Pay employees more!
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, February 3, 2009
During the economic boom years from 2004-2007, Notre Dame’s endowment
received an average annual return on investment of 20 percent, ahead of many of its peers. Even in 2008, an economically tumultuous year, the University realized a 5.8percent return. And yet, during these financially bountiful times, the workers at this University heard a common refrain: “We can’t afford to pay you more.” Workers heard this at town hall meetings, where a couple of graphs showing available revenues and costs seemed to show that the University was paying as much as it could, if not more. These were the reasons for wages commonly below the Indiana Federal Benefits Line, which defines food stamp eligibility, and certainly short of a living wage.
One might wonder, “How could this be?” The common explanation given by the University was that most of the funds in the endowment were untouchable for wage purposes; they were earmarked donations from alumni that could only go toward certain parts of the budget. This lack of fungibility supposedly hamstrung the University, and so, they did the best they could. If this seems hard to believe, it is because it is simply not true. Look no further than the University’s Annual Report. In 2008, the University saw an increase in unrestricted net assets from operations of over $51 million. This was on top of over $58 million for the previous year. The key word is “unrestricted”; it means that these funds can be used for anything. The University merely chooses to put them back into the endowment.
A little back-of-the-envelope math reveals that last year’s surplus could give each of the University’s 2300 (estimated) non-exempt employees and increase in salary of $22,000, which would double the salary of many workers here. Even using 20 percent of the surplus would result in a $2/hour increase in wages, moving many employees above the food-stamps line and closer to a living wage. Obviously, money is tightening up around the University. No one expects the University to realize a return on its investments in this fiscal year. However, as the economy begins to
recover, let’s remember to prioritize where our largesse goes, and direct it to those in the Notre Dame family that need, and deserve it, the most…