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A furlough by any other name ...

POSTED September 23, 2009 12:04 a.m.
Since when does the word “furlough” mean “mandatory un-paid day off?”
According to my Illustrated Oxford Dictionary, the word “furlough” means “a leave of absence, especially granted to a member of the services or to a missionary.” I always thought a furlough was something that you granted to someone, not something you forced on an employee.  
I first heard the word “furlough” used in that context about a year ago. If I remember correctly, Department of Motor Vehicle and other state employees were facing mandatory monthly furloughs. I thought it was an odd use of the word, but I didn’t dwell on it too much.
Little did I know that the word “furlough” would become part of my daily vocabulary when fall semester started at CSU Stanislaus.
I spent the first two days of classes listening to different versions of the same speech. Basically, my professors told their classes that in order to help save jobs and avoid cutting classes they had agreed to take eight furlough days this semester. They are not holding classes on those days, and they all signed an agreement that they will not do any sort of university work on furlough days.
From a student’s perspective that should sound great, right? A few days off from class should mean less work and more time spent relaxing. Then why am I unhappy about these furlough days?
I’m unhappy because I paid more tuition this year for fewer instructional days. I’m also unhappy because 100 classes were cut just a few weeks before school started. Why furlough staff to avoid class cuts and then cut the classes anyway?
The bright side of furloughs- if you can really call it bright- is that CSU Stanislaus administration agreed to let faculty choose which days they would furlough. So each instructor can choose which days they cut in order to lessen the impact on their lesson plan. Some professors took furlough days on non-instruction days. It’s my understanding that faculty who teach five days a week had no choice but to furlough on instruction days, and they split them as evenly as possible. In any case, none of my classes are canceled for more than four days.
The problem with that, however, is that two of my classes are held for an hour and a half each on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Four furlough days for those classes equals two weeks of missed instruction time.
Every day I have to check my calendar to make sure I don’t show up at a furloughed class. Furlough days aren’t even the vacation that students first though they would be. Most professors are assigning homework or online exams to be completed during the furlough day. Unfortunately, professors can’t even check their university e-mail accounts during a furlough day. So if I have a question about the assignment, or I can’t access my online exam, I’m on my own.
Who can I be mad at in this situation? My first instinct was to blame faculty for agreeing to this furlough nonsense. Why would they do something that hurts students? When I thought about it, however, I realized that I would have done the same thing if I was in their position. By taking these cuts they were saving their own jobs, and the jobs of their fellow instructors. They were also trying to minimize the impact of budget cuts on the students by avoiding class cancellations or further fee increases.
That seemed to leave the blame squarely on the shoulders of CSU Stanislaus administration. But furloughs are not unique to CSU Stanislaus. The whole CSU system is affected, some schools worse than others. I am still upset that administration made the decision to cut classes without enough notice for students to build a new schedule (CSU Stanislaus students pick classes months in advance, and most classes fill up quickly,) but I  also understand that the money just isn’t there. The CSU system funding was cut by 20 percent, causing a $584 million deficit.
So who should I be mad at? The entire CSU system? Or state lawmakers, the Governor, and the voting public who chose not to fund the CSU system more thoroughly? Honestly I have no idea. But I do know that furlough days are hurting students and ruining our trust in the faculty and administration. I think furloughs are a failed experiment, and I only hope that they won’t be continued into the next semester.
To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail agoodwin@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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