Closer Look

Closer Look: Many Schools, One Story — Workers and Students Launch Petition Fighting Back Against Austerity

Zack Miller | The PhoenixFaculty and student groups from 17 of the 28 schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities joined together in a petition against the austerity measures universities are taking in response to the pandemic and recession.

Colleges and universities were hit hard by COVID-19 with many resorting to furloughs, layoffs and other austerity measures to balance the budget. Jesuit colleges weren’t any different, with Loyola alone having an $88 million budget shortfall caused by decreased enrollment and other revenue losses from the pandemic, officials said. 

Faculty and student groups at Loyola, and among other Jesuit schools, expressed concerns such austerity measures could endanger the quality of education, diversity and the schools’ shared Ignatian values. 

In response, they teamed up and fought back, starting a petition that’s gotten more than 500 individual and organizational signatures representing 17 of the 28 schools in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), as of Dec. 2.

The Coalition of Jesuit Higher Education Workers and Students — the group behind the petition — said cutting jobs in the middle of a pandemic ignores the Jesuit value of cura personalis, or care for the whole person. It accuses university administrators of running schools like businesses while performing “drastic” cuts without “meaningful input from faculty and staff.”

The petition also calls for the schools to preserve jobs, adhere to shared governance — a system where faculty and staff have input on school operations — and transparency in decision-making and open the door for “unionization for all academic workers and staff who wish to pursue it,” among other things. 

Student and worker organizations on Loyola’s campus, such as Loyola Faculty Forward — the non-tenure-track faculty union for Loyola’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS)  — the Black Graduate Student Alliance (BGSA) and Loyola’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) signed the petition, among many others. 

While the full scope of Loyola’s reductions remains unclear, the school said in an Oct. 6 update it finished balancing the budget. The school has implemented a series of hiring freezes, suspended worker retirement contributions and cut jobs for staff, such as in Residence Life and Campus Safety, since May. 

Petition’s Goal to Make Schools ‘walk the walk’

Members of the coalition’s organizing committee — made up of students and faculty from Loyola, Marquette University, Canisius College and the University of Detroit Mercy — said its goal is to make schools “walk the walk” when it comes to social justice. 

Sarah Kizuk — a graduate student worker at Marquette and member of the coalition’s organizing committee — said the movement “exploded” since she started reaching out to other Jesuit schools in late September. 

Two months later, on Nov. 12, the group unveiled the petition, the first time multiple Jesuit schools teamed up to advocate for workers’ rights, according to Nathan Ellstrand — a Loyola doctoral candidate and member of the organizing committee.

The 33-year-old said Jesuit schools need to “practice what they preach,” and the petition is more in-line with Jesuit values than the austerity measures being taken. 

The increased calls for transparency at Loyola are echoed at other Jesuit institutions, with Kizuk saying schools can’t use the pandemic as a disguise for massive austerity measures which threaten its quality of education.

Tanya Loughead — a Canisius College philosophy professor, member of the coalition organizing committee and president of its chapter of the AAUP — said the petition is just the first step in a “long battle” against the trend of administrators who treat schools like businesses instead of places of higher education. 

“What we really need in all our colleges is … administration who respects the educational mission,” Loughead said. “If they can’t respect that … they ought to get a new job.”

Empty Dorms, Empty Classrooms and Empty Coffers

Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Wayne Magdziarz, Provost Norberto Grzywacz and CAS Dean Peter Schraeder all declined multiple requests for comment for this story. 

Minutes from a Sept. 23 meeting of Loyola’s University Senate — an advisory group composed of students, faculty, staff and administrators — lists some reductions accounting for $79.6 million of the shortfall, but doesn’t account for the whole reported $88 million. 

When The Phoenix asked for an itemized list of past and planned budget reduction actions and their amounts, Loyola spokesperson Anna Rozenich wouldn’t produce it, saying in an email they were already shared with “various shared governance groups over the past three months” and are “not available for distribution.”

In the same Sept. 23 meeting, Magdziarz said 52 staff were furloughed, meaning put on leave temporarily, and 44 underwent a “reduction-in-force,” a layoff entitling the worker to severance and six months of benefits. 

When asked by The Phoenix to confirm these numbers — or provide a total number of staff affected by the job cuts — Rozenich only replied that “less people were impacted [than expected],” and the job cuts saved the school $1.6 million. She said furloughed staff can return when campus goes back to “‘normal.’”

University administrators saw between 2.5 to 15 percent pay cuts in May, but no further cuts are planned, Magdziarz said in a separate Sept. 23 meeting with the Faculty Council — an advisory body made up of full-time faculty from Loyola’s different schools.  

Matthew Williams — communications coordinator for Loyola Faculty Forward — said the College of Arts and Sciences is reducing its reliance on adjuncts, or part-time instructors, as part of the reductions, with 50 to 60 adjuncts possibly affected.

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago
Benjamin Johnson, a history professor and head of Loyola’s AAUP chapter

Ben Johnson, a history professor and head of Loyola’s AAUP chapter, said tenured faculty are being asked to volunteer to teach classes formerly taught by adjuncts in an act he said “felt like being asked to scab.”

When asked by The Phoenix, Rozenich didn’t disclose the methodology used in determining which classes adjuncts wouldn’t teach, only saying “each dean (in consultation with the provost) made this decision within their [respective] school.” 

Groups On Campus Raise Concerns: Jesuit Values and Diversity

Photo Courtesy of Lara Driscoll
Photo Courtesy of Lara Driscoll Lara Driscoll, an adjunct music instructor and Loyola Faculty Forward representative for Loyola’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts

Lara Driscoll — an adjunct music instructor and Loyola Faculty Forward representative for Loyola’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts — said she’s already teaching fewer than half of her usual course load for spring 2021.

The course reduction represents a “significant impact” for adjuncts — who only get paid just more than $2,000 per credit hour with no benefits or job security — and signals it’s okay to place the brunt of the pandemic on “the back of the lowest paid teacher[s] on campus,” Driscoll said. 

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago
LaShaunda Reese, a Loyola doctoral student and co-founder of the Black Graduate Student Alliance

LaShaunda Reese, a Loyola doctoral student and co-founder of the Black Graduate Student Alliance, said the cuts could mean shrinking diversity in an already majority-white school. Loyola staff — undergoing furloughs and layoffs — are more diverse than faculty, with around 33 percent identifying as non-white, according to the school’s 2018-19 diversity report.

The start of Loyola’s fall semester saw demonstrations for racial equity, with student groups such as the Black Cultural Center and OurStreetsLUC protesting for better support for Black students, faculty and staff — among other things — The Phoenix reported.

When asked by The Phoenix if diversity and equity were considered in the staff job cuts decision-making process, or if the demographics of those affected were compiled, Rozenich didn’t give an answer.

Reese said the university is “under ethical fire,” with many who are dissatisfied with the school’s expression of Jesuit values. 

In a separate statement emailed to The Phoenix, Rozenich said “cura personalis and cura apostolica [care for the institution and mission] have been and remain at the forefront of our decision-making, and our actions of the past 10 months are evidence of this.” 

Groups On Campus Raise Concerns: Transparency and Shared Governance

Johnson, who also serves on the Faculty Council as secretary, said this is another example of university administration ignoring shared governance. He cited the school’s restructuring of the English Language Learning Program and Loyola University Museum of Art, along with its “unilateral” switch in employee healthcare providers last year as other examples.  

In the statement emailed to The Phoenix, Rozenich said the school “has pledged transparency,” and “many of the topics raised in the petition… have been the same topics that we have been in direct dialogue about with multiple Loyola stakeholders and shared governance constituencies.”

Reese said Loyola shouldn’t wait for people to ask for transparency but should offer it openly.

“When you wait until students dig and find out on their own… you get things like protests, shut-ins, sit-downs and black-outs,” Reese said. “You get agitation rather than communication.”

To deal with the pandemic’s effect on the school, Loyola instituted an Emergency Response Plan, and created a Faculty Advisory Group — made up of faculty appointed by the administration — in June to give input on the school’s response to the pandemic.  

Faculty Council and the University Senate both held meetings with Magdziarz regarding the budget cuts, but members of both bodies said updates on furloughs and layoffs came too late. 

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago
University Senate Chair Susan Uprichard

“A lot of times we’re sort of hearing things right before they’re happening,” University Senate Chair Susan Uprichard said. “The Sept. 23 meeting was definitely reactionary… it’s always an issue of time.”

Uprichard — a professor in Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine — also serves on the Faculty Council and the Faculty Advisory Group. 

Minutes from a Sept. 16 Faculty Council meeting describe some members expressing “anger” and “disappointment” Grzywacz or Magdziarz weren’t there to discuss Phase III cuts — which included the staff furloughs and layoffs — with one member saying they felt the council wasn’t respected. 

“When you wait until students dig and find out on their own… you get things like protests, shut-ins, sit-downs and black-outs. You get agitation rather than communication.”

LaShaunda Reese, a Loyola doctoral student and co-founder of the Black Graduate Student Alliance

Cuts at Loyola were not on the same scale as other Jesuit schools such as Marquette, eyeing a 300 workforce layoff, and Canisius — which saw 96 staff and faculty, including professors, let go. 

Uprichard said she credits this to the school’s “conservative” financial behavior.

“I have a hard time condemning them outright for it because I see the good,” she said about the school’s approach to finances — but said she’d like to see the school “open the pocket more” in the future.

While communication between faculty and administrators is improving, the school needs to better incorporate more faculty in the process to look at problems “holistically, rather than just what’s best financially,” she said. 

Reese said students also need to be more involved, not only in the university’s decision making but in holding the school accountable — saying this year has “opened a pandora’s box.”

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