Faculty pay freeze, DePaul decision making process, business-focused approach

DePauls+Lincoln+Park+campus.

Eric Henry

DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus.

DePaul placed a pay freeze on faculty and staff wages, resulting in financial hardships for low-salary employees despite the already straining pandemic. Community members criticized the university for prioritizing profits over compensating faculty and staff.

According to Tom Mondschean, economics and business school Faculty Council representative, faculty and staff have not received a raise since January 2020. Since the pay freeze was implemented, the consumer price index has risen 5.4 percent.

“Adjusted for inflation, we’re down about 10 percent from where we were in January of 2020,” Mondschean said. “I think the key difference is that the inflation rate is over twice what it has been historically over the last 20 years. It’s been about 2 percent per year for the last 20 years and right now it’s [5.4 percent]. That’s a big difference, so this, unfortunately, was a terrible year to select for a pay freeze.”

Faculty and staff wages have not adjusted with the rate of inflation, and as a result, DePaul employees experienced a 5 percent salary decrease. On top of that, faculty and staff lost another 5 percent of their salary to the school’s 403b match, in which a portion of their salary is allocated towards their pensions.

The ongoing financial constraints may create burdens for members of the DePaul community — especially for lower paid adjunct faculty and staff members — and have led some to question DePaul’s Vincentian mission and priorities.

DePaul’s mission statement claims the university “compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith and inclusive community” and “addresses the great questions of our day, promoting peaceful, just and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges.” Yet, DePaul community members criticize the university for minimizing expenses over providing equitable solutions for their faculty, staff and student financial concerns.

“I think not giving faculty raises … for potentially three years in a row is not very Vincentian,” School of Music Faculty Council Representative Michael Lewanski said. “You’ve got adjunct faculty that do not have tenure and are very precariously employed and really make much less money than tenured tenure line faculty do. Those people not getting any sort of increase in their payment … might have a very substantial negative benefit on them.”

“The general idea is that the lower your salary, the more hardship this implies … If you’re making $50,000 or $40,000 a year, you got little kids, your spouse is working and you’re really trying to make ends meet, then the pay freeze really hurts,” Mondschean added.

Lewanksi said he believes the core of the issue lies in how DePaul operates more like a business than a nonprofit institution.

“Keeping DePaul competitive … is the beginning of the conversation,” Lewanski said. “It’s not necessarily that, you know, is this providing the best education.”

DePaul’s business-forward decision making process has been noticed by students — even those newest to campus.

“I definitely think that DePaul fronts as a business-focused institution when it should be academic-focused and student-focused instead,” said freshman Ava Krastin. “I think that DePaul is very concerned about aesthetics and that shows.”

Mondschean said that while some business practices are inherent in university operations, putting profits over other priority areas may not serve the best interests of the DePaul community.

“There’s a lot of issues where there is going to be corporate influence, and that’s not a bad thing,” Mondschean said. “But the difference is a university is about increasing knowledge. Students come through here for a period of time and they come out with a better understanding of whatever field it is they want to pursue.”

When institutions prioritize profits over who they hire to teach classes, students may not receive the same quality education as a result.

“A model simply reducing costs because they’re trying to provide the lowest cost faculty in the classroom, hiring term and adjunct faculty instead of tenure track faculty, that’s one issue where we differ, perhaps, with the administration,” Mondschean added.

Both Mondschean and Lewanski highlighted DePaul’s return to principal policy, whereby money that’s withdrawn from the endowment is returned to the endowment by the end of the year, as a potential area to reallocate funds from to increase faculty and staff wages.

“It’s a very unusual, I would almost say unique policy, and we would like it to stop,” Mondschean said.

“… We’re not going to do a return to principal [this year], which is several million dollars of additional resources …” Mondshean added. “But the year after, we’ll have to start doing it again and we’re doing half of what is normal, and we argue that that was premature.”

Mondschean also pointed to DePaul’s increasing need for revenue, which can be met by enrolling more students.

“The problem right now is we don’t have enough revenue, and we’re not quite sure why that is the case,” Monschean said. ”That would be where I would look to try to find money that can be used to provide faculty and staff with raises.”

Lewanski said the higher education industry is concerned about a potential enrollment drop once students born during The Great Recession are old enough to enroll in college, considering the low birth rates at the time. Many universities are conserving money to get through that period, while others are investing money to ensure they can attract the most students.

“The thing we need to be doing is maximally supporting our students, staff and faculty with our financial resources so that the institution continues to improve,” Lewanski said. “And I think that’s the way we continue to attract really high-quality students.”