Section: Opinion

Kenyon administration must follow in Dartmouth’s footsteps

In October of 2021, Kenyon student workers filed a request to have a stipulated election, which would be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). So far, that election has not been held.

In contrast to what has happened at Kenyon, approximately 120 student dining hall workers at Dartmouth College have in the last few weeks reached an agreement with their administration to hold exactly the same NLRB-sanctioned and  -overseen election.  

In negotiations with their student workers, Dartmouth’s administrators did not say that their student employees were unimportant to running the college. They did not claim that student workers were anything but workers receiving wages (in fact, they raised their hourly pay to $21/hour), and they did find a way to deal with issues around the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). These are some of the objections raised in Kenyon’s name by the College’s lawyers, intended not only to thwart an election at Kenyon, but to deny the rights of undergraduate workers anywhere in the United States to form a union.  

During negotiations with their administrators, Dartmouth’s student workers urged them not to “be like Kenyon.” Those workers were aware of the scorched-earth fight being waged against a student worker union election on our campus. Dartmouth’s leaders were also aware of that fight and the tactics Kenyon is using against student workers here, and they had no desire to replicate that model.  

Dartmouth has excellent legal counsel and its leaders have a clear sense of the relations — and distinctions — between student education and work. Dartmouth’s administrators know the law, their students and the work those students do. Given this understanding, it’s hard to escape the impression that Kenyon’s trustees are not motivated by concern for student workers. Instead, it looks like trustees are using an anti-union ideology in their efforts to crush our student workers’ call for a union election. 

Like Dartmouth, some of our peer colleges, such as Grinnell and Hamilton, have negotiated with their student workers to set up union elections. There are also universities that have done the same, such as workers seeking a higher minimum wage at OSU who are citing Kenyon’s student workers as inspirational.  

In the midst of these developments at other institutions, Kenyon is getting a national reputation for doing anything in its power to deny our students’ fight for a say in the conditions of their employment. If there are principled reasons for Kenyon’s stance, reasons that are part of the College’s mission and are unique to it, they have not yet been articulated clearly and consistently by the trustees or their lawyers.

Kenyon has many accomplishments to be proud of — for example, the high quality of our education, the Kenyon Review and student and staff commitment to voting, as demonstrated in the 2004 presidential election, among others. We also have — or perhaps had — a sense of community and a commitment to common goals. Our trustees’ unrelenting fight against a union election is making us stand out for other reasons: Kenyon is getting a reputation for harboring a deep disregard for the rights of its student workers and for denying them the vote.  

Here I am speaking to the trustees: Please end the division and just let the student workers vote.

Most sincerely yours, 

Patricia A. Urban

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