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Balancing excellence with affordability at SLU

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In recent weeks Saint Louis University professors have been promised that our salaries will finally be raised to approach—even in a small way—national averages. I won’t complain about the fact that our salaries have been among the lowest in the nation, nor will I belabor the President’s decision to deny pay increases to faculty and staff last year. Our health care costs went up, and without even a cost-of-living increase, our paychecks have actually decreased. But let that go. With the promise that these issues would finally be addressed, many of us breathed a sigh of relief.

Until we heard that our salaries would be funded, at least in part, by a 3.9 percent tuition hike.

That news struck us silent. Should our students and their hard-working parents be asked to help fund a salary increase, as necessary and as fair as it might be? It is important to note that this new tuition hike follows a 3.8 percent increase last year and 4 percent in 2011. That’s 11.7 percent cumulatively over three years. By way of comparison, inflation grew by 3 percent in 2011 and just 1.7 percent in 2012.

The graph provided shows that over the past decade, the administration has set tuition increases in the 5 percent to 8 percent range, even as they held faculty salary pools in the 1 percent to 2 percent range. More to the point: According to page 4 of Standard & Poor’s Credit Analysis of Saint Louis University’s fiscal health, dated April 8, 2011, the University’s administrators are currently monitoring student financial aid and have recommended plans “to gradually reduce institutionally funded financial [student] aid as the economic environment improves.”

The interests and well-being of students, staff and faculty are not in opposition; they are in harmony and must be treated as such. Surely, affordable tuition and reasonable faculty and staff salaries don’t cancel each other out? By some Orwellian logic, however, we have been told that the tuition hike is necessary in order to keep a SLU education affordable for all students.

SLU is a wonderful university; its mission, when properly realized, inspires and encourages us all. I know that my colleagues and I will continue to do our utmost to fulfill our own personal vocation to teach, serve and research. That won’t change. But the administration of the University must find a way to fund the academic mission through sensible allocation of resources, dedicated fundraising efforts, and rational long-range planning. Those goals have to include keeping our excellent education affordable. Those goals are not in conflict with justice across the entire University community, and they can only be realized with the recognition that we’re all working together to realize a common goal.

-Silvana Siddali, associate professor of history


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