Dear members of the Kenyon administration,
A liberal arts education necessitates discussion, debate, action among students — and a modicum of subversion. In liberal democratic regimes, the combination of individual and collective action is essential for mutual goodwill and maintaining democracy. Such systems fail when individuals are atomized and silenced.
As someone who has serious issues with and therefore doesn’t currently support K-SWOC, I believe closing the residential farm program invokes this atomization and suppression. Destroying the Farm community is wrong and proves K-SWOC’s point about the need for increased student representation in administrative decision-making.
It would be easy for you, as administrators, to avoid a labor movement: You just need to avoid antagonizing student workers, which is exactly what you failed to do by shutting down the residential farm program. The Farmers’ recent Collegian editorial states that their program is both unique nationwide and is a marketing tool for Kenyon. It benefits everyone, from farmers to customers to frantic end-of-semester Archons doing service hours. Axing this widely popular institution will harm everyone, including the administration. And shutting it down looks a hell of a lot like K-SWOC’s long-standing allegation against the administration: union busting. Generally, the Farm has long supported K-SWOC. I absolutely respect their right to protest, petition and express grievances, and I agree with many, if not all, of K-SWOC’s grievances. And the Farm should be safe from this cultural assassination.
I struggle with my views on K-SWOC. The CAs’ collective action in summer 2020 initially impressed me and I co-signed some letters to the AT program directors detailing concerns that we had. K-SWOC has provided decent petition opportunities, including the Farm’s petition, which I encourage readers to sign.
However, when the school declined K-SWOC voluntary recognition in fall 2020, it seemed to me, an admittedly casual observer, that K-SWOC’s primary focus shifted from concrete policy advocacy to berating the administration. They became more belligerent, and outreach turned into bullying, with some members telling people, incorrectly, that if they were not with them, then they were against them. The spring 2021 strike that intimidated recently admitted students in an info session was particularly shameful and prompted my formal resignation from K-SWOC.
Additionally, I’m extremely uncomfortable with the idea of K-SWOC being recognized with no bylaws, constitution or internal leadership election mechanism. Even the Kenyon Buffs, the group dedicated to “regularly watch[ing], analyz[ing], discuss[ing], and worship[ping] the hit CBS competition-based reality TV show Survivor,” has these. K-SWOC doesn’t. These are basic requirements for any student organization, especially one that hopes to legally represent hundreds of students in labor arbitration and collect dues. Certain K-SWOC members have told me that they plan to write these documents after recognition. I cannot accept this. Any vote on unionization must also be a vote on union structure, and to the best of my knowledge, there is currently no codified structure.
However, I’m not necessarily against the idea of a student workers’ union, particularly because it might prevent abuses like the present Farm issue — namely, making impactful and damaging decisions over the heads of student workers. I’m firmly pro-union for many reasons, particularly the aforementioned democratic benefits and the benefits of a union I saw while working for UPS. Unions built the middle class and produced the social capital to maintain it. In a way, the decline of unions has been the decline of American democracy. But K-SWOC has many questions to answer — and answer well — about union structure at a college with near-100% employee turnover every four years, and how different pluralistic interests would be internally represented. These questions can be answered — bylaws and a constitution might help!
I’m uncertain K-SWOC would even win the election they so desire. Only 137 of approximately 500 student workers voted to call for one. But should the election happen, lunkheaded actions like destroying an entire way of life at Kenyon without consulting those living it and others that exclude student workers from decision-making processes might just lead to the outcome that you, administrators, fear the most. And a significant part of me thinks you’ll have deserved it.
Owen Fitzgerald ’22 is a political science and Spanish major from Louisville, Ky. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.