Please Don’t Give to My University!
This morning I unfriended a coworker who complained because I asked some uncomfortable questions on one of her Facebook posts about the annual “Faculty and Staff Campaign” fundraiser at my university.
Every spring the University of Illinois Springfield pressures staff and faculty to make charitable donations to the university. Endless emails, notices in mailboxes, home mailings, etc. The campaign must costs thousands and thousands of dollars in employee time alone. 13 employees are listed as the 2021 campaign “ambassadors.” They work in addition to the 10 employees in our university’s office of “advancement” (i.e. fundraising). The administration even publicly posts the names of donating employees who donate to the university website, increasing social pressure at work to give and making it possible for employee giving to become a factor in promotion/salary decisions.
I’ve always found the “Staff and Faculty Campaign” galling. The University of Illinois is the largest agency of Illinois State government. It has a $7 BILLION annual operating budget and enjoys almost no financial oversight from the state. Yet, it can’t seem to pay employees at my campus anything near market wages. To force the university to pay even cost-of-living increases, the faculty had to unionize. Yet, we’re still paid ~20% less than faculty at peer institutions. (Assistant managers at Starbucks make more than some junior faculty at my campus!)
Worse: over the past few years the university administration has gutted faculty and departmental support (the points of greatest contact with students) while expanding the number and compensation of middle-managers in administration. Administrator growth is fastest the further the administrator is away from students. Lots of new mid-level “offices” with “directors” and “executive directors,” many making +$100K/year salaries.
We’re seeing 40%-70% increases in mid-level administrator compensation over the last decade, when inflation would justify no more than 19.3%. (The Vice Chancellor for Development’s salary increased 57% during this time to $122K/year. There’s been an almost 50% increase in employees and 82% increase in salaries in that office alone.) This, while enrollment has fallen from ~6000 students to ~4000 students in 2020–21. And staff and faculty are seeing only 1%-2% annual cost-of-living increases (and that’s only guaranteed if you’re a unionized employee).
I can’t see how UIS’ “Staff and Faculty Campaign” is much different than K-12 teachers buying their own classroom supplies. It’s an attempt to shift the costs of education from taxpayers to school employees (who also pay for schools through their local, state, and federal taxes). Coercing underpaid and overworked employees to fund their employer is Kafkaesque and astonishingly bad human resources management. It contributes to low employee morale and drives good people away. Employee charity is NOT how the wealthiest country on the planet should be funding education.
UIS is not currently being managed in the best interest of students, most employees, or Illinois tax payers. That mismanagement shouldn’t be rewarded with employee, alumni, or public charity. But, if you feel compelled to give, make a tightly-restricted donation to a specific academic program, especially vulnerable ones in the arts and humanities. (Our Theater program does amazing work!)
But please don’t make unrestricted donations to the UIS general fund!
Michael J. Murphy, PhD, is Associate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield. He is the author of many book chapters, and encyclopedia and journal articles. Most recently, he edited Living Out Loud: An Introduction to LGBTQ History, Society, and Culture (New York: Routledge, 2019). He tweets @emjaymurphee.