Dear Mr. Lipscomb of the Board of Trustees,
We write to you as a group of Kenyon alumni who care deeply for the College and who are, therefore, deeply concerned by the administration’s recent dismissal of student workers’ attempts to assert their rights. We believe that this dismissal represents an existential threat to the College’s future, and it is because of that concern that we would like the opportunity to speak with you.
As a founder of Arborview Capital, and a board member of multiple sustainability-focused organizations like Envocore and the Nature Conservancy, we know how serious you are about building institutions that last. We would ask you to apply this same sustainability ethos to the college you attended and on whose board you now sit.
This kind of long-term thinking is absolutely necessary at a time when national college enrollment trends are declining at unprecedented rates. As the pool of potential college applicants continues to shrink, Kenyon must brace itself for increased competition by renewing its commitment to the values which saw this college through some of its darkest days.
The effort of student workers to organize a union through the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee is an olive branch, seeking to repair the deeply fractured relationship between the administration and the students. Their movement should be understood as a commitment to the College’s betterment, and to the belief that Kenyon can lead and distinguish itself from peer institutions as an ethical academic haven. Kenyon must renew its goodwill with young alumni as the first college or university in the United States to have a recognized wall-to-wall union of undergraduate student workers learning and laboring on its campus.
One of the reasons we feel the need to bring these concerns to your attention is because Kenyon currently relies on the generosity of a handful of ultra-wealthy donors to expand its campus and grow its endowment. This is a recipe for short-term survival, not long-term success. Kenyon has often struggled to keep up financially with peer institutions, but what has always seen us through is the sense of shared stewardship our alumni feel, and our willingness to continue this ethos post-graduation through our involvement and donations. Denying hundreds of students the right to vote in a union election will lead to a future in which Kenyon alumni do not feel this same sense of shared stewardship, and will not be motivated to support the College.
In past eras of financial hardship and societal advancement, Kenyon has survived by embracing moral imperatives, not shying away from them. From the late 1960s to the 1980s, Kenyon affirmed its commitment to becoming a co-educational campus, doubling its possible pool of enrollment and bringing our college into the 20th century. In the mid-1990s, Kenyon led the farm-to-college movement that brought local food into the dining hall, beginning our robust commitment to our rural place — a commitment seen in the Kokosing Nature Preserve, the Brown Family Environmental Center, the Kenyon Land Trust and, until recently, the residential program at the Kenyon Farm.
In 2004, we seized on our reputation as a beacon of civic engagement and ushered in a new generation of Kenyon students deeply committed to this country’s democracy. To survive the crises of higher education that face Kenyon and every institution like it, it is once again imperative that we meet the moral demands of our moment. Right now, that moral demand is to recognize the right of student workers to vote in a union election, the same rights that any other worker holds in this country.
This administration’s stance against the rights of student workers is especially concerning in light of Kenyon’s recent financial decisions. As Peter Dickson ’69 recently wrote in a letter to the Collegian, Kenyon may well be investing almost a billion dollars — double its endowment — on debt repayment and new construction projects over the next several years. According to the Integrated Postsecondary Data System, nearly 15% of Kenyon’s staff is employed in “Business and Financial Operations,” compared to less than 5% at Oberlin, Grinnell and Dartmouth. Next year, Kenyon’s cost of attendance will surpass $80,000, securing our place as one of the most expensive colleges in the country.
All of this, combined with the College’s decision to retain expensive anti-union legal counsel to deny labor rights to its students, sends a message to current students, prospective students and alumni alike that this College has forgotten its obligation to those it is supposed to serve. These decisions, whatever the reasoning behind them, will ultimately alienate the very generation of Kenyon students and alumni that the College will have to rely on to see the end of this century.
We love Kenyon, and know that you do too. But the College’s recent treatment of student workers is a threat to the institution that we hold so dear. We are calling on you and your fellow trustees to look at Kenyon’s history, and realize there is no way for us to survive without repairing the damage done to our community. Student workers at Kenyon have demonstrated their desire to vote in a union election — the College’s arguments that student work is inconsequential to Kenyon’s operations has not satisfied them, and it certainly has not satisfied us.
As alumni who wish to see Kenyon survive and thrive, we ask you to sit down with K-SWOC and negotiate terms for an election. Accept their olive branch, and save our community.
Rev Michael Vanacore ’09, Kenyon is the place where I began to shape my core spiritual and ethical values; those values remain my guiding principles to this day.
Daniel Napsha ’21, The sense of community felt stronger at Kenyon than any other place that I have lived. I will always look back fondly on the relationships that I made there and how it cultivated an enduring connection to its rural place.
Shannon Paige ’20, I miss those Kenyon classes that would spill past the hour and continue all the way to Wiggins.
Liz Caringola ’09, whose Kenyon roommate of four years is still her best friend.
Nora Boles ’20, whose time, skills and connections as a student worker at Kenyon inspired her to pursue a career in public service and education.
Alli Beard ’20, whose outlook on life has been shaped by the values, memories and skills gained from her time at Kenyon.
Noah Griffith-Rosenberger ’21, who just last week urgently reached out to current students about a new run of Horn Gallery T-Shirts being printed.
Joseph Mallin ’05, a grateful learner who owes a lot to Kenyon and even more to the unions that brought stability to my family for the past three generations.
Andrew Irvin ’08, who would like some evidence from the Kenyon administration that they don’t all live cloistered away on the Hill, oblivious to the broader societal demands of higher education for its students and graduates.
Sigal Felber ’21, who knows she never wants to work in a non-unionized workforce again.
Tracey Hutchings-Goetz ’11, whose experiences at Kenyon helped shape my decision to help build a community organization in Indiana to empower working families.
Sarah W. Young, ’95, who found a community at Kenyon that still enriches my life and helped shape me into the activist I am.
Gabriel Bellott-McGrath ’18, who went to Kenyon because it felt like a unique place where people looked out for one another.
Katherine Franco ’21, who remains heartened and inspired by the commitment of student workers to one another and the future of Kenyon College.
David Han ’21, who believes that student workers gaining recognition for the contributions they make to the Kenyon community is central to the process of becoming independent, mature participants in the world they will graduate into.
Liz Beckman ’10, who recently had a long conversation about library science degrees, libraries and archives with a Class of ’19 Kenyon grad thanks to our mutual faculty advisor.
Anna Deryck ’20, whose time working for the Kenyon Farm shaped her, both personally and professionally.
Heather Pacheco ’18, who wants an alma mater she feels proud of and wants to make Kenyon a better place for all of those who come after her.
Noah Breton Seferian ’00, as a former student worker I can’t exaggerate how disappointing and crushing it is to see my alma mater hire a law firm to attack students.
Kindra Fontes-May ’14, who became a union organizer because of her education at Kenyon.
Courtney Felle ’21, who talked with hundreds of prospective students as an Admissions student worker and who wants those students to experience the caring Kenyon community they were promised, not the unforgiving, exploitative environment that Kenyon is increasingly becoming.
Meg Thornbury ’16, who worked as a CA and has since realized how horribly classist Kenyon is and how the College needs to do better to ensure all students have an equally good experience at Kenyon in order to build a sustainable alumni base.
Katherine King ’17, whose Kenyon professors taught her to critically analyze anti-union rhetoric.