State Issues

Inequality is easy to find on UC campuses

UC Berkeley professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich speaks to an audience following a screening of “Inequality for All” on Sept. 25 at the Merced Theatre in Merced.
UC Berkeley professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich speaks to an audience following a screening of “Inequality for All” on Sept. 25 at the Merced Theatre in Merced. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

The city of Merced was treated to a double feature at the Merced Theatre on Sept. 25: a screening of the movie “Inequality for All” and a question-and-answer session with its star, Robert Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley.

One topic that most people could relate to is pay inequality. The income gap between the working and upper classes has reached an all-time high.

Those in the working class, the foundation of this nation, work more hours and receive less pay than they did 50 years ago. One couldn’t be blamed for walking out of the theater depressed if it weren’t for the contagious optimistic message of Reich in the film and in person.

His message: The hard-working people of this country can make this economy more equal, more democratic by getting involved.

Consider this letter as one small act of getting involved.

The Sun-Star article “UC chancellors get hefty pay raises” (Sept. 24, Page A1) reflects the very pay inequalities discussed in the film. The 20 percent pay increase the chancellor received is unheard of these days. UC Merced chancellor Dorothy Leland will be eligible to renegotiate her contract in two years.

We are not suggesting the chancellor does not work hard, has not improved our campus and has not begun important initiatives. We are suggesting that the disparity between her salary and the salaries of other people who are also working very hard is unjustifiable.

A food-service worker makes about $24,000 annually; a groundskeeper earns about $34,000; custodians earn similar salaries. Presuming these employees have families, it is arguable that they live below the poverty line, qualifying for public assistance.

These inequalities are diminishing the standard of living for the majority of Americans, in particular many of the hardworking staff members who keep the UC Merced campus running smoothly on a daily basis.

If you are wondering about the veracity of these figures, look them up. The salary information for all UC employees is available at https://ucannualwage.ucop.edu/wage.

Lecturers who teach 60 percent of all undergraduate credit hours are paid the minimum amount allowable by the UC system. They are not tenured professors and get few of the benefits of being a professor.

The school even puts limits on the number of Xerox copies each lecturer can print each semester (20 sheets of paper per student), so syllabus or assignment materials cannot be distributed in class. Many of the UC Merced employees – like employees in other occupations – are doing without materials, technology and wages to presumably save money for their companies.

Meanwhile, the chancellors, who make fabulous salaries, continue to receive huge raises.

A solution to this, as Reich suggested during the Q&A following his lecture, is to adjust wealth distribution in America so those in the hard-working middle class receive their fair share.

Perhaps our campus chancellors can continue to be leaders and be the first to show America that pay equality in today’s world is possible.

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