Letter to the Editor: Fund the CT Commitment! Stop layoffs! No austerity at UConn!

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To: The University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, President Thomas Katsouleas, Chief Financial Officer Scott Jordan and Provost Carl Lejeuz 

Across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated university budgets. Starved of housing and dining fees, administrators are turning to austerity cuts to fix their gaping deficits. UConn is no different. Currently, UConn is faced with a $28 million budget deficit. According to the CT Mirror: “The university has directed its departments to prepare plans that involve laying off employees and tapping their reserves to cover the remaining $28 million shortfall.” 

The final budget decisions will be made by an unelected (outside of the one graduate, one undergraduate and one alumni representative) Board of Trustees. Students, faculty and workers — in other words, the people who actually make up the university — have minimal say in the budget decisions which critically impact their lives. Graduate students who live on paltry salaries and scholarships do not have a say. Adjunct Professors whose jobs are increasingly precarious do not have a say. Students — particularly low-income students — who are subject to ever-rising tuition and fees, do not have a say. The workers who make the university tick on a day to day basis do not have a say. 

Even worse, there is precious little transparency into why and how budget decisions are made. Cuts and layoffs are frequently decided upon without any explanation beyond a vague reference to tough decisions. The recent decision to halt the CT Commitment is illustrative of this point. The only explanation we received from President Katsouleas for this budgetary decision — which will affect hundreds, if not thousands, of current low-income high school students — was that funding the program through the operating budget was “not an option in this budget environment.” 

Importantly, many recent mass student movements on campus have directly or indirectly highlighted this lack of control and transparency. The UConn Defund and Divestment Project elucidated the UConn Foundation’s refusal to disclose and detail the university’s endowment. A coalition of campus organizations led a reverse town hall calling for a “Shared UConn,” a UConn that adopts shared governance and shifts decision-making power into the hands of students, workers, and faculty. This summer’s movement to Defund UConnPD and invest in mental health services and support for victim-survivors reflects students’ desire to fund programs they believe keep them safe, rather than rely on the Board of Trustees to make that decision for them. The same can be said about last Spring’s movement to fund and rethink mental health services on campus in response to two student suicides. The Fridays for Future climate justice movement was, at its core, about students wanting a say in how the university addressed climate change and climate injustice. 

The actions of UConn leadership, despite the university’s stated values of equity, diversity, and inclusion, have worsened the livelihoods of the most vulnerable among us. The halting of the CT Commitment is only the most recent example of UConn leadership’s failure to protect the pack. For example, in spite of popular collective action by #EveryoneEatsButUConn, UConn refused to reverse cuts to student and dining workers. Furloughs, layoffs, increased labor expectations, and benefit reductions are disproportionately imposed on the most vulnerable of workers and community members. This includes Black, Indigenous, Latinx and immigrant workers, making austerity a racial justice issue as well as an economic one. If we are to uphold our values and make UConn equitable, diverse, and inclusive — if we are to #ProtectThePack — then we will become a democratic university where  those who keep the University running — students, faculty and workers — make the decisions that affect us all. 

In the wake of recent student and workers movements and the looming austerity cuts, our broad coalition of graduate students, faculty, undergraduate students and workers is issuing the following demands: 

  1. Resume and refund the CT Commitment program immediately. Institutionalize the program so that it is insulated from budget deficits and private fundraising shortfalls.  
  1. UConn must ensure that university workers, including dining, transportation, facilities and other workers hired by third parties to work for UConn, are not laid off. 
  1. Before any more wage reductions, layoffs or benefits cuts are made, senior administrators must take 30% salary cuts. Additionally, in accordance with the popular protest movement this summer, the UConn Police Department budget must be cut by at least 50% before any additional cuts. 
  1. The UConn Board of Trustees must grant public access to all budget deliberations and produce a public, line-item budget. In addition, the UConn Foundation must grant full transparency into the money currently held in the endowment as well as their investment portfolio. 
  1. Board of Trustee members must agree to cooperate on drafting a bill in the Connecticut State Legislature that creates representative seats for faculty, students, and workers at UConn with voting power over budget. Students, faculty and workers should form the majority of the Board of Trustees. 

Signed Orgs: 
Executive Board, GEU UAW Local 6950 
UConn Collaborative Organizing 
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, UConn Chapter 
Black at UConn 
PowerUp UConn 
Shared UConn 
UConn Fridays for Future 
UConn Poetic Release 
Everyone Eats But UConn 
UConn Democrats 
UConn Defund and Divestment Project 
UConn Black Muslim Association 

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