in these letters:
    http://www.uclafaculty.org/FASite/UC_Budget_Crisis.html
    For those of you who are keen to promote the general looting of our property,
    take a look at the arguments - the cut will cost you money too, as it actually COSTS tax payer money.

  • Cashmoney says:

    Paul do you really think that elitist stuff is going to sell well? Those UCSD chairs were particularly precious... No good Unis in NY? Shutter UC Santa Cruz?!!!??? Totally tone deaf holmes...

  • River Tam says:

    We were furloughed for five days (faculty and staff) and it caused some...weird issues, though these may have been caused by administrative ineptitude rather than any inherent issue with furloughs. Grad students were not furloughed (i.e., no pay cut, which was good) but they were not allowed to work on grant funded research. They tried to close down all campus (except buildings the undergrads needed: library, food courts, etc) for a specific week (to be security guard enforced). The problem is they forgot that graduate students aren't techs, they're working on their own thesis research and also on class projects so all the graduate students filed for "exemptions". Hundreds of exemptions showed up on the Dean's desk to be signed. It was a clusterfuck.
    What I've wondered is: what does a funding agency do when told you will work less time on their grant than you originally agreed to but you're not giving them back that money?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    what does a funding agency do when told you will work less time on their grant than you originally agreed to but you're not giving them back that money?
    On the scale of the furloughs that are being bandied, the NIH does nothing. This is routine. The standard is 25% of the time/effort that was originally proposed. If you drop by less than 25%, this is not a big deal and the investigator/institution just does it by fiat. In theory any greater reduction requires some sort of permission from NIH program staff although I think even this is pretty formulaic. "I'm dropping my effort but I added 50% of a postdoc so the project is in good hands" kind of thing.

  • anon says:

    Paul (this is anon from #4 again), those letters were interesting- the fact that by cutting my NIH supported salary, the state is losing the income tax I would have paid on that salary is something that hadn't occurred to me. I hadn't really thought that idea could get more ridiculous, but apparently I was wrong!

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