CAMPUS CORRESPONDENCE : Let Them Eat Top Ramen: Pay Hikes Show Contempt For Students

Christine Hagstrom, a senior English major at UCLA, edits the Viewpoint section of the Daily Bruin

When I began UCLA as a freshman in 1988, tuition was just under $1,500 a year. Next year, it will be twice that, meaning, for example, that students making $7 an hour will have to work at least 200 hours more a year to stay in school.

Times are tough, we keep hearing. Everybody is making sacrifices. Students are shelling out more money, staff and faculty are foregoing cost-of-living increases, key employees are leaving for more lucrative jobs and top University of California officials are begging Sacramento for more money.

The UC system is all but broke, we're told. The campus community's help is being enlisted.

When it was leaked to the press in early April that UC Regents are handing a golden-parachute package worth more than $857,000 to retiring UC President David P. Gardner, people were outraged. But when it was revealed that top UCLA administrators quietly received pay hikes last summer--despite a salary freeze--an arctic wind swept over a campus previously united by the common fate of empty pockets.

The rationale behind UCLA's pay freeze, implemented in early 1991, is that, if raises cannot be given to all, no one should get them. This is economically sound. Equally important, it is fair. Unfortunately, an increasing alienation of the affluent few who run the university from the economic reality of many who work and study at UCLA is feeding the cynicism of overworked students, staff and faculty.

In cold, fiscal terms, a rationale for the raises exists. UCLA Chancellor Charles Young reorganized his administration, eliminating several high positions and shifting their responsibilities to other top people. He saved $1 million--a shrewd economic move. But granting raises to high-level co-workers was not.

These administrators do work hard for their money. But downsizing is going on throughout the university; employees are taking on added work merely to keep their jobs. Many vacated positions are going unfilled while other workers take up the slack. The pay hikes were an abrupt slap in the face to employees who endure these kinds of belt-tightening measures with no monetary compensation, just dedication.

Technically, Young's crew did not get "cost-of-living" increases. Instead, their titles will be altered to reflect the extra work and to allow for the augmentation of salaries. When asked why this same trick wouldn't fly for other staff members whose workloads are climbing, Young said that while everyone is working harder, these administrators are working a lot harder. Staff and union representatives weren't surprised by his comment, which reinforces their long-held view that Young is increasingly out of touch with the daily operations of his campus.

Classes are bigger. Dynamic teachers are jumping ship. Vital plans, such as long-overdue seismic upgrades, are being indefinitely shelved. Student fees are climbing. Students who took a quarter off to work are disappearing for an entire year. Many won't return.

So while I discover new and innovative ways to eat Top Ramen, Young's right-hand administrator, Andrea Rich, is taking in close to $150,000 a year. Again, an economic justification exists. Despite her added responsibilities, Rich still makes less than her predecessor. While it is true that she has extra work, the fact is, most at UCLA do.

The money could have been better spent.

While the chancellor's move to save $1 million was the right one, the decision to exempt top employees from a strict salary freeze was wrong. When a handful of administrators, whose salaries are in the $100,000 range, are the sole recipients of non-merit pay hikes, no economic jargon can clear the slate and restore trust.

Young's actions send a distinct message: The big shots get everything on a silver platter, while the little people will have to sue to receive similar treatment. UCLA needs to take care of the overworked people to whom "cost of living" means paying the bills, buying clothes and shelling out more money at the grocery store. Only then can university officials fluff the pillows of the privileged.

Young has confessed he would handle the raises differently if he could do it again: He would have decreased some pay hikes and postponed others. Although he now says he "lacked sensitivity" to economic problems, his primary excuse is that he was unaware of the extremity of UCLA's budget woes. Many have a hard time swallowing this. The chancellor did not know UCLA's budget was in dire straits a year ago?

The comic irony of this fiasco is that Young recently engineered a hold on all UC non-merit raises until the economy takes a positive turn.

What convenient timing.

When asked about the disheartening message sent out to "Joe Bruin" when Gardner receives enough money to finance hundreds of UC educations while student registration fees climb, and top UCLA administrators receive raises while lower-level employees are forced to make do, Young said the issues must be separated. Impossible.

If I were a state legislator being lobbied by campus officials for more money, I would laugh in their faces. Last year, UCLA spent millions renovating the chancellor's residence and building a new campus entrance way. It scares me to think where our much-needed funds would go next year--a private Lear Jet? Oops, we bought that two years ago.

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