The Pandemic has Exacerbated Ongoing University Budget Issues
United Campus Workers (UCW-CWA) local 7799 is a collective of students, professors, and administrators spanning the University of Colorado system. Since its inception in the Spring of 2020, the organization has put out several articles and studies on the University of Colorado’s labor and budgetary situation.
The UCW’s most recent study, “Questionable Decisions,” was published in May of 2021. A reaction to the University’s COVID relief program, the document seeks to explain the way CU administration responded to the financial burden of the pandemic.
According to the report, cuts in departmental budgets were steep on every campus. In some cases, colleges were asked to cut 10 to 20 percent of their overhead costs. Tenured professors across all campuses were asked to take a five percent pay-cut for fiscal year 2020. Tuition, which makes up a sizable portion of all University revenue, fell dramatically. According to the University’s budget remodel, the University of Colorado is readjusting to the pandemic with its “financial success” in mind, but the UCW is asking how necessary any of these really cuts were.
“Budgets are moral documents,” explains Shea Swauger, himself quoting civil rights activist Brittany Cunningham. “[There are] predictable outcomes to a budget like this,” he continues. Shea is an impassioned advocate for budget reform and a current member of CU Denver’s UCW. Key among his beliefs is that wage inequality at the University is being driven by administrative efforts to cut overhead costs. To evidence this, he points to existing problems within the University’s tenure system. “Full-time teachers are expensive,” he says, explaining the University’s continued expansion of adjunct professorships. These professors, who teach most classes on all campuses, often find themselves teaching more (in terms of class size, class number, and workload) for less than their tenured counterparts. The result, claims the UCW, is that while the cost of tuition is going up, the quality of education is going down.
Central to the financial issues facing the University of Colorado system is an ongoing lack of state funding. Since the passage of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992, the state of Colorado’s annual spending on higher education has plummeted. Due to this lack of state funding, the University of Colorado has become increasingly dependent on student tuition and fees. One outcome of this dependency is reflected in the student bodies of all CU campuses. As the need for tuition revenue increases, the prospect of recruiting out-of-state students has become more appealing. The number of students who pay more by virtue of their status as non-Coloradoans is increasing every semester.
These are only a few of UCW’s many critiques of the University’s handling of the COVID pandemic. Their full report, “Questionable Decisions,” can be accessed online for free via their website.
Though most of the group’s members are affiliated with CU Boulder, the group has begun to expand to other campuses as well. UCW 7799 accepts members from all campus employees regardless of schedule, pay, or position. The only notable exception to this rule is the Denver branch’s disallowance of any member of the Auraria Police Department from joining its ranks. Membership is currently open, with monthly dues evaluated on a sliding scale. UCW encourages all student employees, professors, and wage workers to consider membership.