Snow: The Little College That Could
Snow: The Little College That Could
By Michael T. Benson
May, 2002 OpEd published in SL Tribune
The legislative cuts necessitated by revenue shortfalls this year have required higher
education officials to take drastic action to keep their respective institutions operating.
As programs have been cut, reductions-in-force implemented, and tuitions increased,
I am reminded of the English poet, Christopher Anstey, who once stated: "Drastic measures
is Latin for a whopping."
Each campus has had to endure its own "whopping" but the manner in which Snow College
has undergone its beating is certainly worth communicating. In doing so, my hope
is that members of the State Legislature will recognize what Snow College faculty
and staff are willing to do in order to ensure both access to and deliverance of an
absolutely superb two-year educational experience. Their willingness to collectively
sacrifice on behalf of Snow College, its students, and the institution's future has
truly been inspiring.
As one of only three remaining two-year colleges in the State of Utah, Snow has been
forced to further refine its academic focus and mission. Our goal is to become the
absolute best two-year transfer college in the United States. Next year, Snow College
will celebrate its 115th anniversary and has the distinction of being the second-oldest
higher education institution in the state.
In addition to successfully transferring to all 4-year universities in Utah, Snow
College graduates have gone on to excel at such notable institutions as Stanford,
Cornell, UCLA, Cal-Berkeley, Oberlin, Harvard, and Yale. A recent Snow graduate narrowed
his choices for advanced training in mechanical engineering to Stanford and MIT, only
to choose the latter because it offered a better full-ride scholarship, teaching fellowship,
and monthly stipend. In terms of athletics when compared to other institutions within
the state, Snow College boasts one of the highest numbers of graduates currently playing
in the National Football League.
In order to honor this unique history and to ensure our future successes, we have
decided to preserve - at all costs - the academic core mission of our institution.
At the end of this past legislative session, Snow's administrative team placed everything
on the table in order to meet our prescribed base-budget cuts. After weeks of painful
deliberation and calculations, positions have been frozen, early retirements offered
and accepted, renovation and repair budgets gutted, and two sports - baseball and
softball - cancelled. Still in all, we were tens of thousands of dollars short toward
our mandated-cuts goal. As an institution with 80.5% of our budget tied to salary
and benefits, we decided to propose a campus-wide base salary reduction plan, calculated
proportionally to the amount of money each employee makes. The administration has
taken the largest percentage cut, those on the opposite end of the salary scale the
Initial reaction to our salary-reduction plan was, understandably, mixed. Some one-income
staff and faculty families were quite concerned about making ends meet in these challenging
economic times. Others asked why more areas could be targeted for reductions or positions
completely eliminated. Still others recognized the unique opportunity to work at
a place like Snow College and offered more of their salary to the cause. One staff
member e-mailed me the following: "If it should be necessary, I would be happy to
contribute more of my salary for the 2002-03 year in order to help in this financially-critical
time. I share in the good of working at Snow and feel I should also share in the
struggle. We are all in this together." And this from a resident of Sanpete County:
home of the second-lowest median-household income for any county in the State.
After several campus-wide meetings where both faculty and staff could express their
feelings and vent at the mandated cuts, the decision was made last Monday to implement
our salary reduction plan. The process of reaching this decision has been painful
but necessary. Both faculty and staff accepted this apparently draconian measure
with one condition: we must ALL communicate to the legislature that these cuts are
the proverbial last straw! In the attempt to balance our budget, everything now has
been placed on the altar: programs, positions, services, sports, benefits, and now
- salaries. During this past legislative session, I recall hearing one representative
argue against tapping the State's rainy day fund, stating that these times did not
qualify as "rainy days." I wonder if his attitude would have changed had his position
been eliminated on one of our campuses or one of his children's sports cancelled as
a result of budget cuts.
Former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once observed, "Upon the education
of the people of this county the fate of this country depends." The fate of the Utah
economy, the well-being of its citizens, and the future of its higher education institutions
are inextricably linked to the level of support offered by the State Legislature.
Snow College and its employees have demonstrated this year that they are willing to
sacrifice their own livelihood in order to retain the academic focus and quality of
one of this state's educational gems. My only hope is that our Legislature will now
stand up, take notice, and support higher education.
Michael T. Benson is president of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah