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President Amy Gutmann has taken a pay freeze for the 2019-2020 academic year unlike some of the respective Ivy League presidents. 

Credit: Emily Xu

Outraged by Penn President Amy Gutmann's decision not to take a pay cut while the University's departments are forced to make financial sacrifices, students are calling on Penn to prioritize its academics during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gutmann, who is the highest paid president in the Ivy League with a salary of $3.6 million in 2017, has taken a pay freeze for the 2019-2020 academic year. Meanwhile, presidents of four other Ivy League schools have taken pay cuts of 20% or more. At a time when the University is making cuts in its academic programs and departments, students are demanding that Penn reconsider its budget priorities.

Sixth-year political science Ph.D. candidate Gabe Salgado, the media director for Penn graduate student union GET-UP, said Penn's academic departments and programs should not have to take financial cuts while senior administrators continue to bring in large salaries.

The School of Arts and Sciences announced in September that it would pause admissions for most school-funded Ph.D. programs for the 2021-2022 academic year due to the pandemic’s impact on the school’s finances. 

Salgado said Gutmann's salary and the endowment's growth are clear indicators that the University has created a “false crisis” when it claims it cannot support both current and new Ph.D. students.

“Clearly the money [is] there,” Salgado said. “Clearly administrators like Amy Gutmann are not being called upon to make sacrifices, so why are we making departments make these difficult choices about who to fund with their limited resources, as opposed to actually freeing up the real resources that the University has?”

Despite financial losses incurred during the pandemic, the University’s endowment increased by $200 million for Fiscal Year 2020, totaling $14.9 billion as of June 30. Penn's $14.7 billion endowment at the end of FY19 was the sixth largest endowment in the U.S.

Wharton Yageo Professor of Accounting Wayne Guay told The Daily Pennsylvanian that were Gutmann to take a pay cut, however, it would be largely a symbolic gesture and have a minimal impact on the University’s overall budget. 

“Symbolically cutting very senior administrators pay is understandable at some institutions, but I think the meat of the budget is certainly further down the line beyond the sort of the very top people’s compensation,” Guay told the DP. 

College senior and Undergraduate Assembly President Mercedes Owens said that while she is disappointed that Gutmann will not be taking a pay cut, she also thinks it is more important to pressure administration to use the budget it currently has to support its students and the Philadelphia community.

“I think what we need to focus on instead is how to use the University dollars that we have now to make an impact and to support the communities that need it the most,” Owens said. “Whether or not Amy Gutmann gets paid, we still have the same issues.”

Owens said she would like to see the University allocate more funds to help students facing food insecurity during the pandemic. 

College junior Evan Shreffler agreed, adding that Penn has failed to meet the needs of first-generation, low-income students during the pandemic. FGLI students at Penn told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the pandemic has exacerbated disparities between them and other Penn students, citing issues ranging from food and housing insecurity to poor communication from the University.

“I feel like the institution should help out their students first, and then worry about themselves and their pay,” Shreffler said.

For College senior Kara Cloud who identifies as a low-income student, paying to take classes over Zoom for a semester was not feasible for her family after Penn gave her less financial aid this academic year. Cloud is currently taking a taking a leave of absence from Penn.

Owens said that Penn should also use some of its money to make Payments In Lieu of Taxes to Philadelphia public schools. Because Penn is a non-profit, it does not have to pay property taxes to the city of Philadelphia, which is projecting significant budget cuts to its public school system due to the ongoing pandemic.

Shreffler said he does not believe Gutmann's $3.6 million salary was appropriate even before the pandemic.

“I just don't know how she justifies that [$3.6 million salary],” Shreffler said. “The only [events] that she goes to are things that help her look good in the public eye.”

Cloud added that Gutmann's pay freeze is especially unfair when considering the University's decision to freeze tuition instead of reducing it for the online semester.

“Amy Gutmann is the head of [a non-profit], and she’s profiting nearly $4 million this year, and that’s while students are dropping out of school, because they can’t pay the tuition she refused to lower,” Cloud said.

Penn announced it would not raise tuition by 3.9% for the fall semester as planned by the University Board of Trustees on Feb. 27, keeping fall tuition costs the same from the previous academic year.

She added that Penn has failed to support students' mental wellbeing during the pandemic, citing its decision to shorten spring break from a one-week to two-day break in March.

“The students, staff, faculty, and Philadelphia residents are all in need, and yet, Amy Gutmann still gets [$3.6 million],” Cloud said.