Last Friday's public forum with the University of Montana's Four Day Work Week Task Force proved all questions and no answers for nearly 100 faculty, staff and students anxious to learn how a condensed workweek might impact their personal and professional lives.
For more than an hour, task force co-chairs Chris Comer and Rosi Keller surrendered the floor to query after query—concerns over the impact on employees with small children, questions about the effects on local businesses that employ students with already demanding schedules. The task force's inability to offer anything but nods only added to the sentiment that the cons of a shortened workweek far outweigh the pros.
Skepticism hasn't stopped UM President George Dennison from making the study a high priority. Dennison first announced the proposal for a four-day workweek in January, and has asked the task force to complete a final report by May outlining how the move can decrease energy costs and reduce UM's carbon footprint.
"My guess is we're responding to this in part because the state has some fiscal issues and they would like all agencies connected to the state to be gathering savings as quickly as possible," Comer says.
But the task force announced during the forum that, despite the $450,000 estimate offered earlier this year, it still has no idea what the annual savings—if any—would be. Comer says the preliminary estimate is an "outside boundary" at best, and further study over the next few weeks should reveal how UM stands to benefit.
Dennison's proposal didn't sit well with campus employees even before Friday's forum. Doug Collins with the University Faculty Association says there's virtually no support for the change among faculty, referring to the four-day workweek as a "dubious proposition." Kathy Crego, assistant director of the Montana Public Employees Association, adds the lack of information is taking a toll on union members. She's been inundated with questions, none of which she—or those in charge of the study—can answer.
"Everything seems to be kind of a wait-and-see," Crego says, "which is creating a lot of stress among employees about the uncertainty of what's going to happen."