Let's get a little down to earth here at PEA Soup: I may have to confront an actual ethical quandary in a few months, and I'd be interested in hearing people's thoughts about how I ought to respond.
Budget woes in the California State University system are severe. One possibility being considered for the fall is to reduce personnel costs by imposing 'furloughs' on all CSU employees, faculty included. This would mandate that faculty take 1-2 days off per month and take about a 5% cut in their gross pay. Now, as I gather most people understand, I don't actually teach, attend meetings or even come to my campus 5 days a week. The norm is that I come three or four days a week, and often spend the other weekdays, my evenings, and my weekends doing much of the work that constitutes my job (preparing class meeting, grading papers, doing my philosophical research and writing). There's definitely five days per week of work, just not five days per week at work.
The issue is: Should I respond to the furlough mandate by working less, the equivalent of 1-2 days per month? And if so, where should I reduce my efforts? Some possibilities:
I could do nothing and essentially absorb the furlough. After all,
given my work patterns, I can simply do what I've always done. It's not
as if the state will ask me to report which 1-2 days per month I'm not
working that I used to work! The problems with doing nothing are
twofold: First, assuming that my existing salary adequately reflects
the value of my work, then it seems unjust to me to do that work while
being paid less for it. The state is legally entitled to impose the
furlough, but it does not seem like an unjust response for me to work
less for less pay. Second, working just as much sends a misleading
message to students and to the general public: that diminishing
resources for public education won't affect faculty performance and
educational quality. Not to be too political here, but very often I
suspect the general public would in fact like something for nothing (or
more charitably, a lot for very little), and indeed, the present
budgetary crisis is at least in part the product of that irrational
attitude. The lack of funding has led to severe monetary constraints,
but I fear that doing nothing hides those constraints (and their effect
on educational quality) from the public. And as a teacher, I see myself
as educating my students not only in my discipline, but in a more
general way, to shape their choices and attitudes on the basis of a
realistic and clear-eyed worldview.
But supposing I work less — where should the reduction in effort come?
I could do less by way of research. But I find research rewarding and
it's clearly in my professional interests to be a productive scholar. I
could actually not come to campus once per month, perhaps on a day I'm
supposed to be teaching. But that hurts students. I could perhaps teach
less effectively — returning student papers more slowly, offering less
feedback, etc. But that hurts students too. And to my mind, students
are mostly innocent in this situation — I should mention they're also
being asked to pay much higher tuition this year — and so it's wrong to
ask them to bear the costs of the crisis. So I don't see a place to
reduce my efforts that isn't injurious to myself or to other innocent
So: is there a way to treat myself fairly, send the right message about
the budgetary realities to the students, and not harm or shortchange
innocent people? I'd be interested in hearing some creative responses
that I might have overlooked.