“Tough choices” and “difficult decisions” are phrases often deployed by the administration when discussing the budget cuts. What is not clear is who the administration thinks those choices are tough for. Tough for them? Tough for the students? Throughout the budget crisis, time and time again, students and administration have been isolated from the material consequences of these decisions.
On Oct. 14, the Springfield News Sun reported that Wittenberg is cutting $6.5 million from its budget. Of that 6.5 million, 1.7 million will come from eliminating health benefits for retirees and reducing health benefits for current employees. Furthermore, there has been discussion about seeking further savings by limiting the number of schools with whom Wittenberg shares reciprocity with for faculty’s children. While it would be naive to suggest that the decisions were made lightly and that other alternative avenues of savings were not explored before these cuts were made, students should nonetheless be disturbed by these cuts.
This series of cuts takes advantage of professors’ weak positions in the labor market and their loyalty to Wittenberg. Throughout the budget crisis, the faculty has proven itself very loyal to the institution. While facing three years of pay freezes (effectively a pay decrease), the faculty has continued to work with the administration to develop a competitive curriculum and, more importantly, engage with students in a meaningful way. While all labor markets are skewed, the current labor market in academia is skewed towards university. As universities face demographic challenges, they are carrying smaller and smaller faculties, meaning that there is less of a market for professors.
When students think about these cuts, students should also remember the sacrifices professors make. While many assume professors are wealthy, this is typically not the case, especially when compared to other careers which require post graduate degrees. Wittenberg’s professors, by and large, are highly qualified, intelligent people who have gone into teaching because of genuine passion for engaging students – not to get rich.
Limiting faculty benefits directly impacts the professors’ economic security. While the administration argues that these cuts are necessary to maintain the school’s existence and continue to fulfill the university’s mission, they are increasingly placing the school’s faculty in a difficult position. The faculty are now forced to work hard to maintain the institution’s competitiveness while they are becoming more economically insecure.
While every member of the Wittenberg community takes it upon themselves to practice the school’s mission, it is the faculty who, on a daily basis, are teaching us students how to think.
Ultimately, the success or failure of any liberal arts institution cannot be measured on a spreadsheet, but rather, on its ability to challenge students to be thoughtful citizens and to create a community of justice – the administration should always be cognizant that maintaining an economically-secure faculty is central to both these aims.