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 smallest.

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