Response to Schill’s Budget Letters

You’ve probably read the recent emails from President Schill. The University of Oregon claims it is facing serious impending budget challenges. Schill states that the University will need to reduce annual operating costs by between $10 and $11 million. Schill specifically adds that, “Given that almost 80 percent of the UO’s general-education budget comprises salaries, the reality is that any cost-reduction efforts will affect jobs and people.” A follow-up email on March 19 warned of looming job cuts, based on a set of values the University claims it is using to guide its decision-making, while quietly mentioning that they will continue to raise tuition as part of a growth strategy.

However, this framing of budgetary stress obscures important information. For example, the University of Oregon received $70 million last year from the State of Oregon for capital projects (i.e. buildings). While there are certainly construction projects and renovations needed around campus, the University chose to use its political influence to push for funds for buildings, neglecting to secure funds for general operations. We fail to see how this choice should fall on the shoulders of students and the people who work hard to keep the University running.

The lumping of ‘salaries’ under one large category is misleading. Graduate Employees are only 10.6% of total instruction costs, and our request of a raise to the cost of living in Eugene (based on the University’s own data) would only add 0.7% to total salary expenses. Administrative salaries and costs, particularly that of upper-administration, have increased at a much higher rate than those of faculty and staff. To cite just one egregious example, President Schill’s monthly car allowance is $1200.00—nearly a month’s salary for many GEs. Calls for belt-tightening and austerity in President Schill’s letters ring disingenuous given how the administration prioritizes its spending. Despite this, it’s clear who the administration thinks should bear the burden of its budget issues.

President Schill also claims that in order to maintain “excellence” into the future, expensive building projects and high administrative salaries are necessary long-term investments. This is an effort to pull the wool over our eyes. What does academic “excellence” really mean if university administration is so eager to make job cuts and negotiate regressive contracts with the employees who have the most direct impact on student success? It won’t matter how many new buildings are constructed if the classified employees that work in and maintain them are cut and the faculty, or if GEs who teach in them are asked to absorb the consequences of the administration’s budget mismanagement through lower pay and benefits. If President Schill is serious about academic “excellence” and student success, he would treat the employees responsible for instruction and support with dignity and respect, and not as excess spending to cut in order to shore up poor budget planning.

In sum, the budget crisis President Schill describes is one of the administration’s own making. While we can all agree that our state government ought to fully support public education in Oregon, we ask that UO’s administration cease its opulent spending on athletics promotion, capital projects, and exorbitant administrative salaries before balancing the budget through worker’s wages. We reject the entire premise of the austerity narrative constructed by President Schill. Our bargaining team continues to fight for a living wage and dignity for all GEs, and the GTFF stands ready to oppose cuts to instructional staff. We have a hard fight ahead of us, as the administration shows no signs of backing down from its insistence on shifting the burden of its financial mismanagement onto its employees.

In Solidarity,
GTFF Executive Board

Michael A. Magee, President
Shawn Rodine, Treasurer
Hyunsoo Lee, VP for Equity and Inclusion
Rajeev Ravisankar, VP for External Relations
Ricardo Friaz, VP for Grievances
Kayleigh Peterman, VP for Member Communications
Emily Sutton, VP for Membership
Ellen Gillooly-Kress, VP for Operations
Nikki Cox, VP for Organizing
Trevor Brunnenmeyer, VP for Political Education