Eve Weinbaum’s address to the Board of Trustees, 12/8/17
Good morning Chair Manning, President Meehan, and Trustees. My name is Eve Weinbaum and I represent about 1500 faculty and librarians at UMass Amherst. I’m proud to be here among such great leaders, my sisters and brothers from across the Commonwealth.
Next month is my twentieth anniversary of teaching at UMass Amherst. I have been thinking about it because when I interviewed for my job, I asked about the university’s economic situation and a senior colleague who recruited me to UMass told me that I was lucky, because the university had just been through a serious budget crisis, and a lot of cuts had been made, but that was all behind us and there were only good times ahead.
Well, those good times didn’t even last a year. Starting in 1998, the year I arrived at UMass, a succession of Republican governors and willing Democratic legislators instituted a series of tax cuts – they slashed income tax, interest and dividends tax, and they raised deductions – that ended up costing the state more than $3.5 billion every year, continuing to the present.
This amazing shrinking budget was used as an excuse for disinvesting in public higher education. Around the same time I arrived at UMass, the state began more than a decade of disinvestment in higher ed. Since 2001, state spending per student has fallen by 33 percent – a full third of our per-student funding has been cut.
So when I hear you talk about efficiency and effectiveness and tightening our belts, you should know that faculty and staff are already working harder and longer, to teach more students with fewer resources every year. This is not sustainable and it’s not a business model that any of you would wish on your own organizations.
Because it’s demoralizing. In order to be a great university, we have to recruit and retain the very best staff and faculty. The private universities know this and it’s one of the reasons for the widening gap between private and public universities in Massachusetts during the past twenty years. When you have a faculty and staff who feel disrespected and undervalued, you cannot have a healthy university or a productive, creative, innovative environment for teaching students.
The good news is that for the past year or two, our Commonwealth has not been in a crisis. The Massachusetts economy is extremely strong. The state is at nearly full employment, the stock market is at record highs. All economic indicators are positive.
What do you think are fair salary increases in this economic environment? A couple of months ago, when the local Fox news station was reporting on raises for staff in the UMass President’s Office, President Meehan correctly explained that their average 2.5 percent annual increase per year was not a lot – as President Meehan pointed out at the time, 2.5 percent per year “is lower than the state average.”
So why are we being presented with a raise of less than one percent in the first year of the contract, and less than two percent in subsequent years? We have a lot of outstanding economists at UMass, and none of them believe that those numbers will keep up with inflation or the cost of living over the next three years.
Your own budget that this board approved in July predicted costs to rise by three percent this year – for everything except the workers.
You have a lot of power here. Investing in higher education is a choice, and we are asking you to work with us, to get more for UMass. It is about fair salaries, but it’s also about everything you have just heard from my colleagues. It’s about equity and respect and good jobs and ensuring that we all have the resources we need to deliver the truly excellent education our students deserve.