Last year, when organizers from USLAC (the United Student-Labor Action Coalition) convinced the WSA to pass a resolution in favor of raising the minimum wage for student workers to $15 an hour, the response from the administration was mixed.
Micheal Roth, while appearing to sympathize with the progressive element of the student body, declared, “We don’t want to just charge more tuition to raise the minimum wage.”
The specter of tuition increases is one that university administrators have begun to invoke more and more frequently in the face of student demands. Even more disturbingly, many students have begun to repeat the administration’s line when changes to the university’s spending are proposed. Any time new programs are proposed, students ask “what will this mean for tuition and financial aid?” This concern is a meaningful one, and it highlights the need for activists on campus to push for structural reforms to the University that won’t force us to make the administration-approved choice between fair wages for student workers and money for financial aid.
In his book and his many articles, Micheal Roth declares that profit should not be the only motive for education. It’s a view he states eloquently. One could be forgiven, though, for observing that he has derived a good deal of profit personally from the systems of liberal education he praises. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Roth earned $735,393 in 2013, more than the presidents of several schools considered to be Wesleyan’s peers (indeed more than the President of the United States). Roth isn’t alone in taking home a giant salary.
At most universities, many deans can expect to see salaries of more than $150,000 in a year. In a world of high pay for university executives, Wesleyan is no exception. Wesleyan, like many other universities, spends an immense amount for its administration. When students parrot the administration’s claim that any new spending has to be justified against potential impacts on tuition and financial aid, we legitimize practices that deserve neither legitimacy or respect. The fact is that the distribution of money on campus is not a natural necessity as President Roth consistently implies. The work deans and other administrators do on our campus is not proportional to the compensation they receive. Perversely, students who want changes to university spending are portrayed as potentially damaging their own ability to study at Wesleyan.
Meanwhile, the school pays an administrative salary to Dean of Equity and Inclusion Antonio Farias, who implied in 2014 that students who feel the aid they receive is insufficient simply don’t understand the difference between needs and wants. What is rarely discussed seriously is the question of why Farias himself is preventing money from going to financial aid or any other programs for students. The administrative bloat goes far beyond Farias and indeed beyond Micheal Roth. The two are as much products as they are causes. They are examples that highlight the problems with the structure of the university.
It makes sense that Micheal Roth and the Board of Trustees believe that their particular choices about spending and salaries are the only ones that make sense. The responsibility students have is to change their minds or remove them from their positions. The question of executive pay gets at a fundamental question: What is our university for? Use of the term “community” is deceptive when it lumps together mistreated university workers and the administrators who feign an incapacity to improve their situation.
If we are to build a real community, our university cannot exist to enrich administrators. It must exist to provide students with the kind of education Micheal Roth writes about so frequently. It is also a source of income for hundreds of workers, most more vital than our administrators to its functions, who have little say in how it is run. It is not enough, of course, to simply say that current levels of administrative pay are too high. We should develop and propose an alternative vision of the university.
A good place to start would be a consideration of the role professors play in the University’s governance. Professors exist today largely under the direction of deans and administrators. Currently, many academic decisions are made by administrators with little experience instructing students or engaging in independent scholarship. Many of the roles currently filled by highly-paid deans are fundamentally academic and should be, even regardless of the question of pay, under the control of the people who make academic life at the University possible. Similarly, janitorial and dining workers should have a say in how the school is run. Their stake in it is at least as large as anyone else’s. Students should demand that academic departments and workers’ unions be given more power in governance of the administration.
This letter is not a complete plan. Changing the structure of the university will require agitation by everyone concerned about its future. That agitation, which must include the voices of everyone concerned with the University’s future, can produce a plan far more comprehensive than anything I can come up with. Demanding that President Roth take the problem of administrative pay seriously is a good starting point. Rather than being divided by the false assumption that the University currently dispenses funds as efficiently as possible, we should demand that cuts to administrative salaries come before cuts to student services or staff and professorial salaries. The administrative line, often repeated by students, that changes to how the University funds other programs will take money away financial aid shows exactly why activists should package immediate demands with the larger goal of changing how the University governs itself and distributes its funds. As we begin this school year, we should recognize that the way the University is run right now is not natural or necessary. It is a problem that must be solved.