Transforming Higher Education Should be Loyola’s Moral Obligation

Courtesy of Michael Fasullo

The United States is becoming an increasingly unequal society.

The fortunes of the richest Americans have risen at considerable rates over the past three decades, whereas the preponderance of working and middle class families have experienced crippling economic stasis: Real incomes haven’t budged since the ‘70s, and mounting debts have forced many into precarious working conditions, according to a 35-year trend of wage stagnation reported by the Economic Policy Institute.

In Chris Isidore’s article, “Corporate profits hit record as wages get squeezed,” more than one-third of American workers are “contingent workers,” such as contracted or part-time employees, and their share in the economy has fallen to record lows, according to Chris Isidore, a writer for CNN Money.

Colleges and universities do not escape this larger trend.

In fact, certain aspects of higher education are actually contributing to the growing inequality.

While pay for top university administrators has continued to rise, large sectors of our campus workforce, particularly the individuals who work in dining services, grounds maintenance, housekeeping and adjunct instructor positions, are barely scraping by.

In 2012, Loyola’s top 10 administrators saw their salaries increase by an aggregate amount of $234 thousand, according to a Huffington Post article by Pablo Eisenberg.

Despite the administrative raise, there are dining service workers and professors on our campus whose wages approach the Chicago-area poverty line, according to Unite Here! Local 1, the union that Loyola’s dining services workers belong to.

While tuition costs continue to skyrocket, universities are employing more and more part-time, contingent faculty members and making cuts to existing professors’ salaries, according the National Center for Education Statistics.

Loyola is no exception to this trend.

Loyola’s tuition rose a handsome 34 percent between 2008 and 2015. Yet, during that same period of time, average salaries for all ranks of faculty fell. In addition, Loyola moved to hire more contingent faculty members. Exactly 50 percent of current Loyola instructors are employed on a part-time basis, according to SEIU’s research.

As students, we are required to shoulder the burden of ascending college debts. Thus, we must be openly critical about whether or not the university is effectively apportioning its funds to benefit our education and safeguard the ideals we hold dear.

After the whirlwind of social and political activity on our campus last year, I am returning to Loyola with a renewed faith that our university will sincerely embrace its Jesuit mission: A mission rooted in Catholic social teaching, the virtue of a transformative education and a robust Ignatian tradition that promotes the shared values of dignity, respect and justice.

Because of this unique heritage, Jesuit institutions such as ours have a profound responsibility to be both model universities and employers, and it is with great passion that an organization like Students for Worker Justice (SWJ) is committed to fulfilling that responsibility.

Last semester, we (SWJ) fought alongside dining services workers as they vied to secure a new contract with Loyola’s contractor, Aramark, which included fundamental provisions such as health care, reliable scheduling, immigrant protection language and a modest pay raise.

This year, in addition to continuing ongoing struggles for worker justice on campus, we proudly back Loyola graduate students, whose rights to form a union were restored by the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling just three weeks ago.

Like adjunct professors, graduate workers are asked to take on a sizeable amount of work for paltry wages and benefits, and have little say in how their workplace is run.

SEIU reported that Loyola’s graduate students are significantly underpaid for the amount of work they take up and aren’t allowed a say in how much work they are required to take on.

Loyola undervalues and exploits the labor of its graduate students, which is incongruent with its moral obligation to provide a work environment that adheres to its Jesuit principles.

This university, and the Loyola community as a whole, must assume a functional role in confronting injustices and work toward correcting them.

Together, we can work to refocus university resources on the things that matter most. It is time that we retrieved the rich Jesuit history of being at the forefront of social justice initiatives and become, once again, an exemplar of exceptional employment practices.

As the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., understood, we are called as members of Loyola community to be men and women for others. The renowned Jesuit priest and missionary taught us that it is not enough to simply refrain from participating in injustice; rather, we are compelled to actively challenge and dismantle structures that perpetuate it.

We have taken meaningful strides in encouraging justice at Loyola in recent years. There is still, however, much work to be done.

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