Milwaukee, WI – As the fall semester began at UW-Milwaukee, faculty and staff received an email from the Student Services office asking them to help cover staffing shortages in dining services. Specifically, they were asked to “donate any time [they] can find.” The office framed the request as a need to cover their new dining plan, which will help to address food insecurity, improve options for dietary restrictions, and is aligned with the campus’ strategic plan “to make UWM a radically welcoming place for our students.” Administration laid the guilt on thick.
American Federation of Teachers Local 3535, a union of faculty, academic staff and graduate student workers at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, said enough is enough. In a statement, AFT 3535 explained that the request comes as a result of UWM administration’s irresponsibility. “The university has failed to attract adequate paid staff to service the students they have 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 to redistribute it to a living wage to attract more employees. In comparison, some faculty and staff do not even make $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,” read the union’s statement.
AFT 3535 went on to point out that teachers are often the target of such requests. When administrators mess up, they think they can fall back on teachers by claiming it’s for the sake of the students. When teachers stand up for themselves and say no, that’s more ammunition they have against teachers so they can pit students, their families, and lawmakers against educators. It is not the responsibility of already overworked and underpaid staff and faculty to solve the problem the university administration made 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 the university’s standards, doing unpaid work to provide a better learning experience for students. Asking them to volunteer their hours for a whole other job is abusive,” said Liam Farin, a student at UWM and member of SDS.
SDS chapters across the United States stand behind the slogan “Chop from the top,” meaning that budget cuts should be made to the top first before cutting things that support students. When budgets get tight, student support, particularly for Black, Chicano and other oppressed nationality students, is usually one of the first things to go. Meanwhile, the administrators at the top still enjoy their excessive salary and put out empty statements about how they value the student experience and diversity on campus, and that we have to come together during economic hardships.
The UWM administration has yet to respond and rectify the situation. For now, AFT 3535 and UWM SDS know that when students and teachers unite, they win!
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