A Letter to SU and SUFA Presidents

Golda S. Benjamin

Dear Dr. Ben Malayang and Prof. Jan Credo,

This letter will be longer than what I am used to writing so I apologise in advance. This is my little contribution to this important conversation and I thank you, in advance, for the time and attention that you will spend reading this letter.

I have also cc’d other parties who may be equally invested with the hope of giving better monthly salaries and better benefits for the teachers.

I write with the hope that more creative, sustainable, and brave solutions will be found to solve the challenge faced by the administration and the faculty union today. More importantly, that in the end, the teachers will receive the maximum benefits possible.

I write as a teacher of Silliman, an alumna, and just recently, an aunt paying for the tuition of a niece enrolled in the university. I am aware of the challenges that all stakeholders face. These past weeks, I have received so many emails from teachers who tell heartbreaking tales about the sacrifices they need to make to maximise their salaries from the university. I feel guilty because I have the comfortable luxury of not being economically prejudiced by my sub-Php20k take-home pay. However, I feel the responsibility of also contributing to the conversation, despite the very limited data I have at my disposal. I am sure that some of my figures and analysis will be inaccurate or incomplete and for that, I apologise in advance as well.

Before I wrote this letter, I spent a considerable amount of time studying the following:

1. Silliman’s 2008-2016 Strategic Plan
2. Financial statements from 2011 to present found online (Silliman website, SEC iview, etc)
3. Updates on the negotiations
4. The 152-page minutes of the negotiations
5. The fees that our students pay, apart from tuition

I am optimistic that if we gather the brilliant minds within and outside Silliman, we can come up with the money to improve existing offers. Some thoughts and proposals:

1. Appointment of a 3rd party expert (negotiation “amicus curiae”)

In the Minutes, both parties discussed the possibility of conducting a study to see if the university can afford to tap non-tuition revenues to improve its offer. I did not see a report on the study in this 152-page document or in any of the online sources that I have painstakingly searched.

May I propose that a neutral 3rd party be brought in to conduct this study–akin to an amicus curiae in court proceedings?

A neutral 3rd party, chosen by both the admin and SUFA, will give both sides objective analysis and peace of mind. I have seen the computations from both sides and now would be a great time to get external opinion to look at this challenge with another relatively fresh perspective. An outsider (i.e. not from the finance offices of Silliman) may be trusted by both sides to present objective analysis.

From the minutes, I could sense that the inability to improve the offers of both sides is a result of totally contrasting assumptions.

Based on the minutes, the negotiators for the administration seemed to be working on a mandate of just using the 70% tuition revenue as the source of the funds to improve the salaries and benefits of our teachers.

We know that nothing in the law prevents the administration from using non-tuition revenues for salaries.

It also sends a wrong governance message for future negotiations when we say that for conversations on salary increases, we have to stick to 70% of the tuition. It raises the question: why are we then pursuing all other economic ventures to have more revenues? I fear that future negotiators will review the minutes of these negotiations and believe that going beyond the 70% share will never be an option. This has no basis in law and even sound financial policy.

For the union, they seem to very sure that tapping into non-tuition revenues is reasonable. This has to be explored objectively.

Our challenge now is to get an expert who can find existing non-tuition sources and assess these to ensure that it is financially reasonable and sustainable to use them to increase existing offers. I have not seen this option being taken yet.

2. Explore the possibility of using more than 70% of the tuition revenue to improve salaries.

The law provides for a 70-20-10 allocation:

70% salaries and benefits

20% improvement of buildings and other costs of operation

10% ROI

However, the law actually does not prohibit universities from allocating more than 70% of the tuition revenue for salaries. In fact, it may seem that Silliman already does.

• 2016 figures show that tuition revenue was at Php 479,896,985

• 70% would be Php 335,927,889.50

• However, Silliman spent Php 402,779,066 for personnel salaries and benefits.

• It is possible to conclude that even now, Silliman is actually going beyond the 70% threshold and/or tapping from other non-tuition sources to pay for salaries and benefits.

• Our challenge is to find more of these non-tuition sources.

I am also aware that Silliman has more than enough funds to cover for school expansion and purchase of instructional equipment. As of 2016, we have Php 73,328,288 in our academic development fund– reserved for “school expansion and purchase of instructional equipment”. We have enough to construct buildings and buy instructional equipment. What we need to work hard on is to find enough for the salaries of our teachers.

3. Explore the possibility of getting a portion of the liquidity reserve fund.

I understand that earlier, the admin released a statement expressing its concern as to the wisdom of tapping into liquidity reserves. I hope that this position can be re-assessed and reviewed using more objective reasons and liquidity/contingency calculations.

• From the minutes, I perceived the reasons to be solely borne out of fears of absolute and total catastrophe/loss. More objective standards might help all parties negotiate based on logic, reason, and financial soundness — instead of fear.

• Right now, the liquidity reserve is valued at approximately 13% of the university’s total assets. Is there an objective financial standard that we can use to determine the value of an ideal liquidity reserve fund?

• If the board established this fund and if expert advice reveals that there is room for a small portion of this fund to be reclassified to cover salaries, this could also be a potential fund source.

• Nothing in the law prohibits Silliman from doing so. This will not be a distribution of profits — something not allowed for a non-stock, nonprofit institution. Rather, it will be a reclassification of funds to cover for personnel salaries. If allowed by the by-laws of the university, then it can be done.

• As an outsider to the negotiation, I also want to know what amount we are aiming for as a good liquidity reserve fund, what are our objective financial standards for setting these amounts, and what other ways are available for Silliman to prepare for unforeseen events (e.g. insurance, investment funds, etc). It is not enough for us to simply read that “it lacks good judgment to tap into the liquidity reserves of the university…” We need an objective explanation for this decision, if it has to finally be made.

4. Explore the possibility of non-equal one-time bonuses.

I understand that historically, Silliman negotiations have often used the across-the-board offer-counter offer formula. However, there are many other configurations available. For example, for the offer of one time bonuses, parties may explore giving different amounts to different classifications of personnel. What can be saved here may be used to improve the across-the-board salary increases in subsequent years.

5. Post all relevant documents online so the Silliman community can contribute intelligently.

Right now, negotiation updates and the proposals are easily searchable. However, it might be useful for the Silliman community to have the financial statements all in one page, together with the Notes to the Financial Statements (which are often more helpful than the FS itself). If explanations about the non-viability of tapping a particular fund are available, those should also be posted online so that we can determine its validity, financial soundness, and/or legality, and even contribute other advice that may be considered by either the administration or the faculty union. The information hub may also clearly provide for the emails of responsible parties in case people want to give suggestions and proposals.

We cannot afford to simply be sending out public messages telling the community why the offer of the other party is not acceptable. Especially because the relationship between the administration and the faculty union is now perceived as strained, what we, the outsiders, need to see is that we are harnessing the brilliance of neutral third parties, of the alumni, and of other stakeholders to find ways to address the interests of all stakeholders.

While not connected to the ongoing negotiations, may I also request the concerned offices of Silliman to do its best to release the contracts of our teachers as soon as possible. At least three members of the faculty have emailed me that they have not received their salaries yet. If the teachers have remained unpaid because of the lack of contracts, I propose that cash advance forms be forwarded immediately to different colleges and other similar efforts to make sure that the burden of getting paid will not shift to the faculty (i.e. they have to go to the finance office and process for the release of funds). For full disclosure, I also do not have my contract yet and have not received my salary since classes started. However, as I mentioned earlier, I am not necessarily prejudiced economically with incidents like this one.

Silliman is a great institution, with alumni who solve gigantic problems all over the world. I am confident that we can find someone who can find the money in Silliman’s existing financial portfolio to improve the current offer of the administration, while ensuring a sustainable future for all those concerned.

I am authorising all recipients of this email to forward this to whoever might find it useful, with the additional hope that this will encourage more members of the Silliman community to send in their contributions and advice to all concerned parties.

I pray for flexibility, courage, and collective wisdom.

God bless us all.

Golda S. Benjamin
Silliman University College of Law

Miss Golda Benjamin is a faculty of Silliman University College of Law. She also posted this the same letter on her personal Facebook account. At press time, the post has now 54 shares.

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