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Last year, the University of Notre Dame’s endowment reached a colossal $20.3 billion. This money, the campaign says, should give them the ability to care for their students and workers better than many other universities in the country; however, this is not necessarily the case. The Raising the Standard campaign disagrees with how the university pays its student workers, as well as its workers in the surrounding off-campus area.
It is a tumultuous time for many. There have been unprecedented developments that have created chaos for the economy. COVID-19 has only just waned, but it would be naive to assume that it hasn’t left lasting ill effects.
“We are recovering from a huge recession due to COVID,” said one of the campaign’s co-directors, Edward Brunicardi. Even without COVID-19, high inflation rates have plagued the economy for months. Brunicardi points to the fact that inflation is skyrocketing for many, with longstanding financial problems only getting worse for individuals across the country. There are a multitude of external factors, in addition to rising inflation, which combine to ensure that people will be buried in debt.
“These are needs that people had before COVID and before inflation got worse over the past few months. And so I can only think – to the person who was struggling to live on his current salary six months ago – that it becomes even more impossible now,” said the campaign’s other co-director, Bridget Schippers.
“We are going through very difficult economic times. And, we can choose to recover from it by being in places where we were before, or in some way forging a new path,” Brunicardi explained. “I would definitely like the second option.”
The Raising the Standard campaign aims to right those wrongs. The idea for this campaign came from Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education, who has been working on this subject for several years and has reached out to students to help him in his mission. In this campaign, there are two teams that each have their own responsibilities.
The research team is doing the work behind the scenes. They collect and analyze data to lobby for certain standards related to increased salaries and benefits for university employees.
“The research team is basically trying to study the question, figure out where the inequities are in our current salary structure at Notre Dame, and then what is the standard we should be looking for and why those standards are actually a good thing. to do” Brunicardi mentioned.
Important work is also done by the advocacy team. Their work has focused on liaison, with the intention of keeping in touch with the community they are committed to serving. Therefore, the advocacy team collects statements and contributions from local workers, as well as relaying the information found by the research team.
“Our advocacy team is really fair on the communication side to make sure we get a lot of feedback from workers,” Brunicardi said. “It is also enough to send the information and talk to other people who would have a lot of influence like our administration and generally to persuade them.
Workers are at the center of the campaign. The Raising the Standard campaign is committed to maintaining this goal throughout the process. They contact workers to identify their problems and find out how to solve them. This increased the transparency of the work. Without their input, the campaign says, they would be relying on convoluted and seemingly incomplete data provided to them by the university.
“It’s been difficult for us during this process to really understand the salary structure because we’ve tried to ask the administration a lot of questions and we don’t really get full answers about it,” said Brunicardi: “Which is important to know because if we don’t know how our system works, it is difficult to improve it.”
It has become clear to the campaign that the university may not even realize how much it is disenfranchising its workers. According to them, the administration is always proud to declare their high salaries and numerous benefits, but this is not enough. Benefits and salaries appear to be adequate, but their calculations leave out a plethora of unaccounted-for items.
“I think it’s important to realize that if you’re a student on campus and you have a low income, yes, you have other better paying jobs,” Brunicardi said. “But a lot of times if it’s in South Bend you have to go out into the community to go and work that job and if you’re on a low income it’s hard to get a car.”
Other universities, such as Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Rochester, New York University and Johns Hopkins University, have made changes to working conditions on campus similar to those proposed by the campaign.
“Many of them have seen their attendance or applications to college increase,” Brunicardi said,
Fundamentally, the campaign asserts, Notre Dame and South Bend are inextricably linked; the university holds immense authority over the city and its functioning.
“Notre Dame is the largest employer in South Bend. And so we have to start taking that responsibility,” Schippers said.
Our Lady is charged with raising the standard because it is the standard. Since Notre Dame has such a big impact, they are able to set standards for the rest of the community.
“It’s not just enough to match market salaries because we’re picking market salaries,” Schippers said.
The university promotes Catholic virtues; students are expected to help others and make a difference globally. With this in mind, the campaign argues that they must learn to put their own words into practice, emphasizing that community members must be cared for and their issues must be taken seriously.
“The main objective of this campaign is to ensure that we respect the values of Catholic social teaching, to ensure that we recognize the dignity of work,” noted Schippers.
In a university, the students remain the most important component. For this reason, the campaign posits that it is their responsibility to stand up for what is right. Students can take it upon themselves to learn about the campaign, spread the word, and sign petitions as they become available.
Over the next year, the school will decide on its strategic plan for the next ten years. The Raising the Standard campaign believes that clubs and organizations should include in their demands that the university requires treating its workers with dignity and creating a living wage, instead of just a minimum wage.
“It’s getting to the point where we’re able to do great things. So let’s actually do them,” Schippers said.