Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


March 18, 2002

Time to invest in our future

Pat Marstellar is director of the Emory Center for Science Education.


The 21st century University we aspire to become needs to be a special place, leading in moral courage, a wellspring of the future and a think tank to address social ills.

As such an institution, Emory must consider first the impact of proposed changes in wages or benefits on the morale and the welfare of those at the lower levels of University salary structures and those who have already given many years of service and commitment to the University—its retirees. Emory has a moral commitment to both its current and past employees.

I was disappointed by initial reactions to proposed benefits reductions that focused on the detriment to faculty pocketbooks. We faculty are a privileged bunch, allowed to control our own research and teaching content and our own time, all supported by students and the society at large. Although there is considerable evidence that benefits are low relative to some of our peers and that recruitment and retention of faculty and staff (not to mention institutional reputation) may suffer from a miserly response to an economic downturn, there are many who will pay a much higher price than privileged faculty.

Emory already has many employees living at the edges and margins of full participation. Some are living very close to the federal poverty guidelines ($17,650 for a family of four in 2001). Many are already falling through the cracks, since they pay as much for health care as faculty and administrators, many of whom make five to 10 times as much money. Perhaps the only hope for escape from these marginal occupations is for employees or their children the hope of qualifying for tuition reimbursement or courtesy scholarships.

Solutions, anyone?

I have been amazed and gratified at the positive responses from staff and faculty over the past two weeks. The College Executive Committee set up a LearnLink open discussion area and also posted information about the state of the budget and the proposed changes. (This area can be found on LearnLink under Public Conference, then Faculty Projects. For access via the Web, visit www.learnlink.

A small self-identified group, the Budget & Benefits Working Group, set up an e-mail box to receive comments ( After momentary negativity and dismay, numerous suggestions for saving money and raising new money have emerged. Bernie Joy of the purchasing department wrote an elegant essay, “Send Us In, Coach,” suggesting that more effective use of Emory’s purchasing system could save hundreds of thousands a year for a single department.

Bernie points out the fact that there are 19,000 employees and that we all make up a team with common goals. With all of us positively attacking this financial problem, both relying on each other and helping each other, the sums that must be saved are easily attainable. From the part-time student worker to the $200,000/year executive, we must pull together and work together.

A team of writers from the microbiology department suggested that changing budget rules so that departments aren’t forced to “use it or lose it” at the end of each fiscal year has the potential for additional saving.

Environmental groups and facilities personnel suggested that turning off the lights when rooms and buildings are not in use could save significant amounts.

Another option is reducing the number of publications distributed to faculty and staff. Just this week I received three glossy, full-color brochures;

I can see mailing them to potential donors and to the public for advertising—but to all faculty and staff? Perhaps creating the option of receiving campus publications electronically, or an e-mail notification of online information, could contribute substantial savings.

Rebidding the contracts for telephone and network services, and considering a unified messaging solution instead of add-on voicemail, are among the cost-saving proposals pouring in. To paraphrase Bernie Joy: Call on us, Coach! We can help save money.

Although many faculty might object, limited growth in the student body would contribute substantial new funds. Each paying student brings approximately $26,000. With financial aid commitments at 14–19 percent, 500 new students would still cover the costs of all suggested benefits cuts. These could be split across all colleges proportionately.

Around 1992, I wrote to then-President James Laney to suggest that we revisit Emory’s conservative endowment investment and payout policy. The idea was that costs of buildings and technology infrastructure were projected to rise faster than the investment income.

Had we spent some of the endowment then to construct all the buildings in the master plan and to ramp up technology, savings would have been significant. Just compare the 1989–90 cost of Rollins Research Center with the cost of the new Whitehead building and you’ll get my drift. Indeed, because we did not invest in buildings then, Emory rents a lot of space at costs that could pay off the full purchase price in 10 years.

We all know that Institutional Advancement and all of our deans are working hard to raise new funds. Perhaps if we invested in new key staff positions, more funds could be raised. The University receives a lot of federal money for research; faculty may be able to be more efficient in grants with small investments in the Office of Technology Transfer and in grant writing assistance.

If we have a crisis that might constrain growth unless we cut benefits and new initiatives, let us spend endowment capital now and then begin a capital campaign to build it back up from a position of strength, with buildings paid for and maintaining reasonable, equitable, non-regressive benefits that exemplify the 21st century University we aspire to become. A short-term increase of a half or full percentage point in endowment payout would result in more than the funds attained through reduced benefits. We must negotiate a new compact with our administrators and our Board of Trustees to ensure this moral vision.

Perhaps a silver lining to the current cloud is the increase in dialogue among the diverse units that buoy our institution, the growing understanding that we all contribute in many capacities yet stand to be affected very differently from “one size fits all” solutions. Since institutional prosperity draws its strength from its human resources, the well-being of its employees must remain the top priority.

Deeply buried in the barrage of data supplied by Human Resources for the recent benefits town hall meetings is the estimate that the average faculty tenure at Emory is 10 years and average employee tenure is six years. Perhaps there is a warning for us there: Unless all members of the community feel valued, respected and rewarded appropriately, they leave. And if they leave dissatisfied and distrustful, our reputation will fall.

Don’t send your students, faculty and staff into the world with these words on their lips: Emory doesn’t care enough to invest in its own future and in its most important capital, human resources. Such would be the death knell of the Emory dream.