Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living In My Own Cartoon

We took the girls to see Meet the Robinsons when it came out a while back.

If you haven’t seen it, you didn’t miss a whole lot. It was one of those pleasant but largely unmemorable films that come down the pike now and again – a few good lines, a fairly simple moral, some entertaining visuals, but nothing to make you want to run out and buy the DVD when it comes out. The main problem with it was that it needed to be about 20 minutes longer in order to explain all the things that needed to be explained without you feeling like someone turned on the infodump system and buried you alive.

It did have one good running gag, though. The villain in the film (as much as the film had a villain, anyway) spends most of his time coming up with impossibly complex plans to visit mayhem upon the good guys, plans which don’t so much fail as collapse of their own weight into a pile of slapstick. And invariably when that happens, whatever henchman the villain has hired for that attempt turns to him and says, “I don’t think this plan was very well thought out.”

Sometime this week I have to figure out how to report taking exactly two hours and three minutes of vacation time last summer – vacation time that I am both mandated and forbidden by law to take.

I am an employee of the State of Wisconsin, at least for most of the various part-time things I do. And Wisconsin, like so many other states here in the Great Recession, is hurting for cash. So they have decided to furlough state employees – to force us to take unpaid vacation time in order to save money that would otherwise be spent giving consumers the ability to go out and make the purchases which would drive the economy forward out of the recession and solve the larger problem.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Now, I can understand this policy, really I can. You can't pay people with money you don't have, and the state needs to figure out how to balance its budget since unlike the federal government they aren't allowed to print money or run deficits. I don’t like this policy particularly, since it is costing me money, but times are hard and everyone has to chip in and do their share and chin up, pip pip, don’t you know there’s a war on and all that, so I'm game for it anyway, like it or no.

But I don’t think this plan was very well thought out.

I have two different kinds of jobs here at Home Campus. For one kind, I am considered a “lump sum” employee, which is different from being a “lump” or “couch potato” employee, though I have been called those things too. Lump sum employees do not have to worry about furloughs, since our paychecks are cut in a lump sum and therefore when we work and don’t work is rather up to us. I believe I have had those checks reduced under the current plan, but I don't have to account for my time so I'm not going to worry about it. My main position here, though, is as Instructional Academic Staff – “IAS” in the jargon of the institution – which does fall under the provisions of the furlough requirement. So I therefore must, by law, take furlough time for that position.

The thing is, though, that they don’t want us canceling classes in order to take our furlough time. So I am not allowed to take my unpaid vacation time when I should be in a classroom educating people – and I agree with that, since classroom time is something I enjoy very much and don’t want to sacrifice. I get annoyed when I have to miss class because of blizzards, let alone edicts. So I am required by law to take furlough time only when I would have been paid to do something besides teach.

But here’s the thing: I’m IAS. This is the bottom rung of professorhood – the ad-hoc, one-class-at-a-time, one-semester-at-a-time temporary level of the university educational system as it is currently constructed in this country. I’m not allowed on any committees – that’s for the tenured and tenure-track faculty (and paid staff, including lump-sum employees, which is how I ended up on one anyway). I don’t have any service requirements, for the same reason. They can pay IAS less because they ask less of us – the only thing we are paid to do as IAS is teach.

So somehow I need to take furlough time that would otherwise be spent doing something besides teaching that I would get paid for, except that the only thing I get paid to do is teach.

It is a quandary.

On top of that, everything has to be prorated. I taught one class this summer (well, two, but the other one seems not to count for some reason that I am not clever enough to divine). We are required to take off so many furlough days, based on a full-time schedule, and if we don't teach a full-time schedule we have to divide the required time by the percentage of our workload. Further, because my class was interdisciplinary I have to then divide the result by the percentage of the class I actually was paid for in the first place.

Thus the two hours and three minutes of vacation time that I must take but am not allowed to take.

Robinsons, Wisconsin. Wisconsin, Robinsons.

In one sense, this whole thing is moot since they already took the money out of my paycheck this summer and the only thing that happens if I don’t fill out the form is that I lose the unpaid vacation time I had no opportunity to take. I'm okay with that. It's easier, in the long run.

With all the figuring that has to be done to determine how much time one has to not be around and the rules that cover exactly what it means to not be around, and all the explaining that has to be done to figure out how to determine that amount of time and what can and cannot be done under what circumstances, and all the covering of workloads that has to be done to make sure that everything doesn't grind to a halt while all this is or is not happening, I'm just not convinced that the state is saving any money off this deal. Maybe it's just me, but the accounting just seems a bit odd from my perspective.

Sometimes I think we'd all be better off if our political leaders watched more cartoons and less C-SPAN.

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