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Education

Citing New Economic Analysis, Unions Claim UMD College Park Is Underpaying its Staff

University of Maryland welcome sign
Photo by carmichaellibrary on Flickr.

Over the past decade, some employees at the University of Maryland College Park have noticed a decline in tenured faculty and more frontline workers struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living. A recent report detailing the university’s financial decisions seems to have confirmed their suspicions.

Between 2013 and 2022, there was a 7% decrease in the number of faculty on a tenured track and a 19% increase in those in contingent faculty positions, as well as an 11% increase in graduate teaching assistants, according to a report by Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University released on Monday.

The 123-page report was contracted by the University of Maryland College Park chapter of the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1072 and Fearless Student Employees, which represents graduate students and cost $6,000.

Non-tenure track faculty members make up almost 70% of the university’s faculty, according to the university’s AAUP chapter.

The report also highlighted a disproportionate increase in salaries of top university administrators such as deans when compared with the salaries of other employees including instructional support staff and researchers. Between 2016 and 2020, university deans saw a 37% increase in salaries and top administrators saw a 15% increase in salary. Instructors saw a 12% increase in salaries while public service workers saw a 3% decline in salary, according to the report.

To Holly Brewer, an associate professor in the University of Maryland College Park history department and the president of the university’s AAUP chapter, the report demonstrated the university’s disinvestment in student instruction. Contingent faculty and graduate students are severely overburdened with teaching responsibilities and sometimes have two or three additional jobs to make ends meet, she said.

“What we’re seeing is that the University of Maryland is being run more like a corporation and that is not in keeping with the traditions of higher education, which is shared governance,” Karin Rosemblatt, a professor at University of Maryland College Park history department and vice president of the university’s AAUP chapter, said during a press conference on Monday.

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of top administration employees increased by 42% while class instruction support staff declined by 5%, according to the report.

Although the university has been relying more on graduate teaching assistants, graduate students are also struggling to make ends meet, said Samuel DiBella, a first-year graduate student at the College of Information Studies on the College Park campus. Stipends can be as low as $21,000, according to Fearless Student Employees, a graduate student group that advocates for collective bargaining rights.

“Graduate [teaching assistants] are fundamentally in a very precarious situation — we are assigned semester by semester to different coursework,” DiBella said. “We don’t have a contract; we don’t have a guarantee that we will continue to receive funding.”

DiBella also lamented mandatory student fees that eat up part of the stipends. For this academic school year, full-time graduate students paid $1,635 in mandatory fees while full-time undergraduate students had to pay $1,955.

A bill that would grant collective bargaining rights to graduate students at Morgan State University, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and in the University of Maryland system failed to move out of committee this legislative session.

The report also showed that the University of Maryland College Park is doing well financially despite the COVID-19 pandemic, mostly thanks to state appropriations and grant funds. Revenue from tuition and student fees fell by about $20 million between 2019 and 2020, but the university also saw around a $40 million increase in state appropriations, according to a chart in the report.

“Any claims that College Park is in financial trouble or needs to make draconian cuts are not supported by the empirical evidence,” the report states. “College Park is doing very well financially. The only thing that should be cut is administration.”

With a strong financial position, the university “should share that wealth among all employees,” Todd Holden, the president of AFSCME Local 1072, said. “This report helps to confirm things that people on campus know already.”

When asked about the report’s findings, a spokesperson for the University of Maryland College Park said that the university’s strategic plan invests in teaching and learning.

“Our budget priorities are aligned with our recently released strategic plan. In the plan, we declare our investments in teaching and learning, research, arts and, critically, our people and communities. It’s a plan that prioritizes people, impact, diversity, and service to humanity,” Hafsa Siddiqi, spokeswoman for the University of Maryland College Park, said in a statement.