According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a single person living in Seattle who earns under $50,400 a year is categorized as “low income.” Someone making less than $33,600 qualifies as “very low income.” One who earns less than $20,200? They’re considered “extremely low income.”
Seattle U faculty and staff struggle to pay for increasingly costly living in Seattle.
Many Seattle University faculty and staff fall into one of these three categories.
Some faculty and staff in various departments—those who teach UCOR classes, who run Learning Communities, who operate the library—earn what are considered to be poverty wages. Some, like non- tenure track part-time faculty, do so with scant job security, often finding out on a quarter-to-quarter basis if they’ll still have a job.
Add that stress to the rising cost of living in Seattle—which has increased 3.4 percent in the last 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics—along with childcare fees, commuting time and medical bills, and you’re left with a body of employees whose morale is less than ideal. At least that’s what was concluded during a recent survey in the College of Arts and Sciences.
The survey, open during the end of winter and beginning of spring quarter, was created by the College of Arts and Sciences Faculty Staff Senate, a shared-governance body comprised of 11 staff, tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty.
Kimberly Gawlik, At-Large Staff Senator and Senior Administrative Assistant at the Institute of Public Service and Environmental Studies, said the survey was created in large part as a result of the many anecdotes of financial struggle shared with the senate. The survey posed three simple questions:
1) What is your position at the university?
2) How long have you been at the university?
3) What is your economic reality?
About half of the faculty and staff within the College of Arts and Sciences—122 employees— responded to the survey.
“Half of the college doesn’t turn out for anything,” said Chris Paul, President of the Senate and Communication Department Chair. “It’s more than twice the people that generally vote in any of our elections. This was an outpouring.”
The employees responded with deeply personal narratives. Some wrote a few words, others wrote paragraphs. Some said they are working multiple jobs and debating whether or not to start a family because of the costs. Others, namely those with higher wage-earning partners and those who’ve worked at the university for at least two decades, are doing okay. Despite the discrepancies, the vast majority expressed a shared sentiment: they are struggling financially.
Due to the sensitivity of these stories, Paul asked that none of the specific results be disclosed publicly.
What he and the senate did do, though, is email redacted survey results to university leadership, including the president, chief financial officer, provost and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences on Thursday, April 20. In addition, they attached a letter addressed to university leadership. Below are some of its key points:
“Somewhat predictably given our salary structure, staff and non-tenure track faculty are struggling most. However, they are not alone. There are a substantial number of tenure- track and tenured faculty members in the College who are also living paycheck-to-paycheck—faced with incredibly difficult choices about how to make ends meet. People have deferred medical care, gone hungry or to the food bank, turned down the heat in their homes and juggled bills in order to keep the lights on.
“Full-time day care in the region of campus can cost between $1,500 and $2,000 a month, which represents a substantial portion of a monthly SU salary within the College and is simply impossible for a sizable number of College employees. Given the number of evening activities for many members of the College, those with families are left patching things together and relying on the assistance of friends and family to provide care for their children
“Short and long term University budget planning must not only take this reality into account, it must redress it.”
Paul said the location of Seattle U will be an advantage in its ability to attract and retain students. Alternatively, he said, the financial scarcity at the university is an “existential threat” to its ability to attract and retain employees.
“And it’s gonna get increasingly hard, and I don’t know the way out of it,” Paul said. “I knew it was bad; that survey moved me. It’s worse than I expected, and to think about the HUD data, about the literal poverty wages that we are paying people, it’s disturbing at a place that is mission- driven, cares for the person. And I don’t envy [Provost Bob Dullea] and [Chief Financial Officer Connie Kanter’s] job. I don’t think there’s a magic pot of money that solves this, but man, it’s not right.”
Tess may be reached at