President Decatur and Provost Bowman have failed to properly vet the decision to end the residential program at the Kenyon Farm and explain their reasoning to the rest of the Kenyon community. For three weeks, the two of them have continued to misrepresent the facts regarding this change. As a student farmer, I would like to set a few things straight.
First, student workers at the Farm have not been informed how this change will affect our compensation and working conditions. Both Provost Bowman’s letter to the editor in last week’s Collegian and a Farm FAQ recently posted on Kenyon’s website argued that students will not lose hours because of these changes. But this is not true. Currently, student farmers can work 20 hours a week if they live at the Farm residence, but only 10 if they don’t. The extra 10 hours residential farmers receive compensation for comes from daily chores, weekly upkeep and being on call for potential emergencies. For example, a residential farmer recently had to care for a goat who was ill early in the morning. Thus, it is impossible to work 20 hours if you don’t live on-site.
Neither Provost Bowman nor our direct supervisors have even speculated how we could possibly work 20 hours with this coming change. Make no mistake, the decision to end the residential program is a cut in hours. It is a negative change to our workplace made after we entered into an NLRB union certification election process last fall, and thus constitutes an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.
Second, the College did not consult faculty or students before making this change. The FAQ posted last Thursday claims that the College “regularly consider[s] the input of students who work or volunteer at the Kenyon Farm.” Student workers at the Farm, myself included, were not consulted before President Decatur and Provost Bowman made this change. The FAQ also directly says that faculty were consulted. However, faculty were not consulted through typical College procedures before the decision was made — such as through the Committee on Academic Standards or the Curricular Policy Committee. Additionally, relevant faculty members who use the Farm for their courses were not officially consulted. Clearly, this decision is not a creative solution to a set of complex problems made in concert with the students, faculty and community members involved at the Farm, as the College is claiming. It is an unvetted, top-down decision. It coldly and unimaginatively cuts a program and community that makes Kenyon unique, without considering academic or labor implications.
Lastly, I am concerned about what the future holds for the Farm. At a time when we are searching for a new manager, this decision leaves whoever we hire in the untenable position to address a slew of unknowns as soon as they take on the position. The administration put the last manager in that position, and it led to resentment, distrust, mismanagement and his eventual departure from the program. This decision will repeat history and set the program up for failure, not success.
Cutting the residential program was not done out of concern for “accessibility,” as Provost Bowman claims. Just a day before the publication of his letter to the editor, we proposed a plan to make the residential program more accessible. President Decatur and Provost Bowman responded by posting an FAQ page that continued to willfully misrepresent this issue and ignore our proposed path forward, and they refused to meet in a public forum to think creatively about the Farm’s future. Given all of these factors, we can see that the College values profit and risk assessment over place-based initiatives like the Farm. They are taking away — not expanding — students’ connection to the land and community around us. That enrages me.
My coworkers and I voted unanimously to go on strike not just in protest over the termination of our residential program, but because of this administration’s childish unwillingness to negotiate with us like adults. We don’t want an FAQ page, we want a discussion. I once again call on the President and Provost to attend an open forum on this issue so we can negotiate a reinstatement of the residential program at the Farm that this community holds so dear. Better yet, recognize the student worker union and let’s solve this at the bargaining table.
Jack B. Cheston ’22