Friday, April 3, 2009

ORE Kick-Off

Operation Reduce Expenses begins today. 

I teach late on Thursday nights, usually, but it's "E-Days" here on campus, which is a three-day festival-type thing that happens every year at Mines, and is when our normally staid, quiet, nose-to-the-grindstone student body goes a little crazy.  As in, I smelled alcohol on more than one student last night in class.  And the amazing fireworks show was scheduled to begin right at the end of class.  So I ended the three-hour seminar early and went back to my office to watch the show from my office window and finish grading papers.

Just then a message from the President of the college pops in my inbox.  We've got an $11 million shortfall to reckon with, it says.  I'm sure you're all wanting more information, it says.  Not that they're giving us any.

I sighed and put my head in my hands and tried to remind myself that nothing has changed.  I'm sitting here, still breathing, still with my healthy family and my house and with enough money to buy food and everything else I need for a pretty good long time.  Nothing has changed.

Still, for the first time since this roller-coaster ride began, some fear got the best of me last night and I had to have a good cry over everything.  I came home, mixed up a good, strong rum and juice, and sat in the dark, thinking about which expenses we can cut now to begin saving money for what seems to be coming.  Nothing big.  A lot of redundancies--the organic vegetable delivery, the newspaper, the cable.  All these trappings of middle-class life that I've felt conflicted over anyway.  We're not having to pull the girls out of school yet (that one will hurt) and neither of us has officially pushed the emergency button.  But we're setting off down the path anyway, little steps at a time.

I know it's going to be okay.  I know it is okay.  I'm doing okay with the fear, generally.  Writing this makes me feel better, even if it is whiny and self-indulgent, and faith in the path helps, too. 

Are you all feeling scared?  How are you dealing with it?


  1. The other day in a department meeting, our chair suddenly goes, "Yeah, the Provost commented that if they get even 20 fewer students enrolled than expected they're going to have to look at more layoffs, and they've already cut all the staff they can. So maybe just think about that for a second." Nevermind that we are like 30% UP in applicants this year. We don't know whether all those will enroll, but there's a clear choice between seeing possibilities and seeing dark things.

    She's a fear-monger, and what exactly is her point in dropping that line? Are YOU doing your job well? she implies. Might YOU be expendable? I thought it was a shady move--all that gloomy ambiguity to keep us on our toes. Like we aren't working our asses off already.

    My perspective on this whole thing is, I already live a very frugal existence. My budget is necessarily very tight. I don't feel this like other people might, and I'm grateful for that, but I see no reason to panic. Yeah, my 403B dropped a lot of its value, but it was nowhere near helping me retire anyway, and I trust it will gain again. I'm interested now in investing in green companies, which I have no doubt will soar in the next decade. Universities will not start laying off tenure-trackers without a big fight, but they will cut travel money, and "fringe." I think there was a lot of waste in this and other industries, and don't think it's such a bad thing to learn to live within our means again. That's what I've been trying to do anyway.

    More veggies in my garden! More trips to the thrift store! More paying off debt! More not taking things for granted!

    Don't believe the hype, I say. It's an opportunity. -Nanny

  2. I think Nancy is right on in many ways. I was out with some artist friends of mine last night, and we got to talking about money. Painter (V) says "I have no idea how I'm going to pay my rent tomorrow but what I have is the now, the here. This is what is important. Right NOW." I mean, imagine what it would be like to be a working artist in this economy! I loved her attitude. She's got a child, too, grown, but with some health issues. Still, she maintains a bright outlook and refuses to let future unknowns dictate her life. Later, Sandy turns to me and says "we could work on your salary for a little while, right? If Mines closes?" to which I replied "Mines isn't going to close." I believe this, but I didn't want to dismiss her outright--we talked about it a bit. Her fears are valid. But for me...well, having once eeked out 15K a year (for three years) with no health insurance and lived, I'm confident that I can make my way if I need to, i.e. if money is ubertight. DU staff were put through the ringer for four months by our administration; faculty didn't suffer at all. They may have to now, depending on enrollment, which doesn't make anyone happy, but there it is. The tenure system is broken anyway. Frankly, most Americans are so backwards in their sense of entitlement and wanting it all that I think this wake up call didn't come soon enough (obviously)...but I also think it is critical that we try to maintain a sense of optimism in the face of the "doom," and put energy into the world that is not rooted in Chicken Little thinking. Tomorrow will take care of itself...but not if today isn't tended to first.

  3. I agree with Meghan on a) the fact that staff suffered unfairly, though I also know a lot of folks (like Katie) who used the severance opportunity to springboard to better opportunities; b) the fact that tenure is a fucked up, broken system and should be shot in the head (though I doubt this'll make us do it); and c) right now is where it's at.

  4. I've been laid off since December. It's scary. But, I've gotten to know both of my kids' teachers and volunteer weekly in their classrooms. I've gotten to know their friends and eat lunch with them in the cafeteria. I've gone to school board meetings and helped with the fight to keep neighborhood schools in the face of a massive budget shortfall. I've started cooking better food and reading great old books to them like "Little House on the Prairie" and "Superfudge". I don't know when I'll find another gig, but I do know we'll be OK (except for the times when I forget and think about things like foreclosure and Repo Man).

  5. Crazy I can relate completely. Keep it going on!