Employees Protest Pay Freeze
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 01:02
Pay for staff and senior administrators will be frozen over the next fiscal year, while pay for faculty is still subject to increase. The decision came after university President John DeGioia’s five-year plan was passed by the board of directors on Thursday.
However, DeGioia may alter this plan to more equally affect faculty and staff in the wake of backlash from members of both groups.
The current plan, which seeks to eliminate the university’s $19 million deficit over five years, proposes a freeze in the merit pool for university staff, a fund from which employees receive merit-based pay increases. The plan stipulates that expenditures in non-academic university departments be reduced by 1 percent annually, projected compensation growth be decreased by $7 million and graduate student enrollment rise. Both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty are eligible for raises from separate merit pools, neither of which will be frozen under DeGioia’s current plan.
“In order to go from $19 million to no deficit in five years, we have to take action each year,” university spokeswoman Stacy Kerr said. “In our plan, we go from [$19 million to $9 million] in the first year, and then we reduce it in the following years. The one-year merit freeze is only one element to achieve this goal.”
In a letter dated Feb. 7, DeGioia explained the need for budget cuts during a difficult economic climate.
“These are very difficult decisions,” DeGioia wrote. “This plan will help ensure that we are not only adjusting to the economic climate, but leading in our sector. It will allow us to continue planned strategic investments in infrastructure and facilities, technology and academic growth as we strengthen our institution for future generations.”
DeGioia held two town hall meetings: one for executive leadership Feb. 7 and one for other faculty and staff Feb. 12. According to Kerr, Gaston Hall was packed for the second town hall.
Faculty and staff response was mixed during the town hall, according to School of Foreign Service faculty chair David Edelstein.
“I think one [response] was disappointment that we were in this position but also people understanding that this has been a hard time for different places,” Edelstein said. “I think the second reaction was the one that most people had, which was a reaction to the differential treatment of faculty on the one hand and staff on the other when it came to merit raises.”
Kerr justified the pay scale discrepancies by citing the innate difference between faculty and staff careers.
“Faculty is an industry that has a trajectory,” Kerr said. “At Georgetown, we compete in a very international market place for those faculty, so we have a competition issue in compensation because we’re competing with the best universities in the world. Our staff operate in a way that is much more tied to the regional economy, and it’s much more affected by the local economy.”
Edelstein said that many faculty were uncomfortable being treated differently from university staff.
“If we’re all in this boat together, then we should really be all in this boat together,” Edelstein said. “That sort of treating people differently in that way, I think it struck a lot of faculty uncomfortably.”
German department Chair Peter Pfeiffer sent a letter signed by 20 College department and program chairs to the university’s board of directors, expressing opposition to the pay freeze.
“[We asked] them to reconsider [the freeze] in recognition of the fact that there are some financial elements that need to be addressed, but doing it this way, which is a very divisive way of differentiating faculty and staff, which are both very important to teaching and research missions of the university, is unproductive and would have long-term consequences,” Pfeiffer said.
Additionally, the faculty senate unanimously passed a measure encouraging the board to resolve the university’s financial issues without seriously affecting lower-paid staff.
According to Kerr, the university implemented similar cuts in 2009, but they were not highly publicized and did not elicit a similar response. The cuts, proposed in response to the 2008 recession, included a one-year freeze on the merit pool for both faculty and staff.
“That, too, was differential treatment, but there wasn’t a big email from the president that came out, so it didn’t get the same attention,” Edelstein said.
Though Edelstein disagreed with elements in the five-year plan, he applauded the university for not laying off faculty or staff in response to the economic climate.
“To my knowledge … we’ve never had layoffs,” Edelstein said. “To give them the benefit of the doubt, I think the university has always tried to do this in a way to avoid layoffs, to let people keep their jobs.”
DeGioia emailed faculty and staff after receiving their responses, promising to attempt to restructure the plan.
“I know there has been constructive and active dialogue happening throughout our campus since our announcement last week, especially related to an upcoming delay in the merit pool for staff,” DeGioia wrote. “Respectful of your concerns about how we implement our financial plan, today I asked the executive vice presidents on each campus and our chief operating officer to work over the next few weeks to develop a plan that seeks to ease the burden on our employees, within the financial framework already developed.”