US of CC Responds to Dr. Carter’s Letter of October 18, 2011

Below is the response by the Executive Committee of the United Staff of Columbia College to Dr. Carter’s recent letter to all Columbia staff concerning the decision to implement a salary freeze.  
Your comments and opinions are most appreciated.  USofCC can be reached via email at usofcc@yahoo.com.

As members of the Columbia College community and as leaders of the staff association, we would like to respond to President Carter’s letter of October 18, 2011. In his letter Dr. Carter states that given the sharper than expected drop in enrollment, the College has had to make difficult choices and consequently “will not offer any across-the-board salary increases to the non-unionized and unionized staff this year.”

The difficult choices cited have not at all been made clear to the staff or, we believe, to the campus community. While the College administration has promised that the prioritization campaign would be marked by transparency and openness, we have yet to be given sufficient information to understand the “difficult choices” that the College says it is making.

We have repeatedly been told during contract negotiations that there are “tough choices to be made, and the school must prioritize its resources.” We have responded that Columbia’s employees are its most valuable resources, and Columbia has the choice to do the right thing for its employees.

Many questions asked continue to go unanswered, including:
• What other alternatives has Columbia College explored which could alleviate the need for sharp budget cuts and an employee wage freeze?
• What major expenditures are being considered by the College over the next several years?
• For what reason—and at what cost—has the College brought in outside consultants to run a sophisticated prioritization campaign at a school that is not in a financial crisis?”
• Why won’t Columbia release the draft 2012 budget?
• Will Columbia receive large payments from the State of Illinois for overdue payments for student MAP funds?

Dr. Carter asks in his letter that we adjust to the “new reality.”  Yet this new reality is largely unknown to us. In fact, what’s been presented shows a far different reality. According to both Dr. Carter and the revised July 6, 2011 report by Columbia’s outside consultants (Robert Dickeson and Johann Lindig) Columbia “is far from experiencing a financial crisis.”

Cost estimates provided by USofCC to the College administration’s bargaining committee back up this contention. USofCC cited the fact that 2011-12 tuition increases along with prior College budget cuts have more than compensated for the decline of student enrollment this past year. (Enrollment, as most of us know, has actually increased when viewed over a period of six or seven years.)

Given that there is not a financial crisis, we are further troubled by the fact that the College has already embarked on a campaign over the past 12 months to implement sharp budget cuts. Many departments and centers have experienced layoffs, job eliminations, and positions that remain unfilled. Pressures continue to mount on many departments to scale back their already leaner budgets.

These cuts have been made without providing the financial justification for such a response. Recent decisions to reduce staff and begin eliminating programs have been made before even the prioritization committees have given their recommendations.

This has created an environment that makes it ever more difficult for us to provide our students with the all-around superior educational experience that they deserve.

As Dr. Carter notes in his letter, we are dedicated and hard-working employees. We cherish our jobs and typically perform above and beyond the call of duty. Our efforts have helped to make Columbia College one of the top institutions of its kind in the nation.

We are not immune, however, from the pressures of trying to make ends meet.  Staff and faculty are not seeking cost-of-living increases because we are trying to get ahead.  We are merely trying to avoid falling further behind!   Since 2009, the salaries of Columbia employees have fallen 5.1% in relation to the increase in the cost of living (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In the last 12 months alone (June 2010 – June 2011), the cost of living has jumped by 3.77%. Many of us continue to live paycheck to paycheck.

Many institutions have decided this year, even with the economic difficulties, to provide their staff with moderate salary increases. This is being done to compensate for the low or non-existent raises of recent years. There comes a time when an institution—especially one such as ours with highly dedicated employees–must decide that the staff and the faculty are truly a priority, and need to be valued and rewarded for their efforts.

We hope that the Columbia College administration takes this to heart.

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