Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good News for the Harleth Household

This time last year we got some bad news. Our student housing yearly rent increase is usually between 2-5%, and it happens every year without fail. These increases march on without regard to the general housing market or the economy at large. Moving out of student housing means great inconvenience and a chance that we would lose eligibility for the super nice and super economical student housing that we will get access to next year. So we put up with it. There are also few one bedrooms in the neighborhood with a decent price because they are all built as luxury style apartments.

Usually this rent increase is offset by a small increase in our salaries. Last year right around this time our program anounced that due to the economy, they were tightening their belts and asking students to make sacrifices. In order to avoid firing any office staff or having to accept fewer students they instead decided to slash our research budget and keep our salaries flat, no raise.

I was OK with that, because I did not wat anyone to lose their job or the program to suffer in quality. It was clear that our director was working very hard to find ways to keep the program running at its high level despite huge budgetary changes.

Housing, and other departments, did not such thing. Housing announced that the rent increase that year would be 3%. This was despite the fact that property value in the area was dropping. Had they tried to rent their dorm like apartments - in which all lighting is from renter provided lamps, all floors are covered by industrial carpets, maintenance can barge in at any time unannounced and we have to follow some pretty arcane rules - they would not have gotten anything near the price all students were then being asked to pay. No other cuts were being made - to meet their usual budget (which includes weird things like 500$ chairs for office staff because they want to order all their supplies from paper to chairs from the same supplier) they merely divide the cost by the number of apartments. Since the staff always get an annual raise and they don't want to lay anyone of or keep their salaries static the students had to bear the brunt of this cost. This meant we ended up with LESS take home pay than the year before despite being more skilled and more advanced.

In addition the medical school decided to cover its flagging endowment by increasing enrollment and charging students more. I don't pay tuition, but this was really hard on my classmates who were allready hundreds of thousands in debt. It seemed that everyone was looking to bilk the students for more money as a way to even out their rbudget, keep their staff and still be able ot get their raise. Things looked pretty bleak.

This year I have been holding my breath waiting to hear if we will or will not get our raise. Thank goodness, we finallly found out we will. It is small and does not make up for last years lost raise, but at least it will allow us to keep up with the rent increase. We will not have less to work with than we did last year in terms of our budget. For that, I am very grateful. Inflation and soaring food prices are bad enough. There is no word on what this years rent increase will be, but I am hoping they stick to 3% because it would take some real hubris to raise us 5% in this market. Our research budget still has not been restored, but at least baby steps are being taken towards getting things back to normal.

Thank god for small miracles.


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