Raising the Standard

Author: Emma Duffy

Last year the University of Notre Dame’s endowment ballooned to a whopping sum of $20.3 billion. This money, the campaign states, should give them the opportunity to look out for their students and workers better than many other universities in the country; however, that is not necessarily the case. The Raising the Standard Campaign disagrees with the way that the university is paying their student workers, as well as their workers from the surrounding off-campus area. 


This is a tumultuous time for many. There have been unprecedented developments that have created chaos for the economy. COVID-19 is just now on the decline, but it would be naive to assume that it did not leave lasting detrimental effects.


“We’re recovering from a huge recession from COVID,” said one of the campaign’s co-directors, Edward Brunicardi. Even without COVID-19, heightened inflation rates have plagued the economy for months. Brunicardi emphasizes the fact that inflation is “skyrocketing” for many, with long-running financial troubles just getting worse for individuals all over the country. There are a multitude of external factors, in addition to rising inflation, coming together to ensure that people will be buried in their debts. 


“These were needs that people had before COVID and before inflation got worse over the past few months. And so I can only think — to the person who was struggling to live on their current wage six months ago — it’s becoming even more impossible now,” the campaign’s other co-director, Bridget Schippers, said. 


“We’re in a very hard economic time. And, we can choose to recover from that in being in places from where we were before, or kind of setting a new path forward,” Brunicardi explained. “I’ll definitely like the second option.”  


The Raising the Standard Campaign is setting out to right these wrongs. The idea of this campaign stemmed from Clark Power, a professor of psychology and education, who has been working on this topic for a number of years and has reached out to students to help his mission. Within this campaign, there are two teams that each have their own responsibilities. 


The research team conducts the behind-the-scenes work. They collect and analyze data to push for certain standards related to raising wages and benefits for university employees.  


“The research team is basically trying to research the issue, figuring out where the inequalities exist in our current wage structure at Notre Dame, and then what’s the standard we should be striving for and why those standards are actually a good thing to do” Brunicardi said. 


Important work is also being done by the advocacy team. Their work has been focused on liaising, intending to stay in touch with the community that they have pledged to serve. Therefore, the advocacy team gathers statements and input from local workers, as well as relaying the information found by the research team. 


“Our advocacy team is really just on the communication side of things to make sure that we’re, one, getting a lot of input from workers,” said Brunicardi. “Also just sending the information out, and talking to other people who would have a lot of influence like our administration and typically to persuade them.”


Workers are at the center of the campaign. The Raising the Standard Campaign is determined to maintain this aim throughout the process. They reach out to workers to pinpoint their problems and get to the bottom of how to fix them. Doing so has increased labor transparency. Without their input, the campaign claims, they would be relying on convoluted and seemingly incomplete data given to them by the university. 


“It’s been difficult for us during this process to really understand the wage structure as much as it is, because a lot of questions we’ve been trying to reach out to the administration about and we’re not really getting full answers in that,” Brunicardi said. “Which is important to know because if we don’t know how our system operates, it’s hard to improve it.”


It has become clear to the campaign that the university may not even realize the extent to which they are disenfranchising their workers. According to them, the administration is always proud to declare their high wages and many benefits, but it is not enough. Benefits and wages seem to be adequate, yet their calculations leave out a plethora of components unconsidered. 


“I think it’s important to realize that if you’re a student on campus and you’re low income, yes you have other jobs that are higher paying,” Brunicardi said. “But oftentimes, if it's in South Bend then you have to go out in the community to go work that job and if you’re low income it’s hard to have a car.”


Other universities, such as Harvard, Georgetown, the University of Rochester, New York University and Johns Hopkins University, have made changes to working conditions on campus, similar to those the campaign has proposed. 


“A lot of them saw increases in attendance or applications to the university,” Brunicardi said,


 Fundamentally, the campaign asserts, Notre Dame and South Bend are inextricably connected; the university holds immense authority over the town and the way it functions. 


“Notre Dame is the biggest employer in South Bend. And so we have to start to take on this responsibility,” Schippers said.


Notre Dame is responsible for raising the standard because it is the standard. Since Notre Dame has such a large impact, they are able to define standards for the rest of the community. 


“It’s not just enough to match whatever market wages are because we’re choosing the market wages,” Schippers said. 


The university pushes Catholic virtues; students are expected to help others and make a difference on a global scale. With this in mind, the campaign argues they must learn to put their own words into practice, stressing that the people in the community must be taken care of and their problems must be taken seriously. 


“The main goal of this campaign is making sure that we’re living up to those Catholic Social Teaching values, about making sure that we’re recognizing the dignity of work,” Schippers noted. 


In a university, the students remain the most important component. Because of this, the campaign posits, it is their responsibility to stand up for what is right. Students can take it upon themselves to educate themselves about the campaign, spread the word and sign petitions when they become available.


Within the next year the school will be deciding on their strategic plan for the next ten years. The Raising the Standard Campaign believes that clubs and organizations should put it within their demands that the university makes it a requirement to treat their workers with dignity and create a living wage, instead of just a minimum wage.


“It gets to the point that we are capable of doing great things. So let’s actually do them,” Schippers said.