Controversial Swirls Around Faculty Compensation

Salary freezes and retirement cuts become source of contention

Jenny Hudalla | Editor-in-Chief

Cherie Suonvieri | Managing Editor

Published in The Clarion November 6, 2014

Nothing causes a stir like a community-wide financial crisis, and there’s no denying that last year’s budget cuts hit Bethel hard. Administration shaved $7 million from the university’s operating expenses over three years, engulfing Bethel in a storm of academic and personnel cuts.

Though the dust has now settled, some faculty and staff aren’t sure they like what they see. After receiving salary freezes for three of the last seven years and stomaching a 7 per- cent reduction in retirement contributions as part of last year’s budget cuts, many employees are upset that they still haven’t been given a raise for the 2014-2015 school year.

“People aren’t sure what we can do, but the status quo can’t stay the same,” said philosophy professor Sara Shady, who has been at Bethel for more than 13 years. “It’s starting to affect the way people see their jobs, and it’s starting to affect the spirit of collaboration that has historically existed between faculty and administration.”

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According to Shady, it’s not that there isn’t any money – it’s that the administration chooses to spend it in areas other than faculty compensation. In the last few years alone, Bethel has purchased a $5.7 million property at 2 Pine Tree Drive and invested in the operational costs of the new Wellness Center.

“I think faculty are tired of hearing the administration say, ‘We get it, we’re sorry,’” said English professor Marion Larson. “I would rather have them say [faculty compensation] isn’t even a priority. It would be like I never returned graded papers but always said, ‘It’s my number one priority to give students feedback on their work.’”

In response to faculty’s frustration over the administration’s alleged lack of follow through, Chief Financial Officer Patrick Brooke offered words of empathy.

“I understand,” Brooke said. “We are going to do what we can to prove [faculty compensation] is a priority… I know things that are going on that haven’t been settled yet — some proposals we’re kicking back and forth. We want to make sure anything we do is sustainable.”

According to business professor Bruce Olsen, much of the revenue generated by tuition is given back to students in the form of financial aid. As the cost of running the institution increases and revenue stagnates, Olsen said budget cuts become an unfortunate necessity.

“[President Jay Barnes] really wanted us to find some dollars last year for increases, but so much is dictated by enrollment and financial aid that he really couldn’t give out any more,” Olsen said.

After last year’s budget cuts, Barnes created a budget committee comprising five administrators and four faculty members who drafted a proposed budget to submit to the President’s Cabinet, according to Provost Deb Harless. When the budget was approved by the Cabinet, it was submitted to the Board of Trustees for final approval.

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 8.54.14 PMBusiness Department Chair Chuck Hannema was part of the committee that prioritized this year’s budget. He said it would have cost $500,000 to give faculty and staff a one percent raise — half a percent of Bethel’s $100 million budget. Although he was a vocal supporter of the salary increase, Hannema wasn’t able to sway the final outcome.

“I think professors are able to weather the storm because most of us are willing to make further sacrifices to do what we do,” Hannema said. “But I think the administration is able to benefit from that at our expense.”

While Olsen certainly shares in faculty frustration, his experience as Faculty Senate president and previous acting associate dean has enabled him to see both sides of the issue in a softer light.

“It weighs on faculty when we spend money on things like baseball field repairs and classroom construction,” Olsen said. “It doesn’t seem fair. At the same time, there are some things you just have to spend money on. We need to reorient our thinking in the budgeting process.”

According to Harless, the budget committee is still seeking ways to o er salary increases to faculty and staff this year.

“It is a tremendous challenge to allocate money for raises, but we know that we must provide raises to care for our employees and to keep Bethel strong,” Harless said.

That, at least, is something on which administration, faculty and staff agree: salary increases are needed, and they are needed soon.

“The difference faculty and staff make in students’ lives is significant,” Hannema said. “If faculty are dissatisfied, they won’t stay. If we don’t have competitive structures to recruit new faculty, the Bethel experience will suffer.”

Ebola Outbreak

Fighting an invisible enemy an ocean away

Jenny Hudalla | Editor-in-Chief

Taylor McElree | Staff Writer

Published in The Clarion 2014 – 2015

Inside Ebola: Bethel Students Speak Out

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 10.53.24 AMHamida Pabai

Senior psychology student Hamida Pabai was 9 years old when she left her home in Freetown, a major port city along the coast of Sierra Leone. Ravaged by civil war, the West African country was in shambles by the time Pabai and her family were admitted into the U.S.

Though the war has long since ended, Sierra Leone is battling a new, invisible enemy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 593 citizens of Sierra Leone have died from Ebola so far. With three siblings, three nieces and an uncle still there, Pabai has had no shortage of worries since the outbreak began.

“It’s been really stressful, constantly having to call and make sure everyone is okay,” she said. “No one is working because they’re afraid to go out, so we have to send money home for them to survive. I’m always praying that my family isn’t a victim and that it’s all over soon.”

Pabai’s brother, who serves in Sierra Leone’s military, was deployed to Somalia on a peacemaking assignment before Ebola struck. Although his service term ended in June, he hasn’t been able to return to his family because the country closed its borders.

“It’s chaos there,” Pabai said. “People don’t trust the government. They think doctors are infecting patients. They’re crying out for help, and they’re looking at us.”

While the West African countries affected by Ebola need supplies and aid, Pabai believes education is most important of all. Even if outside nations could provide Ebola- ridden areas with necessary medication, Pabai said, it would do no good without knowledge of the virus and precautionary steps.

“If you know someone from these countries, just ask them if there’s anything you can do to help,” said Pabai, who has already made sacrifices to support her family in Sierra Leone. “Our people need help. It is overwhelming, but it feels good to know that there are other people who care.”

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 10.53.53 AMGorpu Sumo

Having emigrated from her native Liberia in 2007, senior social work and reconciliation studies student Gorpu Sumo has had to watch her country suffer from an ocean away.

Though Sumo is now an American citizen, much of her family — including her older brother, three younger sisters and most of her first cousins — still lives in Liberia.

“It’s really scary, having to watch this virus tear through the country,” Sumo said. “All you can do is call people and tell them to be safe. But when you’re not there, it’s hard to understand the circumstances. Someone could sweat on a chair, and someone else could sit down and get Ebola, just like that.”

Though Sumo first heard about Ebola when it spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo several years ago, she never thought it would affect her so intimately. About three months after the outbreak began, Sumo found out that her sister-in-law – a nurse in one of Liberia’s care centers – had contracted the virus.

“My brother sat in a clinic for hours before he found out she had died,” Sumo said. “She was lonely. She had no one. We don’t even know where she’s buried. And now her son has to live without a mother. That’s the part that gets me.”

Though the virus has killed an estimated 1,578 Liberians according to the CDC, little progress has been made in terms of containment. According to Sumo, the rate at which Ebola has spread has overwhelmed health- care professionals.

“People are being turned away [from hospitals] because there isn’t any space,” Sumo said. “They can wait for someone else to die and take that person’s bed, or they can go home and die there. They just don’t have the resources. There’s not enough aid. It’s a helpless situation.”

While the outbreak is limited to West Africa right now, Sumo said Americans would do well to educate themselves about Ebola and join in the effort to defeat it.

“It might seem like it’s far away at the moment,” she said. “But I never thought Ebola would come to Liberia, let alone take away a family member. It travels quickly, and right now is the me for us to come together and put a stop to it.”

Global Implications

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 10.53.39 AMDr. Samuel Zalanga

According to anthropology and sociology professor Samuel Zalanga, who hails from Nigeria, it is paramount for the Bethel community to recognize that there must be more than just a short term solution to the problems plaguing Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

While people are ready and willing to combat the virus itself, Zalanga said, they are often not as enthusiastic about putting an end to the issues that allowed the Ebola epidemic to happen in the first place. Zalanga cites not only lapses in the West African health care system but also the absence of education in these countries, their distrust of their governments and their lack of economic relevance on a global scale as permanent contributors to the origin and continuation of the outbreak.

“You cannot talk about health care without considering many other factors when discussing developing countries,” Zalanga said.

Among these factors is the evidence suggesting pharmaceutical companies do not adequately research the diseases that affect poorer countries because there is little economic incentive to do so. Drug manufacturers don’t want to devote precious me and energy into something that will have no financial return. According to Zalanga, almost half of the African population makes less than $1.50 per day. This means that in the global economy, these people are considered surplus.

“If they die,” Zalanga said, “it makes no impact.”

Until issues like these are eradicated, the developing countries of West Africa are susceptible to massive tragedies like the Ebola outbreak plaguing them now.

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