College searches budget for funds for a living wage

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

At last week’s faculty meeting, Suzanne Welsh, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer, distributed copies of a summary of the current status of the College’s budget, which focused on ways to fund a living wage. Ms. Welsh noted, “This is by no means a proposal, but an attempt to put the discussion about the Living Wage in a financial context. It is meant to help facilitate discussion.”

The report gives a rundown of how the College has balanced its budget and met needs by holding “departmental budgets constant and reallocating funds to priority needs.” By reducing costs in various areas, the college has managed to save $1.5 million dollars. However, the proposal also indicates that implementing the next step of the faculty retirement plan and anticipating health insurance costs will cost a combined $400,000. To accommodate the Ad Hoc Committee’s Living Wage recommendation of $750,000-$2,000,000, the report sees “only a few areas which might provide significant source of funds without serious erosion of the program.”

These areas, as identified by the report would be: holding departmental budgets constant for the fourth year in a row, an additional 0.5% in student charges, reduction in suggested areas by the Living Wage Campaign (eg, honors week, athletics), and eliminating faculty and tenured positions. Unfortunately, the report indicated that the most likely source of significant funds would be eliminating anywhere from 6-15 non-tenured or tenured track faculty positions and 7-19 staff positions.

Of the report, Vice President Maurice Eldgridge stated, “This is meant to be a basis for conversation on how to move forward. We’re looking for ways to communicate this around campus. The next step is to create dialogue.” On behalf of Swarthmore’s Living Wage and Democracy Campaign, Harris Kornstein ’06 noted, “…we think that’s a good starting point, but we’ve still got a long way to go–clearly there are more possibilities than the few that have so far been brought to the table. Otherwise, I think that the Ad Hoc Committee’s report was very impressive, and was probably the most progressive and creative living wage recommendation on any college/university campus thus far.”

According to Kornstein, the Ad Hoc Committee’s recommendations do not include “firing anybody”, and the Living Wage and Democracy Campaign believes that a living wage can be instituted by finding “more creative” ways to create a “realistic funding proposal.”

Vice President Eldridge hopes that in the coming weeks, the College can “get a sense of where the campus stands.”

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