As part of AAUP Middlebury’s effort to place the deeper, lived impacts of any potential budgetary cuts at the center of the conversation, we are continuing to collect and share stories from employees across the college – diverse testimonials about what impacts faculty and staff are personally most concerned about. Presented below are some examples of the range of responses thus far, edited to protect individuals’ privacy and anonymity.
“Over a period of years the college, as a money-saving measure, gradually increased retirees’ health insurance premiums, shifting costs onto people who could barely afford them and had little voice. Eventually Middlebury canceled all retiree coverage. Coming into the private health insurance market, which we’ll all have to do eventually (unless elections go differently) is an uncertain and fraught experience. In fact, I quietly hope that my spouse never retires so I don’t have to deal with this.
When I was young, and even not so young, I didn’t care at all about insurance. […] But we get older; sometimes we have children or other dependents with health catastrophes, or we have them ourselves—almost no one can envision this, but it happens regularly.
I’d like to say to the younger members of the faculty and staff: it’s hard to worry about the distant future, but don’t shrug off cuts in health insurance, retirement contributions, and your current salary. Also, don’t shrug them off for other people because you feel invincible. We never know.”
“Even though the responsibilities of the dept coordinators are complex, requiring exceptional organizational skills and proficiency in many areas, our positions are considered entry level and we are paid as such. We’ve already had our salaries cut with the loss of summer hours for many of us through work force planning. Even though we received a 3% annual increase last year (the first increases above 2% in many years) the cost of our benefits increased as well, so we ended up taking home less than before the increase. Several coordinators are the only wage earner in their household. Any additional cuts to our salaries will make it impossible to pay our bills.”
“Currently in my role at Middlebury I earn just under the required annual income, before taxes, for a household with two adults, both working, with no children according to MIT’s living wage data for Addison County.
My husband and I bought a home […] and will not be able to afford our mortgage payment if I lose my position or if my wages are reduced. […] I thought my role at Middlebury would be an anchor for me, a way to finally create a home that I have worked very hard up until now to establish.
Given my age, I would love to consider the option of raising a family, but so long as my job security remains unsteady, I will be unable to fully realize this possibility. I am very lucky that my husband […] is also employed full time in a position that will be unlikely compromised due to Covid 19. But even with his income (and thankfully a health insurance plan I could sign up for), if I am under or unemployed, we will still not be able to afford our already very frugal existence.
I wish that when we discuss where savings and cuts need to be considered we could discuss equally the places we can simultaneously be investing as an institution, but more importantly, as a community. For example, where is the investment not just in talent retention within the institution of Middlebury but by extension, our rural economy? The following principles from Envisioning Middlebury seem to be missing in action when now more than ever they are so badly needed:
- Making intentional choices in pursuit of our vision
- Ensuring responsible stewardship of all our resources
- Committing time and space to facilitate our collective goals
- Promoting effective relationships and a supportive community”
“The thought of tenure, from a job security stand point, as well as an increase in salary was extremely exciting. Not only would it help us continue to pay for childcare (I work full time, and so does my husband), but it also meant we could afford a house that would fit [our family….]
If the College cuts salary, we would not be able to pay for childcare, which would directly impact both our jobs. It would mean not being able to afford the house we purchased [….] Or both of us would need to find second jobs, still not afford childcare, and somehow in the current economy make it work so that we could keep our house. Obviously there are other options for cuts to our household spending, which we are already employing in order to save what little we can during these uncertain times, but with salary or benefit cuts looming on the horizon the security that comes with tenure has been thrown to the wayside as our future is once again is in question. We stay up late discussing the “what ifs”, trying to make ourselves feel better about the life we can provide our children.
I would think that we are not the only family employed by the College whose future is in question if the College cuts pay, even a one time pay cut. Weighing the options of having many families evicted from their homes vs taking a bigger draw on the endowment, to me the answer is clear. Staff and faculty should not be held accountable by the past administrations large draws on the endowment. We have already suffered in that work force planning has already drawn most of us thin. And now we are being asked to sacrifice more. It is too much. […] I know we must all do our part for the success of the College, however does the administration not understand that we are already doing a lot for the greater good? And with the College being the largest employer of the county, and the current economic situation, there isn’t much in the way of getting a new job, or even a second job.
[…] Thanks so much for what you are doing. And including staff. I feel sometimes there is an unspoken division or perceived division between faculty and staff when there doesn’t need to be.”
“I have worked at the college for over three decades. I have witnessed the importance of the College to its surrounding communities. Through much of my time here, the College has been known locally as a good employer. The severe cuts in compensation now contemplated by the College administration will damage that reputation. More importantly, they will also have negative effect on businesses in the area, as College employees have to cut back on expenses. I worry especially for our already suffering downtown. As the largest employer in the county, Middlebury College has the civic responsibility to consider the effects of its actions on its neighbors, but I don’t see any acknowledgement of that responsibility from the College administration as it considers its financial options, and that saddens me.”
“Covid and the stock market has necessitated my withdrawal of retirement for another year. I’ve adjusted to remote working and to the fact I must work yet another full year. I’ve acknowledged realization of my financial shortfall with no guarantee of any replenishment. Now, ironically, administration may cease retirement contributions. […] I think it is such a shock that I haven’t even processed it yet. There is an immense loss of control we are all enduring with no choice in the matter. […]
On top of this, my [spouse has serious health issues]. We are both “of an age” so to speak. So on top of the college concerns I get to worry about possibility of getting sick and dying. […] I hope the college sorts this all out with minds and hearts open to the fact that life – even Middlebury College life- can endure. My suggestion is we take this opportunity for growth and catch the new wave to a new world. Middlebury claims a progressive philosophy. Isn’t this a perfect opportunity to guide and implement this philosophy? I’d be so proud of Midd if it led the way.
I never thought to voice these concerns, after all, Covid and college decisions affect every one of us. It’s about the collective and a long term view of the future. It’s not about quick fixes. Thanks for the space to write.”
“These cuts will be particularly difficult to handle for younger faculty with children. Our cost of living in Vermont is exorbitantly high compared to other places: when adequate housing and childcare costs are so high, many of us will not be able to afford some of the more draconian cuts rumored to be on the table. For a supposed elite liberal arts college, these concerns seem especially obscene to me as we could simply use the endowment. (Later, of course, this provides quite the opportunity for our administration—are they good enough at their jobs to replace the money we spent? This is a challenge I wish they would accept, rather than pretending that antiquated budget systems are sufficient in these extraordinary times.)
Another thing to consider is how strong the impact will have on the town of Middlebury. Many have written on the subject (one example is Stephen M. Gavazzi in Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephengavazzi/2020/05/10/weep-for-ohio-university-but-dont-forget-athens-ohio-in-your-prayers/#25e094c40e76 and https://www.forbes.com/sites/stephengavazzi/2020/05/12/in-sickness-and-in-health-university-community-partnerships-and-the-covid-19-pandemic/#65f165e26306), but the college’s relationship with the town of Middlebury and the rest of Addison county will be put to a major test. Do we support the town that founded the college? Or do we help amplify poverty and inequality?
Again, thank you for dedicating your time to help fight for a better community.”
“[Since arriving at the college several years ago, I have] completely reimagined my career and have worked […] to develop a reputation at Middlebury as a useful resource for students […] – all the while using my earnings to pay off student loans, grow our family and build a life here.
I did and do all of this work, sometimes outside of my contract, assuming it would lead to something – a job, recognition, something stable at least, at Middlebury. Now, the culmination of these years of work, relationship building and professional development may be for naught. I do not blame the college for the coronavirus outbreak however the austerity plan could potentially mean that I need to start all over again, from the beginning professionally. And that is deeply disappointing.”
“…my salary from the college is our only source of income. My spouse and I are both first generation college graduates, and we have no family financial support. When we first moved to Vermont, we were living paycheck to paycheck[….] We have slowly climbed out of this by saving and be[ing] as frugal as we can. However, having a family […] with growing children is accompanied by having increasing expenses. [We have also had to contend with unexpected medical issues and child care expenses….] Having to take a pay cut would be devastating to us, in terms of health insurance, child care, and just the ability to provide.”
“[Since the spread of coronavirus, my spouse] has lost 80% of her salary/client base, which completely altered our approach to our lives. [… I have been putting off retirement,] because I feel/felt I have a lot of energy and a lot to contribute and a lot to do. That’s changed since March, though I was seeing that there was going to be a change starting in early January when news of COVID-19 was gathering steam. Now, for sure […] I have to stay on, unless I’m pushed out as I’m on contract and I’ve seen other schools simply not renew contracts as part of their budget tightening efforts. [In recent years, our family has had serious health concerns,] so insurance, etc., is on our minds. I don’t know what the future holds for us in terms of health, but suffice to say that the way this pandemic is moving and being “handled,” and the proposed budget scenarios, are forcing me into continued service to the college—no other way, as I see it.”
“As a [long-term] employee of Middlebury College I have experienced no less than four (I have lost count!) waves of austerity measures, beginning with the 1991 layoffs. Through each of these waves, budgets are cut (primarily in the service sectors?) and staff are reduced one way or another. The Board of Trustees and campus administrators should be asking themselves WHY this pattern repeats every 7-8 years on average. Clearly they should be taking a broader view of the College’s financial management strategies.
What I am most concerned about in regard to the latest slate of budgetary cuts and impacts:
- A double hit to my household income.
Both my [spouse] and I work at the College, so we would experience an 10% cut to our total combined household income. We were looking at a [several year] retirement horizon. That may not be possible if our income and retirement contributions are impacted as proposed.
- Decreased ability for staff to do our jobs effectively. Again.
With limited resources for training, technology, and staffing levels there is rarely room to improve support operations – yet we are ALWAYS expected to deliver A+ service, and usually expected to do it quickly. We are continually asked to do more with less. New programs and initiatives are added, and we are expected to support them. If any programs or initiatives were ever eliminated through workforce planning or other recent austerity measures, I am not aware of it. It would help staff morale if the College publicized any programs, initiatives, real estate, etc. they shed, to demonstrate they are taking other actions to save money or ease the burden on support staff. With every wave of austerity we lose good, dedicated employees either through departure incentives or because they are tired of the campus climate. When this happens en masse, we lose significant institutional knowledge, which inevitably inhibits remaining employees from working at normal capacity. That loss of knowledge can have an impact for at least a year.
- Decreased morale.
The impact of COVID-19 on all campus operations, and the resulting burden of a returning student body this fall would be HUGE. Already, great effort is going into planning social distancing measures, devising new policies, ramped up cleaning and disinfecting, calculating reduced room capacities, devising assigned dining schedules, altered class schedules and teaching strategies, supporting students who fall ill – and who knows how what else. So many employees are tasked with new situations and much additional work above and beyond the norm. Cutting our pay and benefits would be a hell of a “thank you” for our enormous efforts and the risks many are asked to expose themselves to.
It’s easy for a president or administrator to stand up and say they care about employees and the contribution they make to the College, however, actions speak louder than words. The actions of the College administration repeatedly reflect an attitude that our employees are expendable and our institutional knowledge has no value.”