On Thursday, Sept. 3, Campus Senate held its first meeting of the 2020-21 academic year, where they invited the student body to tune in via a livestream. At the meeting, they discussed issues with the first-year transition process in the age of COVID-19, the rights of student employees and problems with the outdated tiered employment system.
Vice President for Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 began the meeting by discussing the success of COVID-19 protocols and praising the staff and students for their adaptability. She remarked that “testing as a whole went smoothly” and expressed how grateful she was for such a supportive and attentive community. As the Senate touched upon the benefits of the new dine-in system for Peirce Dining Hall and the general feeling of optimism that came with being back on campus, Faculty Co-Chair Jonathan Tazewell broke the cheerful tone when he brought up a problem many first-year students were facing: feeling isolated from the rest of the Kenyon community.
“One of my first-year advisees is already thinking about going home, and some of that has to do with feeling some difficulty in how to connect with people on campus,” he said, acknowledging that, at the time of the meeting, the quiet period had not concluded. “First-year students are going to have a hard time figuring out how they can get involved in student organizations, especially if our sophomore students don’t feel empowered to say ‘I’m running this thing that I just joined last year.’”
Many of the Senate members agreed with Tazewell’s concerns, including Bonham, who found that more socially distanced campus events are needed, as well as virtual events to ensure that students who are not on campus could feel connected.
“We’re definitely concerned about student engagement,” she said. “There have been a number of virtual activities, and then there have been stress kits, a LEGO challenge … We’re trying to think of ways to connect virtually, but also socially distanced, with physical objects.” In response, some Senate members suggested offering students incentives, like free T-shirts or gift cards, to ensure a larger turnout.
As Tazewell reflected on the roles and responsibilities of student organizations at this time, he called upon sophomore students to take leadership roles in on-campus clubs. However, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Co-Chair Delaney Gallagher ’23 assured Tazewell that students have already risen to the occasion. “Right now, it’s hard to make judgments about how student [organizations] are operating,” she said. “But I have heard of a lot of student [organizations] having sophomores added to their [executive] boards. There’s also an involvement fair going on right now, with a bunch of videos. It’s going to get better. We just have to get over the quiet period.”
Once the conversation around student involvement came to a close, Dean for Career Development Lee Schott began to discuss the creation of a COVID-19 working group and issues surrounding student employment.
Over the summer, Schott and his team developed a working group on Student Employment to aid with employment efforts in the age of COVID-19. He explained that once created, the working group was tasked with addressing three major issues: what to do in the event that a student must quarantine and miss work, how a possible transition to remote learning may impact on-campus students seeking employment and how to provide opportunities for students who are working remotely.
Members of the working group came up with ways to address all of these issues with safety in the forefront of their minds. Knowing that off-campus students relied heavily on their wages, Schott and his team agreed upon a system. For jobs that could be completed remotely, they decided that “employers should develop remote projects for the student to complete that still offers value to the employer, gives students projects and professional development opportunities and still allows a studentto complete those hours.”
Because of student employment authorization rights, Schott also said that the College can only employ remote students currently living in the United States. Even for them, Schott said that working out the logistics of various state labor laws was no easy task. In addition, the College must pay students at least the minimum wage of their current state of residence. Because of such laws, Oberlin College made the decision to only employ remote workers who are currently located in Ohio. Bates College, too, is only employing those currently in Maine.
Schott made the point that not all jobs can be completed remotely. With this in mind, the Office of Financial Aid made the decision to send all work-study students a maximum of $1,000 in the form of a grant.
While the Senate was receptive to many of Schott’s efforts, some of them questioned the ambiguities present in the grant that was given to work study students, leading to other concerns related to competition between work study students and non work study students.
Gallagher asked Schott if all work-study students would receive this grant, regardless of whether or not they maintained their on-campus jobs. Schott told the Senate that this grant will be sent to every work-study student, a response that then raised issues of equity within the workforce. To Gallagher, it seemed as though work-study students, who already have the benefit of applying to jobs earlier than those who are not on work-study, had more of an advantage.
Many at the meeting agreed that equity issues in student employment were rooted in the tiered system. When asked about a possible reevaluation of this system, Schott admitted that it had not been updated since 2004.
“From what we can tell, those were developed in 2004, with three different levels of pay according to the sophistication of the responsibilities and skills required for each of those jobs,” he explained. “Those increased according to minimum wage increases at a federal or Ohio state level. Tier I is based on the higher minimum wage of either the federal or state level. Those [tiers] are adjusted whenever the minimum wage is adjusted, and whatever that percent adjustment is, Tier II and III are adjusted at the same level.”
Tazewell noted that students have varying degrees of experience within their tier, and for this reason, the tiered system is not truly equitable for all. “I am concerned about the way in which the tiers are fixed,” he said. “If you do have a student who has done a job multiple years, and they end up being a leader in a pool of students who are doing the job, they’re not necessarily classified as a supervisor, but are taking on supervisory, managerial kinds of duties. There’s not really any way to compensate those students in that tier differently.”
Associate Director of Center for Global Engagement and Senate Co-Chair Meghan Mason, however, saw some advantages in the tiered system for upholding gender and racial equality. “We know people of color are more likely to have a pay gap. We know women are more likely to have a pay gap. So I think part of having those three simple tiers means that everybody is more fairly compensated,” she said.
Though the meeting did not bring a conclusive decision regarding the tiered system or equitable wages, Gallagher suggested that they invite Student Employment Coordinator Heidi Norris to the next meeting to work through these issues. Others added that they also wanted to see more employers present at the next meeting to talk about their specific pay rates and the kinds of experience that they are seeking.
Future meetings will be livestreamed for all who are interested. For more information about future meeting dates, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.