This past week, I have been bombarded by constant signage, Facebook wallposts, and verbal calls to sign the “Stand with Staff” petition. As much as I love to have people accost me outside of Frary or to have activists come and post “Stand with Staff” signs inside my bathroom and hallway, the campaign fails to address the basic economic concerns behind its proposals. Beyond even the painful prevalence of the campaign, however, I feel that the general concept of the petition entirely misses the point on viability, reasonableness, and understanding of basic economics.
As everyone knows, the entire world is suffering through the toughest economic recession since the Great Depression. Pomona has certainly not been immune to the harsh economic climate and has seen its endowment drop by hundreds of millions of dollars. As all businesses, households, and non-profits are doing, Pomona is taking steps to assess its budget and is aiming to cut spending across the board to help compensate for decreased revenue from the endowment and the increased need to assist students with financial aid.
Given these economic circumstances, the sheer gall of the “Stand with Staff” campaign to insist on a clause demanding “No layoffs of any employees,” strikes me as absolutely absurd. Last time I checked, money does not grow on trees. If, in the methodical analysis of the Pomona budget, it is found that money could be saved by laying off workers and improving the efficiency of the staff without significantly detracting from the educational quality of the institution, why should Pomona not do so to help maintain a tighter budget?
No one relishes the thought of firing workers, particularly employees who have done their jobs well. But Pomona, like most of the country, faces an economic outlook that necessitates budget cuts. These cuts must come from somewhere.
Even beyond the ban on layoffs, the petition goes on to suggest that there should be no reductions in the incomes or hours of wage-workers, no cuts in funding to personnel or resource centers, a removal of the hiring freeze, and the hiring of all current on-call workers. Not only do these proposals not cut the budget, they would aim to increase expenditures on the current workforce by hiring the on-call workers and by potentially hiring more workers overall.
The economic cluelessness of this argument seems paramount. The only proposal that the petition makes to attempt to recoup these additional expenditures, even putting aside for now the general need to make cuts in the budget instead of add more costs, is to have Pomona’s top earners take pay cuts. How much money do they realistically think would be saved by slashing top administrator pay given the need for budget cuts across the board? Have they stopped to think about why these top earners do in fact earn high salaries? Highly skilled and highly valuable staff and faculty members are clearly not expendable and as such necessitate a sufficient pay grade to keep them at Pomona. Not only would slashing their pay risk losing top-quality tenured professors and administrators to other universities offering higher salaries, it loses sight of the goal of Pomona as an academic institution in favor of providing handouts to non-essential employees who do not provide or truly enhance the academics at the core of the mission of Pomona.
Pomona’s primary duty remains in providing the highest quality education to its students. Cutting staff members to facilitate the absolutely necessary budget cuts, while hardly a desirable option, represents a much better choice for reducing the budget without jeopardizing the educational quality of the institution. Additionally, with tuition already rising to higher levels than ever before, how can Pomona justify raising the tuition even higher to provide funding for potentially expendable workers? The cost of maintaining non-essential staff should absolutely not fall on the future classes of Pomona students who already face skyrocketing tuition bills.
Morally, the petition stands strong, and I respect that, but economic realities will not simply disappear. Pomona is not a charity, and must be run as efficiently as possible so as to not force future students to shoulder too much of the financial burden for excess spending in the present. If, in the budget analysis, staff cuts are found to be a viable way to relieve the economic crunch that faces Pomona without detracting from the academic experience, then the administration has an obligation to follow through and do what needs to be done to ensure Pomona’s well-being. If the economic well-being involves cuts to unnecessarily large resource centers, shrinking the staff or its hours, and increasing the workforce efficiency, then so be it. No one will celebrate the tough choices of budget cuts, but the entire world faces a similar set of difficult and painful choices right now. In these times of economic hardship, Pomona cannot afford to coddle the activist community by continuing to fund inefficiencies in the system out of a misguided sense of charity and morality. Academic excellence must remain the central focus of Pomona.