The topic of mandatory unpaid days off, also known as Fun Furloughs, has occupied the minds of many faculty and staff members at U of All People. This year, the number of such days off has been set at half a semester for faculty and a full semester for staff. To enforce the terms of the contract -- take the time off or get fired -- the university has created a new administrative department called University Enforcement. The current enforcer was hired from the Acme Debt Collection Agency, and his first act of office was issuing this communiqué to the university listserv:
From: The University Enforcer
Date: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 10:54 PM
To: All Faculty and Staff
As most of you already know, except the loafers who’ve been vacationing in the Cayman Islands, we have a full-fledged recession on our hands at U of All People. The state is running a deficit of $5 billion, and the governor is trying to trim costs wherever he can. Obviously, he looked first at the educational sector, where bloated salaries and irresponsible perks have caused most of the financial crisis. In short, it’s time for accountability.
What is a furlough, exactly? According to the dictionary, it can mean: to dismiss, usually for economic reasons; to grant a leave to; or a temporary leave of absence from military duty. We’re talking about the first meaning, or maybe the second, though I’m used to dealing with the third. Compared to a short stretch in prison for nonpayment of debts, or the breaking of a leg for similar reasons, it’s comparatively painless. Think of it as a welcome break from monotony. And consider yourself lucky you still have your jobs, though in fact we had no intention of making layoffs, simply counted on your bowing to the threat, and turned out to be right.
Now, in case you’re getting ideas of taking a trip to Spain on your unpaid vacation, please note the following:
- You may not take off any days when you would ordinarily would be teaching, which does not mean you can take off days when you might be teaching extraordinarily.
- You may not take consecutive days off, a stretch that might indicate you do have a function, after all.
- You may not enjoy your time off. This order comes directly from the provost, who hasn’t enjoyed herself in years.
- You may not take the extra time to demonstrate in front of the governor’s office against education cuts.
- You may ask: What’s left for me to take off from? Good question. While on furlough, you may refrain from attending committees, except those we deem urgent; meeting with students, except where they appear needy; using the library -- and who does nowadays, anyway? -- and answering e-mail unless you receive one of those messages stamped with a “!” for high priority, like this one. Whether you eat lunch in the overpriced faculty dining hall on a furlough day is up to you, though we are, of course, not responsible for any damage to your person on that day, gastric or otherwise. After much bargaining back and forth, however, the administration has agreed to let members of the local AFT wear placards that read “Please don’t talk to me today. I’m on furlough.”
- This is not an attempt to deprive you of salary, though the furloughs will, in fact, result in at least a 50 percent reduction per semester. If the furloughs appear not to have a significant impact on your teaching, you may expect an increase in the number of furlough days next year.
What should you tell your students? Nothing, preferably. It will only confuse them. But if the news does somehow leak out, here are some lines of defense we urge you to take:
1. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
2. “I’ve been missing a lot of sleep lately, and it’s finally catching up with me.”
3. “Teach isn’t going to die for a while, he’s just going to be ... away.”
How to feel about these furloughs:
1. It’s not me; it’s the system.
2. Everybody needs a furlough now and then.
3. You deserve a break today.
Unfortunately, the administration is unable to avail itself of the furlough system this year because of the indispensable nature of its operations, wherein even one missed hour would result in the gears of the university breaking off tooth by tooth. You who are cogs, we salute you.
David Galef is happily employed as an English professor at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People.