Budget cuts: When does it end and where is the line?

By Editor-in-Chief

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council approved an ordinance last December to progressively raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2019, it seemed like a historic move toward providing a living wage. 

But what Emanuel and the aldermen seemed to have misjudged is whether all institutions—particularly centers of higher education that employ more than a thousand student workers, such as Columbia—would be willing to fork over more money for its minimum wage jobs without eliminating positions. 

It appears Columbia will not be one of those colleges.

The minimum wage will rise to $10 an hour beginning July 1, and the college has yet to announce to the student population if and how it will accommodate the increase without eliminating positions. The answer seems pretty evident, though.

In order to accommodate the college’s budget reductions, departments will reduce staff and student worker positions. As discussed in the Front Page story, there will be severe reductions in available student worker positions next fall. 

This kind of news especially impacts The Chronicle because its entire staff is composed of student workers. Looking at the reductions, it appears that 30–40 percent of our staff’s positions are in jeopardy and those who handed down the budget cut are less than sympathetic to the students who are impacted by their decisions. The Chronicle is one of the few facets of the campus community that can hold the college and its administrators responsible for its actions or lack thereof. It’s oddly convenient that its ability to do so will be diminished at a time when the college moves forward with its nauseatingly brazen budget cuts—but overall services across the college, such as the equipment centers manned by students, will likely be impacted.

It is directives like this that make it hard to appreciate the college and, more so, muster any semblance of regard for those involved in the decisions to eliminate student worker positions and those who sit idly by and allow it. The pittance that is often paid to student workers tends to be funneled back to the institution anyway, whether it be through tuition, the bookstore or the expensive supplies and equipment needed for the college’s unique curriculum.

If the college was truly striving to be transparent about its operations, it would tell the campus community what it faces next semester.

Cutting student work positions also makes the college unattractive to its potential students. Having the ability to work at a job that schedules around a full-time class schedule is an attractive selling point to students. 

Eliminating any student work position is reflective of an apparent apathetic attitude by college leadership toward the student body. It is an injustice that affects students struggling to pay the extravagant tuition. It is an injustice that hits the hundreds of international students who can only legally work on campus. It is a slap in the face to the 1,100–1,200 students who work on campus and a sign of how little they factor into the administrators’ decisions. 

Above all else, it sends the message that students and their contributions to the campus—aside from the depletion of their family’s savings funds or the burden of student loans—aren’t valued. 

The college also has a hefty endowment that it could use to  mitigate the impact on student workers. If for nothing else, a withdrawal could help cushion the blow for next year, allowing the college to explore alternative funding options.   

Making budget cuts when there is a need to mitigate a deficit isn’t easy. It requires hard decisions that yield unpopular responses. It is no secret that the college’s lack of planning and its inability to recruit students like it used to has created the need for such drastic action. But when does the cutting end? And where is the line between a smart decision and a decision that irrevocably impacts a college’s student population? Hopefully the college’s leadership will take the time to explore that question because it is increasingly evident that such thought does not occur, especially during the budgeting process.