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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

An open letter from the Brandeis Labor Coalition to university administration

Published: November 14, 2014
Section: Opinions

Dear Brandeis University Administration,

According to Brandeis University’s mission statement, the university affirms “the importance of a broad and critical education in enriching the lives of students and preparing them for full participation in a changing society, capable of promoting their own welfare, yet remaining deeply concerned about the welfare of others.” We, the Brandeis Labor Coalition, are a collective of students concerned about Brandeis’ current labor practices and financial policies.

We urge the university to take initiative in creating a more economically just environment for members of the Brandeis campus, including those employed by outside contractors. According to the university’s diversity statement, Brandeis “seeks to safeguard the safety, dignity and well-being of all its members,” which includes students, faculty and staff. Furthermore, Justice Louis D. Brandeis is often remembered for his defense of labor laws and the rights of workers. Despite these facts, terms such as “streamlining” and “efficiency” are employed as codewords to justify exploiting labor and slashing or stunting workers’ hours, pay, benefits and jobs. Too often, workers on the Brandeis campus are mistreated and denied adequate channels of recourse.

Additionally, our institution was founded so that those excluded from other universities would have an opportunity here. While we acknowledge that Brandeis has improved in making higher education accessible to low-income and middle-class students—as highlighted by being ranked 25th on The New York Times’ College Access Index for “The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges”—we also recognize that a Brandeis education is unaffordable for far too many. Economic barriers such as rising costs of attendance and inadequate financial aid must be addressed in order to ensure an economically diverse community and to prevent drop-outs and transfers. We must strive to have the most brilliant and promising students on our campus, not only the wealthiest.

As a university committed to social justice and developing future leaders, Brandeis needs to constantly reexamine its labor practices; systems of admission, financial aid and other forms of support for low- and middle-income members of the community; and internal processes and practices surrounding budgeting and executive pay.

Thus, the Brandeis Labor Coalition proposes the following five reforms:

1. Just Employment Policy

A. Ensure that staff members have a safe and harassment-free work environment, and create mechanisms to ensure that they are protected from retaliation should they wish to report co-workers, managers or anyone else with whom they work.

B. Provide appropriate grievance procedures where staff’s concerns are addressed in a timely manner and ensure they are complied with, as well as create mechanisms to ensure that workers are protected from retaliation should they choose to report a grievance.

C. Recognize and uphold negotiated union agreements, take proactive measures to ensure subcontractors do not act in violation of union contracts and take punitive action against subcontractors found to be violating union contracts.

D. Provide full-time, well-paying employment when possible and part-time or temporary work only when necessary. Brandeis will seek commitments from outside contractors hired by the university to also prioritize full-time jobs.

E. Create infrastructure to safeguard that the aforementioned proposals are properly implemented, maintained and evaluated on a regular basis.

2. Transparency of the University Budget

A. All students, faculty and staff (including employees who are subcontracted and non-managerial staff) be given access to complete, up-to-date budget information and proposals, as well as simplified and easy-to-understand summary versions.

B. Open town hall forums be held throughout the budget-planning process, during which all students, faculty and staff can propose modifications. Multiple forums should be held at different times to ensure that all persons who are interested are able to attend.

3. Reformation of Executive Compensation

A. Institute a policy of transparency regarding past, current and future executive compensation. Both complete compensation packages—all salary, benefits and other remuneration received by any current or former university executive—and the mechanisms for calculating executive pay should be published in a publicly available forum.

B. Proportionally anchoring executive pay to the payment of the lowest-paid full-time worker on campus, including those employed by outside contractors. Complete annual settlements for executives should be no greater than 15 times the complete annual earnings of the lowest-paid full-time employee.

4. Fair Community Representation

A. Additional student, faculty and non-managerial staff representatives on the board of trustees. In order for a full representation of the university, the voices of multiple communities are vital for board of trustees meetings.

B. All student, faculty and non-managerial staff representatives on the board of trustees shall have voting power.

C. Students, faculty and non-managerial staff have a nonbinding vote to endorse the annual budget.

5. Lock-in of Tuition Rate

A. Tuition rate becomes locked in at time of enrollment. Tuition increases have applied to all Brandeis students, and some students and families have had to pay more money in tuition every year since matriculation. In order to guarantee that students are able to afford to attend Brandeis from the day they matriculate to the day they graduate, they should pay no more than the tuition fee at the time of enrollment in their first semester.

a. In the case of students who unenroll from Brandeis for a specified period of time but plan to return, those who return after a maximum of two consecutive semesters of absence should be allowed to continue paying at the rate of their first semester of enrollment.

B. New tuition increase for each incoming class should not exceed 3.5 percent.

C. Need-based financial aid cannot be decreased. For the duration of a student’s time at Brandeis, institutional need-based financial aid should only be allowed to increase.

D. Need-blind admissions be extended to include both transfer and wait-listed students.

We believe that if Brandeis implements these measures, it will be a major step toward creating a more equitable, democratic, welcoming and accessible community for everybody. As our mission statement demands, our university “carries the name of the justice who stood for the rights of individuals [and therefore] must be distinguished by… awareness of the power and responsibilities that come with knowledge.” The Brandeis community is aware of the shortcomings that exist here. With this knowledge, we must be held accountable and hold each other accountable, as we have the privilege, duty and ability to improve the well-being of all individuals involved in this campus.

We hope to discuss making these proposed reforms a reality with you soon.

The Brandeis Labor Coalition