Milwaukee, WI – At the start of the fall semester at UW-Milwaukee, faculty and staff received an email from the Office of Student Services asking them to help cover staffing shortages in food services. Specifically, they were asked to “donate at any time [they] can find.” The office framed the request as a need to cover their new dining plan, which will help address food insecurity, improve dietary restriction options, and is aligned with the campus strategic plan” to make UWM a radically welcoming place for our students. “The administration has put the guilt in thick.
Local 3535 of the American Federation of Teachers, a union of professors, academic staff and graduate students at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, said enough was enough. In a statement, AFT 3535 explained that the request stems from the irresponsibility of the UWM administration. “The university has failed to attract adequate paid staff to serve the students it has admitted.” They also identified many solutions the administration should have taken before trying to guilt overworked and underpaid professors into working overtime for nothing.
One possible solution was that Chancellor Mark Mone could have taken a pay cut from his $452,000 salary and redistributed it to a living wage to attract more employees. By comparison, some faculty and staff don’t even earn $45,000 for full-time positions. “Asking them to accept starvation wages is insulting enough, but asking them to work more hours for free is inexcusable,” the union statement read.
AFT 3535 then specifies that teachers are often the target of such requests. When administrators get it wrong, they think they can fall back on teachers, pretending it’s for the good of the students. When teachers stand up and say no, that’s more ammunition they have against teachers so they can pit students, their families, and legislators against educators. It is not the responsibility of already overworked and underpaid staff and faculty to solve the problem that university administration has created by not creating a hospitable and worthwhile work environment. Fortunately, the Students for a Democratic Society Chapter at UW-Milwaukee understood this and took a decisive stand in solidarity with AFT 3535.
“Many students recognize that staff and faculty are already working above university standards, performing unpaid work to provide a better learning experience for students. Asking them to volunteer for a completely different job is abusive,” said UWM student and SDS member Liam Farin.
SDS chapters across the United States support the slogan “Chop from the top,” meaning that budget cuts must be made at the top first before cutting the things that support students. When budgets are tight, student support, especially for Black, Chicano and other oppressed nationality students, is usually one of the first things to do. Meanwhile, administrators at the top are still cashing in on their excessive pay and issuing empty statements about how they value the student experience and diversity on campus, and how we need to pull together during tough economic times.
The UWM administration has yet to respond and rectify the situation. For now, AFT 3535 and UWM SDS know that when students and teachers come together, they win!