May 16, 2009
Dear Members of the Vassar Community,
I am writing in regard to issues raised by students and others related to employment on campus and broader concerns about the college’s finances. As many of you know, a number of employees and students have demonstrated on campus about these issues, and a group of students held a hunger strike on the second floor of Main, which they ended yesterday.
The students have emphasized the need for a climate of respect and dignity for everyone who works on campus. I believe strongly that that is a value shared by all of us -- students, employees, and trustees. Those of us at the college entrusted with making decisions affecting the workforce are doing so thoughtfully and carefully.
A specific issue that has been raised by students is that of summer employment. Because of fewer summer programs this year, resulting from the economic downturn, we have been able to offer summer employment to fewer staff than in years past. These are staff members whose negotiated union contracts provide for employment during the academic year, with additional employment based on seniority during the summer when that work is available.
Other members of the senior administration and I met on Thursday and Friday with a coalition of students from the May Day Working Group and MEChA de Vassar. Together, we have agreed to take steps that we believe will support Vassar employees who are facing economic hardship and also provide members of the campus community with additional ways to remain informed about Vassar’s finances and continue our discussions.
Notably, a Hardship Fund will be established to which members of the Vassar community can contribute to provide support for Vassar employees who face economic hardship due to a reduction in work. We consider this fund to be consistent with our community’s commitment to social justice. The students and members of the administration who helped develop the idea of the Hardship Fund all will contribute as well as encourage others to do so. A group comprising representatives of the college community will advise on the administration of the fund. Details will be made available to everyone on campus in the very near future.
Other efforts that the college is continuing to make address concerns the students have voiced. The college is establishing a website where information about the institution’s financial status will be available to students and employees. As has been the case throughout this academic year, there will continue to be regular opportunities for members of the community to engage in discussions about the financial priorities that support the college’s mission. We also will create forums in which the college’s financial planning is related especially to issues of social justice.
I respect the concern and support that employees and students have shown toward other members of our campus workforce. I believe the actions noted above, especially the Hardship Fund, will enable all of us to express that support in even more concrete ways. I want to express my appreciation to the students and my colleagues who have worked hard to help develop these useful ideas and I welcome a continuing dialogue.
Below is the statement signed by the students and administrators who participated in the discussions over the last several days.
May 15, 2009
We agree that:
- the college will establish a Hardship Fund to which members of the Vassar community will be encouraged to contribute in order to provide support for Vassar employees who face economic hardship in 2009 from loss of income due to a reduction in work. The administration of the fund, to commence operation by June 26th, will be advised by a group made up of representatives of the college community;
- we will work together to disseminate information about this fund and encourage our colleagues to contribute to it;
- each of us will make a contribution to the fund as an unequivocal indication of our personal concern for the welfare of members of our community; no college funds may be allocated to this fund.
We also wish to confirm certain ongoing efforts to allow for constructive dialogue among the members of the community:
- the college is establishing a website where information about the college’s financial status is available to all students and employees; there will be electronic announcements to the community when significant updates to the website are made;
- we will continue to engage in conversations with each other and with different constituencies about financial planning in a variety of ways throughout the year: at the staff forum, the administrative forum, faculty meetings, VSA council, with various student groups, official college committees and with any group of employees at their request; our goal in these conversations will be to share thoughts and ideas regarding a plan for Vassar’s fiscal health that will allow it to fulfill its mission. We expect that the tenor of discourse in these conversations will be characterized by respectful and ethical debate, compromise, integrity, independent thought and a concern for the college’s mission. We will organize forums in which the college’s financial planning is related especially to issues of social justice.
As members of the Vassar community we are committed to its stated mission to work “towards a more just, diverse, egalitarian, and inclusive college community where all members feel valued and are fully empowered to claim a place in—and responsibility for—our shared working, living, and learning.” (Vassar’s Mission Statement)
Philip Royce Drake
Michael Anthony Velarde II