The Bar-On Brief: USC should keep employees on its payroll

Tuition at USC scrapes $60,000, while head football coach Clay Helton took home over $3 million last year. President Carol Folt earns a base salary of over $1 million, not including potential benefits. Senior administrators and professors bring in a respectable income as well. There is no shame in profit. I assume individuals earning these whopping sums bring in more money to the institution than they take out. Many of them truly earn these salaries. 

Custodial staff, food workers and service providers don’t make nearly as much. But their work is just as vital to the University. They provide students with essentials needs, keep us safe and take care of many behind-the-scenes activities that ensure a high quality of life on campus. 

But now, when campus is nearly empty, they may soon find themselves out of a job. USC must work to keep these employees on the payroll.

As students, we should commend Folt for taking a 20% pay cut and the rest of the senior leadership for taking a 10% pay cut. They’ve put their money where their mouth is, but the question remains: How will USC alter its budget through this crisis? Near the top of the school’s list of priorities should be continuing to employ USC workers, which has several benefits. 

First, it will better the reputation of the University both nationally and locally. Second, it will preserve the safety of the neighborhood. And third, it’s just the right thing to do. Let’s talk these through one by one. 

It’s no secret that USC’s national reputation could use a little boost. Of course, no press is bad press. USC’s profile has certainly risen in the last decade, making it comparable to some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. But I’m talking about the reputation in terms of the University’s character. The repeated scandals have revealed tendencies not all Trojans are proud of, to say the least. Continuing to pay USC workers would showcase a reset in University culture — especially when schools such as Harvard University, which has over $40 billion in its endowment, has refused to pay its custodial staff. 

USC’s endowment is substantially less than Harvard’s — only $5.7 billion. Nonetheless, it is more than the GDP of several countries. USC does not lack money, and taking this step will raise the University’s image, especially in comparison to other schools with, let’s call it, less-than-generous administration. 

Besides the national reputation, an enactment of this policy will combat the USC stigma in the local community. There is little denying that USC’s construction projects have caused gentrification in the local community, driving up rents and forcing families to move out. We can debate the intentions and repercussions of gentrification all day long, but the reality is that the surrounding neighborhoods may not be our biggest fans. While construction projects may help with supplying student housing and appealing to an elite class of families across the country, it overlooks the needs of locals. 

That said, USC is heavily involved in helping the surrounding neighborhoods, administering programs including various professional clinics, such as the Good Neighbors Campaign, Scholars Leading Scholars and countless others. USC likely hires hundreds of workers from its surrounding neighborhoods; this is precisely why the University must keep them hired. 

In that same vein, the school should consider the implications of laying off hundreds of workers. The University Park neighborhood is one of the poorest in Los Angeles, with the median household income clocking in at $18,533 in 2008. Laying off workers will increase poverty in the surrounding neighborhood, and there is a direct correlation between poverty and crime. USC has made tremendous strides in keeping its students safe, but there’s always room for improvement and none for regression. 

And finally, let’s not forget that all USC workers are also part of the valued Trojan Family. A decision to keep them in the family will show that the University means it when it says that Trojans care for Trojans. If for no other reason, the University should keep its workers on the payroll because it can afford it, because it exemplifies the characteristics of the Trojan Family and because it will make us all proud. 

Shauli Bar-On is a junior writing about sociopolitical issues. His column, “The Bar-On Brief,” runs every other Tuesday.