Section: News

Senate completes semester-long student employment review

At its final meeting of the semester on Thursday, Campus Senate voted unanimously in favor of finalizing its student employment recommendations, which will be sent to President Sean Decatur by the end of the day. 

The recommendations document assesses the logistics of work-study allocation, the availability of on-campus jobs and the tiered wage system. It also examines paid sick leave for student employees and supervisor training, among other items. The review is based on a number of statistics, including data from an original survey of 172 student employees, existing student employment records, two town hall discussions and meetings with other relevant parties. 

The recommendations follow Decatur’s commission of the Senate to conduct a review of student employment in August, which he claims he requested prior to having knowledge that the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee (K-SWOC) was recruiting student employees to sign union cards. The Senate’s final recommendations come just days before the end of the semester, by which point Decatur and the Board of Trustees have said that they will announce a decision on whether to recognize K-SWOC — which represents a majority of student workers — by the end of the semester, now just days away. 

The document stipulates that the Senate wishes to remain neutral on the matter of union recognition, stating that the goal of its recommendations is to “improve our student employment system and conditions for student employees” by laying out the issues with the student employment system and suggesting potential solutions. 

The Senate’s first recommendation is for the College to increase job availability for student employees, which it hopes will fix an imbalance between the number of jobs available and students who are seeking employment. The document states that students holding multiple jobs may limit the positions available to other students; at the same time, it argues that restricting the number of positions students may hold would be difficult.

“While [limiting jobs per student] may provide greater equity, it is counter to the competitive nature of employment in our world,” the document states. It also suggests that limiting positions would deter students from accepting jobs that have limited hours but that have “educational benefits.”

Notably, the document does not recommend that the College create new employment opportunities for students. To resolve the issue of job availability, the Senate instead suggests that the College should reduce the amount of aid allocated through work-study, so as to prevent the “strain” that work-study students feel when trying to earn their portion of the financial aid package. 

To account for this reduction, one proposal recommends that the work-study allocation be adjusted to $1000 annually, rather than the $2000 work-study students currently receive in their financial aid packages (which would be covered instead by additional contributions from the College). A second recommendation regarding the issue of work-study stress proposes to further limit work-study allotment by class year, so that first-year students can make no more than $800 in Kenyon work-study annually, sophomores and juniors no more than $1000 and seniors no more than $1200. 

According to the Senate report, lowering this earning expectation would reduce the total number of hours students need to work to receive work-study aid, which would ideally make more positions available for students looking for a job. The document acknowledges that some employers may still prioritize those who are willing to work more than an allotted number of hours, which could still result in students who intend to work fewer hours being left without a job.  

The document opposes guaranteeing that work-study students have a job that fulfills the $1000-per-semester expectation. “Most students we spoke with do not want to be assigned a job, as other peer schools do,” the document states.

In contrast, K-SWOC — of which a majority of student employees are members — has demanded that every work-study student be guaranteed a job. “Kenyon should look to work-study programs at peer institutions to make this ideal a reality,” K-SWOC’s website states. 

As for the controversial student employee tier system, the Senate recommends that “a single person or office of the College” review each student position to determine if its compensation aligns with its duties and with those of other similar positions. The Senate adds that jobs’ pay tiers should be appropriately realigned, noting that additional tiers might need to be created. 

The document states that there should be a “periodic audit” of the tier system. It does not, however, indicate to what extent this audit would differ from the routine audits done by the state. The Senate writes that it will track the minimum wage of Ohio in relation to Tier 1 employees. 

However, the main issue that K-SWOC members took with the Senate’s recommendations is that the Senate did not provide concrete details about a formal investigation into the tiered system of hourly wages. 

“Without discussing the total number of hours worked and total compensation for student workers, Campus Senate’s report doesn’t paint a full picture of the student worker experience and cannot meaningfully make recommendations on compensation,” Callie Gompf-Phillips ’21, a member of K-SWOC’s steering committee, wrote in a message to the Collegian. “It also means that there is a potential for glaring inequalities in the ways that student workers are paid.”

The Senate did not suggest a means by which student employees could have total assurance that their pay tier would align with their responsibilities.

“I just don’t want to put students and supervisors in a position where they’re negotiating, which tier they should be in just because they feel like they should get [Tier] 1,” said Jonathan Tazewell, faculty co-chair of the Senate. 

However, the Senate did make it clear that the current process by which tiers and job responsibilities are assigned should have more room for mobility. 

“These tiers are fixed to the job as it is described at the point of hire,” the Senate recommendation states. “Experience in a job isn’t rewarded through increased compensation. There are few opportunities to advance or to be promoted, or to receive greater compensation for increased experience or skill, unless by moving into a new job requiring more skill.” 

As the Senate delivers its student employment review, Decatur is set to announce a decision on whether to recognize K-SWOC in just over a week. 

 

Zella Lezak ’24 contributed to reporting.

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