Washington College responds to deficit with fiscal reductions; faculty respond with petition to unionize

By MacKenzie Brady, Victoria Gill-Gomez, and Erica Quinones

Editor-in-Chief & News Editors

Washington College announced fiscal reductions in response to “a period of financial stress” due to declining enrollment and revenue in an Oct. 8 press release. In response to the announcement, the WC Chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a press release stating their intentions to “petition for voluntary union recognition to College Administration and the Board of Visitors and Governors” on Oct. 13.

Where is WC now?

According to WC’s press release, cuts were made “with a focus on those that do not affect the student experience, but instead positively position us for strategic growth on the other side.”

Some fiscal reductions already enacted include staff furloughs, reductions in force — which is when an employee is let go due to budgetary reasons — eliminating staff positions, shrinking senior staff salaries, minimizing benefits, and “other smaller items,” according to the press release.

Other ongoing reductions include cuts “in expenditures on the academic side,” but the press release did not specify what these expenditures are.

The planned reductions are expected to take two years to implement, and according to the press release, “will permanently resolve the current structural deficit, and position the College for long-term fiscal health, normal operations, and growth.”

“There’s been some conversations [about how to pay for everything] going on…about how we can do that really to protect the quality of the institution and its programs, and we had a number of people working on it, including senior administration, and regular consultation with professors and faculty groups, and communications with the Board of Visitors and Governors…And we came up with a plan that will not cost us any of our programs, and this is one of the most important factors we can continue offering,” Interim President of the College Dr. Wayne Powell said. “For me, I guess that’s the bright light in the whole thing, you never like to make reductions, you always like to be growing.”

As of Oct. 12, Dr. Powell and Chief of Staff Victor Sensenig said WC has been eliminating staff positions for the past couple years.

Dr. Powell also said that some “academic support positions” would close “in the next couple days,” but said he could not get into specifics.

Reducing staff positions does not necessarily mean reducing staff, according to Sensenig, as some position eliminations included positions which were already vacant, such as the assistant director of Intercultural Affairs position.

“That is a way to reduce the size of the staff without terminating people in their positions,” Sensenig said.

In total, Sensenig said that “34.5 full-time equivalent staff positions have been eliminated to address the structural deficit” over the past three years. Those eliminations included voluntary resignation, retirement, and reductions in force which were not “backfilled or repurposed.”

These staff reductions occurred in “basically all offices across campus,” according to Dr. Powell.

Regarding senior staff salary reductions, Dr. Powell said that the Board rejected cutting salaries for general faculty and staff.

However, employees are experiencing benefits reductions, including to their retirement contributions. 

Before the reduction, the College would match an employee’s contribution to their retirement fund up to 7.5% of that employee’s salary. If an employee made no contribution to their retirement, the College would make a contribution equal to 3% of the employee’s salary to their retirement account.

The College has suspended all retirement contributions for the year, according to Sensenig. 

According to Dr. Powell, faculty and staff were told the reduction in matches to retirement contributions are temporary and the College will seek to restore them when the financial situations allows it. 

“The suspension of the retirement match was authorized for one year by the Board, but this may be extended as the situation requires,” Dr. Powell said.

According to Sensenig, the total savings from these reductions is approximately $1.2 million for the year.

Director of Human Resources Carolyn Burton later said that “we hope that some of the cuts — like the one-year suspension of the College’s contributions to qualified employees’ retirement plans — can be restored when we reach a place of fiscal stability.”

Another area of possible benefits reductions is spousal health insurance.

Currently, WC offers health insurance to the spouses of employees. According to Dr. Powell, a question arose last semester regarding why WC should cover spouses who can receive insurance through their own employer.

No final decision on cutting spousal health insurance benefits has been made.

Dr. Powell said that ending spousal attestation is one insurance option put forward by the Budget Task Force, which was formed in November 2019, and is currently under consideration by the Benefits and Finance Committee, which advises the president and has faculty and staff representation.

Reductions “in expenditures on the academic side” have not been fully determined. Dr. Powell said that the faculty will do an extensive Program Change review based on what programs have more financial support than needed, then adjust the faculty size and other resources to current student enrollment. 

Dr. Powell said the College intends to follow the guidelines for Program Change established in the Faculty Handbook, which “[the faculty] themselves have created and approved, regarding the ways in which such changes and communications occur.”

Interim Provost and Dean of the College Dr. Harvey said that he has taken primary responsibility for a portion of reductions on the academic side.

“And then there’s a portion of [reductions] that at this point is a target and is going to have extensive faculty discussion and involvement, and in many ways led by faculty. So, I would say, you know ultimately with running a college, faculty have a major voice, and as a faculty member myself, I’ve tried to make sure that the way we’ve approached reductions in as thoughtful and collaborative [a way] as possible,” Dr. Harvey said.

Regarding Program Change, while nothing is certain, Chair of the Faculty Council and Professor of French Dr. Pamela Pears said the term refers to “‘the reduction or termination of an existing curricular program,’ so you can take that to mean [courses, departments, majors, or minors].” This robustness leaves what these changes will entail unclear.

However, those reductions do include the closing of at least seven faculty positions over a two-year period. 

“The exact number of positions has not been determined, as some of the changes may come through the faculty-led processes around Program Change, as the faculty are responsible for the curriculum at the College,” Burton said.

“That [two-year timeline] gives the programs and faculty members opportunities to make adjustments to where they’re going,” Dr. Powell said. 

According to Dr. Harvey, some academic reductions will take effect by the end of fall 2020. Such reductions include some contingency faculty positions, or those who are not  on a tenure-track.

“These are difficult times at all institutions of higher learning, as well as many other components of society,” Dr. Powell said. “Every area of the college has seen the increase in the workload and decrease in compensation. Many employees have also had to deal with the challenge of remote work and intensified childcare. All employees are valued at WC and the College seeks to stabilize its budget in this new environment so that it can provide the support that everyone needs.”

“The most important thing is not making some budget cuts, the most important thing is treating people humanely and making thoughtful and strategically appropriate decisions,” Dr. Harvey said. 

Dr. Harvey said that cutting benefits and suspending retirement contribution matches is not sustainable in the long-term.

“What we need to do is weather these challenges, do some prudent fiscal management, and get back to normal things like retirement match,” Dr. Harvey said. “One of the best ways that the College can support faculty is to build a sustainable budget. So, that’s probably my biggest structural thing: let us build a sustainable budget. Another great thing we can do is help people understand that even though a storm is hitting a ship, the ship is still strong. We still have fantastic students, fantastic faculty, amazing programs, and it’s important to me to make sure people understand all of the great stuff we’re doing. There’s great student learning happening now. We still have amazing faculty…[who] are doing so much to help students learn in this extraordinary time.”

What was the response?

Following the announcement of these fiscal reductions, AAUP-WC published their own press release announcing their petition to be voluntarily recognized as unionized.

According to the AAUP-WC press release, this petition is “supported by an overwhelming majority of tenured, tenure-track, and contingent faculty,” and the push “comes on the heels of a turbulent few years for the College.”

This turbulence includes “instability in leadership, the marginalization of faculty voices in strategic decisions, decreases in compensation and benefits, and most recently, the announcement that the College will terminate some faculty members this semester and begin a process of program change meant to terminate more faculty over course of the next two years,” according to the AAUP-WC press release. 

It was the marginalization of faculty voices in conversations that sparked the idea of unionization.

According to Associate Professor of History Dr. Clayton Black, “our resolve to look into unionization [last May] emerged from a widespread sense among faculty that we were being shut out of decision-making processes that were affecting us significantly and directly.”

“Years of turnover and flawed decisions in the top offices of the College and Board [of Visitors and Governors] have contributed to our current financial problems, but despite talk of co-governance, faculty played almost no role in any of the decisions that have gotten us to where we are. The abrupt refusal to renew former President [Kurt] Landgraf’s appointment and the consequent resignation of Dean and Provost [Dr. Patrice] DiQuinzio underlined the sense that we are not full partners in this relationship; and the announcement that major cuts to the academic budget — which will mean the dismissal of tenure-track or even tenured colleagues — galvanized our sense of urgency and our desire to speak with one voice,” Dr. Black said.

Both Dr. Black and Young Ja Lim Professor in EconomicsDr. Robert Lynchpointed towards the Budget Task Force, which was formed in November 2019 to assess the College’s budget and determine places where cuts could be made, as an example of faculty voices being ignored. 

Dr. Powell said, “all committees involving budgetary decisions include faculty and staff representation as chosen by their peers. Their input is greatly valued and sought. That inclusion is essential to making the best decision for all involved.”

The Budget Task Force did not make recommendations, but created a detailed list of 40 potential approaches to ease the College’s deficit. 

According to Dr. Pears, the Task Force did not propose to cut faculty positions.

Dr. Powell said the Budget Task Force, presented possible budget savings “of millions of dollars.” These savings included “the staffing level of the College, including faculty and staff…from the beginning as employee compensation accounts for a significant share of the overall budget.”

According to Dr. Black. faculty members of that Task Force felt the Board chose options that offered maximum savings and ignored alternatives that might be less damaging to the institution’s mission.

Dr. Lynch added that most of the revenue-enhancing proposals were not accepted by the Board, which focused more on the cuts. He added that many faculty members disagreed with the Board’s decision and favored the revenue proposals.

An anonymous professor said that when they first heard about the proposed cuts in the spring, “the initial conversation about cuts was very disappointing because there seemed to be a focus on numbers that didn’t necessarily rely on data.”

The professor said the College put forth a ratio of students to faculty they said would make more sense for the College, but how the ratio was created was not communicated to the faculty.

“A lot of us disagreed with the stance and wanted to either hear from the Administration or the Board why there was an agreement about that ratio or what information they had, what data they had, to come up with it. And we never really got those answers,” they said.

Dr. Pears did give credit to the new administration with Dr. Powell and Dr. Harvey, saying she believes they “are committed to the idea of co-governance. I think that they really do want to work with the faculty leaders and find a solution that is productive. I think that’s why they’re doing Program Change even though we on Faculty Council don’t think that’s the best way to go about it. I think the reason that they want to do Program Change is because it will involve faculty.”

However, Dr. Black said that as the faculty exists currently, they “have no protections against planned fiscal reductions like benefit cuts.”

The benefit cuts tie into another aspect of the faculty’s experiences over the past few years. While Dr. Powell said that general employees would not receive salary cuts, President of AAUP-WC and Associate Professor of Music Dr. Kenneth Schweitzer described the decision to cut retirement contributions as “a pay cut, and a regressive one.”

These reductions to faculty compensation are not new, according to Dr. Schweitzer.

Dr. Schweitzer said in the press release that faculty salaries have been stagnant for years, out-of-pocket healthcare costs have increased, cost of living adjustments to payments ended in 2017, and now the cutting of retirement contributions all point to faculty bearing “the burden of the decisions of those who are [the College’s fiscal stewards].”

Additionally, while faculty salaries have been stagnant, Dr. Schweitzer said that senior staff pay increased between 2017 and 2020, until the aforementioned pay cut by an “unknown percentage.” 

With the announcement of the most recent benefits and faculty reductions, faculty reacted quickly.

Dr. Pears said the council received many emails from the faculty and colleagues on the morning the reductions were announced. The council responded by emailing Dr. Powell, Dr. Harvey, and the Chair of the Board Stephen T. Golding ’72 to voice their concerns on Oct. 11.

Dr. Lynch described the retirement contribution suspensions as “a significant loss for me and for everybody.”

Vice President of AAUP-WC, Chair of the Department of Sociology, Director of Justice, Law & Society Minor, and Associate Professor of Sociology & Black Studies Dr. Rachel Durso described faculty as “devastated by the loss” of their retirement contributions, the news of which came without warning. 

“We just woke up to an email announcement that the decision had been made,” Dr. Durso said.

Dr. Powell said that faculty and staff had representation in the Budget Task Force — which conducted the initial review of savings options — the faculty “in its entirety” was given a summary review of the options, and they were surveyed for preferences before the Board’s final deliberations.

When asked why faculty and staff were not informed of the decision to suspend retirement benefits until the decision was made, Dr. Powell said, “The reduction to retirement contributions does directly affect employees, but it was deemed a less immediate and painful impact than reductions to salaries or health insurance.”

Because the retirement contribution suspension functions as another pay cut, it has added additional financial hardship to some professors.

“I can say personally, that my husband and I are currently going through our household budgets to see how much I can increase my current retirement contributions to make up for the lost contributions from the college and offset future losses,” Dr. Durso said. “This translates to less take home pay to cover our other expenses like the mortgage, daycare for our daughter, healthcare, food, car payments, student loans, and the ability to contribute to other savings accounts.”

Dr. Schweitzer explained the long term effects of this retirement cut, saying that “even if the 7.5% cut were only effective for one calendar year, the impact of the decision to attack our retirement is further compounded by the inability for the money to grow in our investment accounts.”

If the money grows at “a historical annual rate of 7%,” an assistant professor at the age of 35 could lose $35,589 by the time they retire, an associate professor at the age of 45 could lose $21,400 by the time they retire, and a full professor at the age of 55 could lose $12,988 by the time they retire, according to Dr. Schweitzer.

These cuts are further confounded because Dr. Schweitzer said “faculty were told this week [of Oct. 14] that there is no plan to reinstate these contributions for at least the next two years, so multiply those numbers by three.”

“It’s extremely upsetting, particularly for young professors who have just started building their retirement accounts — it is taking from their future to repay the mistakes of the past they had nothing to do with,” Dr. Schweizer said.

Faculty also responded to the question of cutting spousal attestation from their health insurance benefits.

Dr. Durso, who is also the faculty co-chair of the Benefits and Finance Committee, said “no final decisions have been made for this upcoming year regarding changes in health insurance benefits or the question of spousal attestation.”

She added that the Benefits and Finance Committee met on Wednesday, Oct. 14 to discuss spousal attestation. At that meeting, faculty and employees on the committee expressed concerns about decreasing spousal benefits, and, Dr. Durso said, “I believe those concerns were heard.”

However, if spousal attestation was cut from current health insurance benefits, faculty polled by Dr. Durso said they worried about the affordability of healthcare for their families, not having a set of criteria with which to make health decisions, and losing access to doctors within their networks.

According to Dr. Durso, having one health insurance plan for an entire family can help them plan fiscally. Removing spouses from health insurance plans may lead to families having greater health insurance premiums, needing to change health providers, or being expected to pay more out-of-pocket based on deductibles and maximums.

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Dr. Jennifer Benson added that loss of spousal benefits reduces families’ choices regarding which of the insurances is more affordable and gives the best coverage.

“And it also means that if your spouse has a medical condition and they need the coverage from the College because it’s better than whatever their own employer does, then it certainly creates a situation where that family is forced into a situation that they don’t want to be in,” Dr. Benson said.

She explained that the stress which stems from these issues not only affects employee homes but also their work.

There is also the topic of faculty size reductions. According to Dr. Schweitzer, faculty were told that notifications of dismissal will be given during the current semester and terminations will occur at the end of the spring 2021 semester. 

These early dismissals “will affect a handful of junior faculty who were hired on the tenure-track,” according to Dr. Schweitzer. However, more faculty will be notified of their dismissal in the spring after the Program Change process is conducted. These faculty will likely continue working at the College through the spring 2022 semester.

“Unfortunately, we remain unaware of what criteria are being used to identify affected faculty,” Dr. Schweitzer said. “Though this is indeed a two-year process, the timetable is actually a bit more aggressive than it might initially appear as most decisions need to be made by early March, less than five months from now.”

But faculty positions are not the only ones being closed. As Sensenig said, WC has closed staff positions for a couple years. The termination of staff does not have an isolated effect.

According to Dr. Durso, staff support the academic mission of the College and faculty in their teaching and research duties. 

“Staffing cuts have had a direct impact on our ability to carry out these duties, because when a position is terminated, the job responsibilities associated with the position are transferred to faculty and the remaining overburdened staff,” Dr. Durso said.

These negative effects of the reductions and the faculty’s lack of voice in the decisions pushed them towards unionization.

According to Dr. Black, unionizingthe faculty — which would be the first unionized faculty at WC — would allow for collective bargaining, which is when representatives of the unionized employees and management meet to negotiate contracts for the represented employees as a group.

Unions are in a “significantly stronger position to create change,” according to Dr. Schweitzer, because the administration would be “legally bound to negotiate employee contracts for all individuals under the union’s bargaining unit.” This includes benefits, pay, academic support for faculty, and working conditions.

“Those contracts would provide the protections we need, both for job security and for the right to participate fully in the key decisions affecting the institution,” Dr. Black said. “Legally binding contracts, agreed to through collective bargaining, would require the leadership to identify alternatives to cuts to resolve budgetary problems — and the same would be true if the College’s staff had collective bargaining rights also. Perhaps more important, those contracts would have to factor into the decision-making process before we embarked on costly or potentially risky new initiatives.”

Dr. Durso built off the idea of collective bargaining benefitting staff, saying that working conditions include academic support, something staff provides. 

“As a sociologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about structure and power…Faculty’s request to be recognized as a union fundamentally reorganizes power structures at the College in ways that could open up reorganization for other constituencies like our staff,” Dr. Durso said. 

She added that AAUP-WC finds the idea that saving faculty jobs means cutting more staff to be untrue and “divisive.” Rather, faculty want to help find a better budget solution to minimize cuts for both faculty and staff, creating a “stronger and more stable institution.”

“The College’s financial issues are very real,” Dr. Schweitzer said. “Unionization will not make these issues go away. But they can ensure that the faculty have an actual say in addressing those issues by guaranteeing faculty a seat at the table and by creating transparency between the Board, the Administration, and faculty.”

Dr. Lynch,who taught in the State University of New York system — which is unionized — said that he “found that the faculty were treated with much more respect” than at WC.

Faculty were treated like peers by the administration, and he described it as an overall positive experience.

However, to meet those desired ends, AAUP-WC must first be recognized as a union.

Dr. Black said there is more than one way to unionize a faculty. AAUP-WC chose to ask for voluntary recognition, “because we are expressly interested in working with College leadership in collaboration.”

This means they collected signed pledge cards which state that the faculty authorizes AAUP-WC as their collective bargaining representative and negotiator. These pledge cards were signed by an “overwhelming majority of faculty,” according to Dr. Black.

AAUP-WC then asked Dr. Powell, Dr. Harvey, and the Board to be recognized as unionized, according to Dr. Schweitzer.

It is hard to judge how long this process to unionization will take, because it “really depends on how eager College leadership is to speak with us,” according to Dr. Black.

If AAUP-WC is not recognized voluntarily, then there are other paths they can take. 

A second way to unionize would be to collect pledge cards and submit them to the National Labor Relations Board.

According to the NLRB website, they would then conduct an election, and if the majority of those who vote choose the union, the NLRB would certify the union as their representative in collective bargaining.

However, Dr. Schweitzer said that “we remain hopeful that the commitment to the College shared by President Powell, Provost Harvey, and Chairman Golding will lead them to sit down with us.”

“I think everybody on campus…can feel the effect of this. I think, for me as a faculty member, there’s the kind of general worry over the health of the College: the big picture worry that feels in some ways insurmountable because it’s such a big project to think about what are all the ways in which the College has to spend money, and what are the challenges the College faces in terms of recruiting students,” Dr. Benson said.

While the most recent fiscal reductions and their creation process sparked this push for unionization, as Dr. Powell said, the budgetary struggles WC is experiencing are structural. And as Dr. Schweitzer alluded to in his long-term discussion of faculty benefits and salary cuts, the effects of the budget deficit have affected the College for several years.

How did WC get here?

Dr. Lynch provided some insight into how WC came to this moment.

The College every year brings in a certain amount of revenue from a combination of net tuition (room and board) which students pay; the College’s endowment of over $200 million dollars; and money provided from the state of Maryland. Overall, the operating budget has ranged from $60 to $70 million. 

According to Dr. Lynch, since joining the College in 1998, the College has a host of expenses, including salaries and benefits for staff, faculty, and administration, which typically ranges around $30 million. This is approximately half of the College’s yearly budget.

The other half goes towards other expenses for which the College has to pay, such as utilities, food, groundskeeping, maintenance, taxes, and so forth.

Dr. Lynch said that until recently the total revenue could cover these costs. 

However, events over the past three academic years led to a pre-COVID-19 projected shortfall of $9 million in this year’s budget, which became a “subject of much discussion,” especially regarding how to regain that revenue, according to Dr. Lynch.

While over his many years of tenure there were many reasons why the financial deficit grew to this point, Dr. Lynch said there are three main reasons that have surmounted the rest:

First, the decline in student enrollment by almost 200 students caused the College to lose around $5.7 million.

This is an estimated 14% drop in total enrollment, causing a loss of about $30,000 per student.

Second, students are now paying less in net tuition because the College is being more generous with financial aid, according to Dr. Lynch. This lessening amount of revenue per student takes another $5 million away from the College.

In the balance of costs and revenue within the deficit, Dr. Lynch said the costs came down but the College’s revenues plummeted. 

Third, the College spent on a series of capital and affordability projects, such as the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall and “Fixed For Four,” an initiative that kept students’ tuition costs at a fixed rate over their four years at WC. However, these projects were not fully funded.

In reports given to the faculty from the administration, the total underfunding for around the last eight years summed up to $20 million.

In November of last year, the College appointed faculty members to a Budget Task Force, on which Dr. Lynch was a member. The mission for the task force was to close the projected deficit, which is now worsened by COVID-19 and remote learning.

As aforementioned, the Budget Task Force approached the Board, as well as the administration, with about 40 different approaches to easing the deficit. Of those approaches, Dr. Lynch said they primarily selected those which focused on cutting spending as opposed to increasing revenue.

“When the faculty joined the Budget Task Force, the primary emphasis…was, okay, how do we cut costs, how to do cut compensation, how do we cut salaries and jobs? And the faculty members argued persistently and instantly for months: ‘wait a minute, you’re missing the elephant in the room.’ The reason we’ve got this problem isn’t that our costs have skyrocketed. Actually, our costs have come down over the last several years; the problem is that our revenues have come down even more,” Dr. Lynch said.

Beyond increasing student enrollment, some suggestions for increasing revenue without making cuts included drawing more money from the College’s endowment.

Dr. Powell said increasing endowment drawing is not sustainable. 

A “responsible” rate to draw from one’s endowment is 5% annually; currently, WC is drawing 6.5%, which “is not sustainable in the long run.” Maryland law additionally prohibits an institution from drawing more than 7% of its endowment annually.

“[Over-drawing to cover a deficit] never works because you have to do it again the next year. If you have a structural issue, you have to address the structural issue,” Dr. Powell said.

Another suggestion was to use the endowment as collateral to form new lines of credit. While WC already does this, Dr. Powell said that in general, loaning to higher education is considered a risk, so WC is likely to receive a bad credit rate. Additionally, new debt that is taken will remain with the institution for “quite a while.”

Dr. Powell said that the money the College is losing this year due to COVID-19 will require a long-term procedure.

No decision has been made, but one option is to “draw down from the endowment, when you reduce the size of your endowment to cover it, knowing you should be back to normal next fall,” Dr. Powell said. 

These issues thus brought WC to the week of Oct. 8 when the College announced their fiscal reductions, shortly followed by the petition for unionization by AAUP-WC. 

Regarding the creation of the latter, Dr. Harvey deferred to Dr. Powell for comment.

Dr. Powell declined to comment, saing: “Because of the labor laws governing collective bargaining, we cannot comment on this issue.”

How does WC move forward?

One shared concern seems to be the creation of a stable environment for faculty, staff, and students alike.

Dr. Benson, Dr. Durso, and Dr. Schweitzer touched on the effects of reductions on the academic experience for both faculty and students.

“Nobody welcomes [reductions], so it’s a very sad sort of change that is happening towards the College,” Dr. Benson said. “All this change that means a reduction in staff or it means a reduction in faculty is, in addition to being really sad, also challenging because it means we’re going to, in some fashion, try to serve our students with the same level of quality experience that we both view as the mission of the College and that we feel is our personal responsibility to step up and deliver. So, it means that I think more of us are fitting more work into our week and that means there is more stress on faculty and staff to [meet the need of students].”

Dr. Durso discussed the commitment of faculty to their institutions and how unionization can promote the growth of education experiences.

“People may feel compelled to ask faculty, ‘If things are so bad, why not go get another job?’ For many of us, this is a difficult prospect. Tenure-track jobs are highly competitive and it is difficult to move between institutions, particularly after receiving tenure and promotions,” Dr. Durso said. “When a faculty member accepts a tenure track job at WC, many are expecting to spend their careers and lives here. We make a commitment to WC and its students that will span decades. By recognizing faculty as a union, college leadership has the opportunity to honor the commitment we make to WC and confirm that faculty are indeed full partners in critical decision-making processes. Together we can preserve and grow the college and continue to provide exceptional educational experiences for our current and future students.”

Dr. Schweitzer discussed further how unionizing can help improve educational settings, allowing professors to focus more on their work: teaching.

“[Unionizing] will allow us to be educators again, first and foremost,” Dr. Schweitzer said. “To be quite frank, it’s really hard to do that amid the constant instability and fights for our jobs. Unionization won’t eliminate meetings, but it will provide the peace of mind that our livelihoods and careers won’t be eliminated arbitrarily, our voices will be listened to, and we will be treated fairly and consistently. That peace of mind is what will make it possible for us to concentrate on what we do best: teach.”

Dr. Black added to both the conversation of educational improvements and the strengthening of co-governing bodies in major strategic decisions as ways to strengthen WC within its own values.

“Many people associate unions with lack of cooperation or unwillingness to talk…This is not the case. We want to talk and we want to cooperate. But we want a seat at the table and for our voice to matter, too. The only reason the leadership might say that talk of unions will shut off conversation is that they don’t like the idea. It means giving up a certain amount of control and trusting the faculty more than they have to this point. Change is scary,” Dr. Black said. “But our faculty are the heart of this institution and we have repeatedly shown, for the 25 years I have been here, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of WC. We love this place as much as anyone who has passed through its halls. We do everything we can for our students…Senior faculty members could have sat back and let cuts be made to our untenured colleagues, apparently secure in our own tenure. It’s a testament to the unity of this faculty that we have come together to try to prevent just such an outcome. WC prides itself on excellence in teaching, and we select new colleagues for that skill above all others. So cuts made solely for financial causes injure the very heart of what we say we stand for, and our students will be the ones to lose the most.”

Building off of effects on students, Dr. Lynch discussed more of the effects of terminating staff positions and how it affects the quality of everyday life.

“A huge part of the college experience is [a student’s] life outside of the classroom. The things you do on campus: clubs, organizations, services, all that. But the College has been and is planning to continue to let off a whole series of staff members, which means you will have fewer people who will be providing services to you,” Dr. Lynch said. “You’re going to experience cuts in other ways in terms of your quality of life as well…Let’s not forget that there is a whole non-academic side of your life as a college student.”

And as Dr. Harvey spoke on supporting professors, he also touched on the importance of supporting staff and students throughout this period.

“Now having said that, this COVID year is the mother of all crises for a number of colleges and universities. And…Students are facing fiscal challenges, are facing paying-for-college challenges that are unprecedented,” Dr. Harvey said. “I think just as much about the students as I do the faculty and the staff. So what can we do not just to support faculty but also staff and students? We’re doing everything we can. We’re trying to economize every road…in sensible ways.”

But more so, there is a sense that they hope students can witness the challenges the College is facing and learn from them.

“By remaining engaged and asking questions, students can see firsthand how an organization responds to crises. Hopefully, at the end of the day, we will have provided our students with a positive model that will help them negotiate in the future their own workplace issues,” Dr. Schweitzer said.

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