This piece reflects the views of Hannah Pell, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected]
As a graduate employee in music at the University of Oregon, much of my energy has been spent leading groups of my colleagues to the student food pantry on a number of occasions, because it is difficult to afford groceries when your salary barely covers rent alone. My colleagues deal with persistent Wi-Fi inaccessibility at work, despite our right to internet access covered in our employment contract. Some employees lack desks or office space, while others are frequently guilted into overworking. But at the same time, we read articles about multi-million-dollar private donations—which, of course, we’re told cannot be allocated to operational costs. In other words, these donations cannot be used to pay my salary or the salaries of my hard-working colleagues whose work is necessary to provide the “premiere” level of music education that UO markets. Our work contributes to donor attraction, yet we see none of the benefits.
I believe these examples of insufficient support are a consequence of a broader, systematic institutional punishment for those who feel compelled to pursue the arts. Budgets directly reflect priorities, and UO has made it clear that the arts are considered far less valuable than accelerating scientific impact. For example, the most recent round of administration budget cuts demands over $300,000 from the School of Music and Dance compared to a measly $4,000 from President Schill’s pet project - the new Knight Campus.
The diversity of knowledge and skills that the nearly 1,400 Graduate Employees contribute to UO is invaluable and cannot be measured against a bottom line. Spanning the art-science dichotomy is the dignity of labor, and graduate employee work of all forms is necessary and important to this institution. As an undergraduate, I studied physics, so I understand first-hand the difficult demands of STEM, as well as the critical role of science in a progressive and technology-reliant society. But, as I am equally a musician, the recurring question I find myself asking is, ‘At what cost?’ At the cost of the artists whose work reminds us of our humanity? At the cost of the musicians who communicate beauty beyond words? Who is left to fulfill these aspects after eliminating programs in the arts?
If UO administration plans to develop “creative solutions” to combat their so-called budgetary “crisis,” perhaps they should seek help from those who thrive in creative spaces. I will reiterate this because it cannot be said enough: budgets reflect priorities. I witness the consequences of devaluing the arts on a daily basis, and such decisions clearly communicate a message that your labor means less to us. Over time, people internalize that.
UO has decided that one of its budgetary priorities is revenue generation, stating that “initiatives and programs that generate revenue should be priorities that vice presidents weigh in their budget-reduction considerations. For this reason, frontline fundraisers and student recruiters will be protected. In addition, programs and efforts that support enrollment growth goals should be similarly prioritized.” I can’t help but wonder if UO still considers itself a public academic institution — a space for opportunity and growth via any path that a student dreams to pursue, whether in the arts, sciences or another realm entirely — or, rather, a corporation more concerned with passing the responsibility of a fiscal crisis of their own making onto the most vulnerable.