Chicago State’s Sudden Layoffs Include A Tenured Philosopher


Chicago State University has been facing a financial crisis. It relies on the state of Illinois for about 30% of its budget, but, owing to the previous financial and budgeting decisions the university’s administrators had made, along with the state’s “budget stalemate that left higher education without a dime for most of last year—and then provided only partial funding,” it has had to lay off hundreds of employees, reports The Chicago Tribune.

Among them are 10 faculty members who were laid off just last month and told they would not be returning in the fall. The Tribune says:

The university, however, provided no severance to [them], saying a provision in the faculty contract that would have required a year’s notice did not apply because the school has declared financial exigency…

While administrators received severance, the faculty members did not. According to their union contract, tenured faculty are allowed to work for at least one academic year after being given a layoff notice except in cases of “extreme and immediate financial exigency.”

Philosopher Ephraim Das Janssen was one of those laid off, receiving neither severance pay nor a terminal year. He had received tenure in the spring of 2015. In addition to his role as associate professor of philosophy, he had also been slated to become coordinator of the Liberal Studies major. I wrote him and asked about the layoffs. He says:

The manner in which the layoffs occurred is a bit remarkable: At the end of February, everyone at the university received notice of layoff due to financial exigency, with effective dates that varied according to position and length of service.  The nine of us who are laid off are the ones who received notice in July that we would not be recalled and we are laid off as of 15 August 2016. The remainder of the Unit A faculty has been recalled to serve as usual.

I understand that the university has now received funding equalling some 90% of its 2015-16 budget through the end of the calendar year but has not put an end to its self-imposed state of “financial exigency.”  This is no longer about the stunning refusal of a governor to sign a budget.  

In short, successful faculty members who have fulfilled our obligations to our employer are being terminated with less than we would have gotten if we had failed at our jobs (a terminal contract for a year in which to search for another position), while the administrators who were terminated have been provided with generous safety nets.

CSU is not a wealthy school, by any means, and it has been experiencing a decline in enrollment in the past few years.  And it is not a “top school,” or a prestigious institution.  What it is is a sorely needed second chance for non-traditional students from Chicago’s South Side, it is a bastion against poverty.  If only top schools are to be saved, then who gets to have an education?

Grievances are being filed. Those interested in contacting Chicago State’s president, Thomas Calhoun, can reach him at [email protected]

(Thanks to Dale Miller for bringing this news to my attention.)

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hopeless grad student
hopeless grad student
5 years ago

just when you think the job market can’t get any worse… sigh.Report

dmf
dmf
5 years ago

sounds like they need a better unionReport

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
Reply to  dmf
5 years ago

And who supports unions nowadays? Republicans??? Unions are being phased out by the politicos, because they actually empower workers. Sad. President Trump would end the issue — by eliminating unions altogether.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

While it isn’t the only defense we need to mount against this sort of thing, philosophers urgently need to make their value clear to the public if we don’t want to be easy targets for cutbacks.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

HNM–here in Wisconsin, that ship has long sailed. The political dialogue or what counts as presumption guiding the dialogue (as it used to be here for at least several generations–that public higher ed was a public good) is set at the state-level top. Well, since 2010 public higher ed in Cheesheadland has been at best tolerated, but currently under active attack. Our governor–Walker: Taxes Ranger–has just proposed yet another biennial freeze on tuition going on six years (it’s still under 10k at Madison) after implementing revisions to tenure that allows firing for much less than financial exigency. Clearly the intent is to shrink UW System by imposed attrition. That on top of budgets–extending to previous administrations though not as permanently harsh then–that have been completely untenable as supportive of UW. (I have tenured colleagues hired at 43k who now make about 45k–except their take-home pay has been reduced by about 12% by legislation for enforced contributions during that time.) Gerrymandering pretty well insures this will not change anytime soon. Our Trumpeting will never by itself out-Trump the interests that have placed anti-public higher ed in power, unless enough anti-Trump forces are mustered so that (e.g.) Hillary’s-cum-Sanders’ call for tuition-free college education for the masses (however funded) is realized. Sorry to be a downer, but that’s the facts Jack and Jill.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Alan White
5 years ago

The situation is indeed horrendous in general, and your account of the state of affairs in Wisconsin is worthy of tears. Having said that, we have a duty to do the best that we can. We aren’t going to work magic, but since the profession has barely made any effort to demonstrate its worth to the public, we can’t tell how successful we might be if we got off our backsides and make a serious effort to do so.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I completely agree–my backside has been to Madison in protest and work on the UW Tenure Task Farce more times than I can count. The lack of results has just jaded me a bit I guess.Report

Henri Perron
Henri Perron
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

I’ve mentioned this before, but I think there’s something futile about arguing with administrators/politicians concerning the usefulness of our profession considering that, essentially, the value of argumentation is precisely what we’re arguing for. This might explain why the arguments we give for Philosophy’s value are met with blank stares and brute reasoning (and, consequently, continued cuts).

While administrators and politicians evidently don’t care how ardently we make our case, they DO care about numbers, such as enrollment. I think we’re better off focusing on making philosophy attractive to students. To do this, we have to ask ourselves which elements and subfields of philosophy are most appealing to students these days.Report

Doc F Emeritus
Doc F Emeritus
Reply to  Alan White
5 years ago

I could not agree more. We are in the second age of unfettered capitalism, in the sense of denying workers any rights at all in the name of “Right to Work for less” laws.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
5 years ago

—“To do this, we have to ask ourselves which elements and subfields of philosophy are most appealing to students these days. ”

I would disagree. This approach is just pandering to the market and sugaring the pill. The strategy just makes the most of a bad situation. Better to change the situation by making philosophy effective. Over the course of many of many discussions I have gained the impression that few pro philosophers see any real problem with philosophy as it is, however, and so there there seems to be a serious disconnect between what people want from philosophy and what their teachers want to give them. It seems telling that Asian Philosophy is now the third most popular course at Harvard.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  PeterJ
5 years ago

If “pandering to the market” and “sugaring the pill” mean addressing issues that the students are particularly interested in, I don’t see what is wrong with it, provided that we continue to teach core subjects. What exactly is the problem? I’m also not sure how this issue relates to your claim that “there seems to be a serious disconnect between what people want from philosophy and what their teachers want to give them. What is the problem you see and how would you like to see it addressed?Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
5 years ago

Nothing wrong with it, Nonny, but is it enough? It seems not. As for the problem, it is a tricky topic. It would be a failure to reach any results. This undermines any attempt to sell the discipline or defend it against marauding scientists. .Report