Toward the end of March, the transition to remote learning left the UC buried under housing contract and dining plans cancellations along with their health centers scrambling to prepare for COVID-19 patients. After being faced with nearly $1.2 billion in unanticipated costs from mid-March through April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom also announced a 10% cut to state funding for public colleges and universities, reducing UC funding by $372 million and leaving the UC with a lot of revenue to make up for.
On May 18, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that she and all 10 campus chancellors will take a voluntary 10% pay cut in the coming fiscal year to help with these financial struggles. In her letter, she also announced pay freezes for nonunionized staff and nonstudent academic employees, along with efforts to cut costs in areas such as nonessential travel and service agreements. While this pay cut is a quaint gesture of solidarity, a gesture is all that it is.
The UC needs to reevaluate what is more important: its reputation or its students and employees. If they truly cared about the UC community, Napolitano and the other UC chancellors and possibly even other well-paid UC employees or faculty would take a bigger pay cut. At the same time, there needs to be a pause on investments in controversial projects instead of waiting for these losses to be covered by students with inevitable tuition raises.
In California, if you were a single parent with three children, you would need an annual income of $100,860 before taxes to support yourself and your family. If you have a partner alongside three kids, then both you and your significant other would need to make $104,251 before taxes to live comfortably in this state. In 2018, 3.5% of the UC system’s 227,700 employees made over $200,000 annually. Currently, the UCSF chancellor is the highest paid chancellor with an annual salary of $869,460 and the lowest paid chancellor, UCR’s Kim A. Wilcox, is still paid $418,690 yearly alongside Napolitano who has a yearly base salary of $570,000.
they’re still making and they can definitely afford to take a bigger cut than 10%. If they opted for something like a 25% pay cut, Wilcox would still be paid $314,017.50, which remains significantly more than one and their family needs to live comfortably in California.
If a higher pay cut is too much to rest on the shoulders of 11 people, then perhaps the UC should start looking to the UC employees who make over $200,000. Instead of starting at the bottom with nonunion employees and students to find ways to make back the money, the UC system should evaluate who is in the position to be least impacted by temporary pay cuts for the sake of the community they claim to care so greatly about.
On May 1, campus activist organization Mauna Kea Protectors at UC Berkeley obtained a report that revealed that as of April 30, the UC system has invested more than $68 million, $30 million of which was from its own funds to the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. In February, the UC gave $5 million from its own funds once again to the project. Not only is this information concerning because of the fact that a month later, 80 UC graduate students were fired for striking for a living wage, the moral implications of supporting this telescope has been brought into question as well.
A growing number of people are vocalizing their criticism of the project because its proposed location is on lands sacred to some native Hawaiians. Several petitions urging the UC to divest from the TMT project have been spreading across social media, with one of them reaching almost 100,000 signatures. The UC needs to show sympathy and understanding not only toward its students, but to native Hawaiians as well. Divesting from the project would show that the UC is willing to do what is morally right while also getting back needed money which could potentially go to those a part of the UC community who are in need.
What is even more worrying than the lack of meaningful action from the UC, is the current lack of transparency. Firstly, there has been no explanation on what this pay cut means for Napolitano and the current interim UC Merced chancellor. Napolitano has already resigned from her position as UC President, which will go into effect August 1 while the new UCM chancellor will start his position in July.
This means that Napolitano approved of a pay cut that she and another UC chancellor won’t even see the effects of and have allowed for another to face cuts they didn’t even agree to. Now isn’t the time to be shifting responsibility from shoulder to shoulder, Napolitano and the current interim UC Merced chancellor should still see parts of their pay going back into the UC community.
Since the news of the 10% pay cut, there has also been no follow up on how those funds are going to be allocated. Without a solid plan, the UC is leaving room for equity issues to come to light. Instead of taking the 10% from each chancellor and putting it toward their respective campus, it is important that Napolitano and the chancellors consider who is in the most need. For example, 57.5% of UC Riverside and 61.5% of UC Merced’s student body fall into the income bracket to receive federal Pell grants versus UCLA and UC Berkeley’s 35.9% and 31.4% respectively.
An ideal solution to this would be to pool together all the additional funds from the pay cut and distribute it fairly across the UC system based solely on need, rather than which campus the student attends or employee works at.
The plan that Napolitano and the UC chancellors have announced is a start, a good first step in a long process of recovery. But right now is not the time for baby steps only, the UC community and its students need support now more than ever. The UC needs to stop treating their universities as businesses and show that they truly value their employees and students. The highest paid UC officials need to think bigger and understand that a historic pandemic is not the time to be penny pinching when others in your community are struggling to stay afloat.