This is a call to move our anger to action.
If the University updates from last week weren’t so shocking, it would be easy to describe them in a single word: brutal. In the span of just three days, we learned that retirement contributions will be frozen beginning in October; academic tech is being merged with IT, forcing staff to reapply for jobs they just got fired from; more of our co-workers were laid off; and there is a salary cut of at least 10% in the pipeline for faculty and staff. At the same time, President LeBlanc made a third senior hire in the midst of the University’s hiring freeze: VP of Marketing and Communications, Heather Swain. Swain’s portfolio includes obstructing investigations into Michigan State University’s role in covering up decades of child sexual abuse perpetrated by physician Larry Nassar against gymnasts in his care. After immediate and mass outrage, including a student-organized petition with nearly 1,500 signatures and poignant letters from survivors, the GW administration withdrew Swain’s appointment without explanation.
Although we’re relieved Swain will not join the GW administration, we are left wondering: What else is the current GW administration perpetrating that requires the spin-doctoring of such a ruthless and unprincipled public relations professional?
The latest news brings more discouragement. The administration has “recalculated” the financial aid allotments of many GW students without notice, just a couple weeks before the school year begins. The rumor is that as many as 500 students will now be unable to pay for GW this fall due to these sudden, last-minute changes to their financial aid packages.
At no university like GW—not NYU, not USC, not BU, not Georgetown—are administrators simultaneously imposing cuts to retirement benefits, salary cuts, and layoffs. Likewise, the proposed, regressive, flat 10-15% cut to all faculty and staff salaries is higher than other universities’ salary cuts. The universities that are instituting cuts are limiting them to 2-5%, and their cuts are progressive, so that the lowest-paid employees’ salaries are impacted the least or not at all while the highest paid employees and administrators’ salaries are hit hardest.
We all must remember that the Faculty Senate made sensible recommendations for budget cuts that do not harm the people who work and study at GW. But they have all been repeatedly ignored by the administration. Instead of drawing on the $300 million credit line, increasing the endowment payout, or cutting perks and bonuses for the highest paid administrators, the administration has chosen to cut student financial aid, cut faculty salaries, and lay off workers.
So, yes, we are as enraged as you are. And rage is an intelligent emotion that tells us when vital needs are going unmet. Right now the list of unmet needs is a long one—basic economic security, respect, feeling valued, equitable treatment—but at base the administration’s actions are infuriating because they are utterly devoid of compassion. The ability to recognize, feel, and care for one another’s suffering is fundamental to our humanity. The recent decisions are an attack on this most basic need.
The test before us, then, is whether or not we move from anger to the actions that can restore compassion, and deliver justice at GW.
Here are some ways to begin this work:
–Refuse to treat your co-workers like the administration treats them, as merely functional and expendable subordinates: Remember this as you make requests, especially of staff members, during the ongoing chaos and danger of the coronavirus epidemic and the haphazard and last-minute implementation of remote teaching. Consider if the thing you are demanding of a co-worker is as simple as it might at first seem, given the very real danger of infection, the threat of getting laid off, and the low morale caused by a callous and uncaring administration. Trust that this person is doing their best, just like you.
-Refuse to treat your students like the administration treats them, as revenue-generating ‘customers’ rather than as individuals dealing with the same interrelated crises we all are: The University’s last-minute cuts to financial aid are only its most recent display of cruelty. Most of us have no idea what our students have been through since the pandemic began. We suggest that classes prioritize flexibility and kindness above all else as we face down a virtual fall.
-Refuse to stay isolated: The administration is capitalizing on the multiple forms of isolation that currently define university life. It is summer, students are not returning to campus, faculty will be locked out of campus by the end of the month, and many of us remain in some state of quarantine. We must stay connected, and generate power from these connections. Some of us have been considering how to perform 10 % less work to account for our anticipated decrease in pay. We should remember that any efforts we take will be more powerful if they are collective, coordinated, and place the most protected (tenured faculty) at the forefront.
-Refuse to make sacrifices for the administration: The administration has made a number of decisions that threaten many of our needs. Some have expressed concerns that any work slowdown or stoppage will only harm students. But we must remember that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, and those conditions are being shaped by the administration’s reckless actions. Whatever you and your colleagues decide is the right response—refusing committee work, refusing GPAC assessment, withholding grades, shortening class time by ten minutes, staging a virtual walk out once a week, contacting media and alumni—we encourage you to have an honest conversation with your students about what you are doing and how they can help in the effort.
The administration has made its values clear. Now it is up to us to respond with even greater clarity about our own values: compassion and respect for one another, students, staff, and faculty are never optional, and in times of crisis such as this one they are a moral and strategic imperative.
Faculty have been sharing their own creative, diverse, courageous responses to this callous administration, and we want to convey their actions and amplify their words so we can learn from each other what we, as a faculty, can do together to stop the administrations’ actions. Please share your ideas by clicking here: “Anger is not transformative, it is initiatory.” –Ruth King
The GWU Faculty Association