Letter to the Editor

Opinions, Mental Health
Share your opinions by emailing opinions@thedepauw.com

To the DePauw Community,

This week before Labor Day, I am writing about the one percent salary increase employees were given this year. Our health insurance costs also increased dramatically, in the neighborhood of 20-30 percent for most employees. In particular, I’m writing on behalf of my friends and colleagues who genuinely fear retribution if they speak out or even question policies or practices.

Many employees, most notably staff members who work as academic administrative assistants, in our libraries, in the physical plant, in student services, in our labs and living units, individuals who paint our buildings, empty our trash and mow our lawns, employees all across the university community learned that their net paychecks were less beginning in mid-July than what they had been receiving just the month before. For some employees, the difference is $60 a month or more, the cost of a standard water/trash bill or the cost of internet service at their homes. This is not how a university that prides itself on being a top-tier school should treat its employees.

On Aug. 15, 2018, the DePauw website led with a story about Money Magazine ranking DePauw as #30 of America’s Best Small Colleges, #99 overall. For students perhaps, but in what ways does this translate to how DePauw’s employees are treated financially? Is this how #30 rewards people who have committed to working for this institution for 20, 25, 30 years or more?

Despite DePauw’s endowment being over $669 million (amount last reported in June 2017), the administration consistently tells us how strapped we are for cash. Despite successfully meeting and exceeding the most recent DePauw fund-raising campaign, our academic budgets were cut by at least ten percent across the board for the current academic year. In my department the cuts were not only to our general operating expenses, but also to programs that serve and develop students such as DePauw Debate, DePauw Theatre productions, WGRE Radio and D3TV.

The DePauw community has been told repeatedly that money cannot be raised for faculty/staff salaries, but funds are raised for new buildings, programs, and centers. Funds are raised for new athletic fields, living units, and decorative fountains. Funds are raised for financial aid and scholarships for students. All of these expenses are things that a donor can proudly put her/his name on. These definitely benefit the campus community, and most benefit students directly and I do not begrudge those.

But without the faculty and staff who make this university function, where would DePauw be? Repeatedly, alumni report that interactions with faculty and staff are the most memorable and influential parts of their DePauw experience, yet the compensation for at least DePauw faculty members (we aren’t given data about staff) remains lower than many at other GLCA and other comparison schools.

What can only be interpreted as a lack of respect and concern for the individual employees and their families signals that contrary to the slogan we repeatedly hear, DePauw is not necessarily a great place to “learn, live, and work,” at least not for many of our staff and faculty. Perhaps this is part of the reason why we have lost at least ten employees between graduation and the first ten days of this semester from the offices of Student Services and Academic Affairs. And let’s not forget the number of people who have left and not been replaced, both faculty and staff.

I encourage folks to consider how to best observe Labor Day, a federal holiday begun in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. Whether you decide to wear red, make a sign, protest openly, or quietly talk about how employees are treated, do something.  Students, please support us as we have supported you.

We are facing a serious morale crisis. DePauw, you can do better.

Melanie Finney, Professor and Chair,

Communication and Theatre