The thing about being in transition between jobs is that there's a long summer when you are part of both institutions. This means JM and I get the news announcements via email from both Illinois and Penn State. Administrators at the former--the one we are leaving--have kicked up their furlough talk from chatter last year to a formal policy (they have not yet implemented that policy, just established it in the event of a budget shortfall, which there will likely be).
I have several colleagues at other schools who were already furloughed last year. The idea of a furlough is that people are issued days without pay. At a regular office job, it would work like this: you don't show up for work, and you also do not get paid for not showing up. But in a university job, it's a little different. First off, most places tell faculty to choose their non-work day for a day they don't teach. The Illinois language, I think, is something like 'assigned by your direct supervisor.' But the language for the new Illinois policy is very clear on how much university-related labor ought to be performed during a furlough day, which is, to quote the ladies from the Bronx Beat, Zero point Zero Zero: "During an assigned furlough day, employees are required not to report to work or perform duties for the University."
And yet. Where does one draw the line between performing duties for the university and getting things done? So much of the work I do these days is for national outlets, or it is research related. Both of these things bear on my standing at my university, to be sure, but the idea of not working at all is a little silly, especially since the most obvious duty for the University--teaching--is likely to happen on a nonfurlough day. I could imagine telling students "your papers will be a week later because of the furloughs." That would probably work. But are people really going to take a day away from their research, research that could possible help them get jobs at places where furloughs aren't--or aren't yet--an issue? That's doubtful. What if someone has a dissertation defense scheduled on a furlough day? What about those who are already on sabbatical? I'll be interested to see how my friends handle the furloughed days if those days come about, which I hope they don't. If it were me I would probably be tempted to simply to say "no" to enough U-related duties to add up to the amount of time my pay was getting deducted. That's not how it's supposed to work, I know, but it would be a better marker of time for dollars.
I guess this is really just another post about the leakiness of time and the untrackability of academic labor. In the end these furloughs are really pay cuts--and temporary, in that they won't carry over from year to year--but somehow it sounds better to throw in days for the pay.