In an email to the members of the Fordham University community, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, announced that the university has suspended all contributions to university faculty and staff retirement plans, beginning on the Nov. 6 payroll through June 2021. The announcement was made just nine days before the suspension took effect. The plan was quickly met with criticism throughout the Fordham community, with many faculty members speaking out via social media to express their disappointment with the decision.
Amid an endlessly challenging semester, the suspension has only furthered the burden that the pandemic has placed on faculty and staff members.
In response, the Faculty Senate, representing Fordham faculty, has decided to begin legal proceedings against the university, believing that the decision to suspend benefits violates university statutes.
At The Fordham Ram, we want to echo the concerns of the faculty and share our support for the actions of the Faculty Senate in response to the suspension.
While difficult decisions need to be made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this decision was far too abrupt, leaving faculty and staff with few options to prepare for the financial ramifications of the suspension.
Fordham was not the only institution to suspend faculty and staff member retirement funding. Boston University, Georgetown University and Duke University each announced similar suspensions. However, all three universities released these decisions in May of this year, giving faculty and staff proper time to make necessary arrangements and employment decisions with the suspension in mind.
Fordham faculty members have taken to Instagram via the account @fordhamfacultyspeakout, which provides a “safe space” for faculty to anonymously write about their experiences. Following the announcement of the suspension, a multitude of anonymous faculty and staff members have spoken out against the decision.
In one post, an anonymous faculty member wrote, “In its zero-sum mentality and threatening tone, the email today from the President and the Chair of the Board of Trustees is an extreme example of hypocrisy.” Another post expressed frustration with the administration for their lack of two-way communication with the faculty members and “failing to negotiate in good faith.”
These messages underscore a crucial point: This decision was not handled with respect towards the faculty and staff that contribute so much to the university community.
Faculty members have also drawn attention to the disparities that are underscored with this suspension. As one faculty member wrote, “The administration’s retirement contributions cut will disproportionately affect junior faculty (who have no savings and will lose out on future interest).” The anonymous member also noted that junior faculty includes the majority of Fordham’s women and people of color on staff.
As much as Fordham professors want to remain dedicated to ensuring quality education, these financial decisions have added further challenges in providing that education. “I have been working my heart out to support my students and the university in this time of crisis,” an anonymous faculty member wrote on the Instagram account. “For the university to reward that by breaking its contracts with faculty and threatening our future is an extraordinary betrayal.”
With so many classes being taught online, many students expressed frustration at the tuition increases for the 2020-2021 academic year, despite petitions for refunds when all classes were made remote during the spring 2020 semester.
With increased tuition and thus a higher burden on students financially, the quality of education must be preserved. As students, we have worked to hold the university accountable in providing education that is worth the price of tuition. When professors are not being fairly compensated or are feeling unappreciated by the university, it will be much harder for them to provide the meaningful and dedicated education that students deserve.
These decisions have a domino effect. As the university makes decisions to undervalue its professors, student learning will inevitably be impacted. Fordham has a responsibility to ensure that their faculty, staff and students all feel fairly compensated and valued — on an educational and financial level.
Just as students listened to one another’s experiences via @blackatfordham and @letstalkaboutitfordham over the summer, the faculty and staff member contributions to @fordhamfacultyspeakout must be given the same attention. Students cannot take the faculty for granted, nor can the administration. While the road to total financial recovery from the pandemic may be unclear, Fordham must remain dedicated to its mission to be men and women for others, committed to the well-being of one another and the promotion of wisdom and learning.
The Fordham University administration must remain dedicated to protecting their faculty and staff members. Though COVID-19 has posed incredible challenges for the university, it is unacceptable to release these decisions without proper and meaningful discussion with faculty and staff members.