My family has always cared deeply about Kenyon College. Two generations of us have lived in Gambier, and, hopefully, more will. We’ve given a lot back to the College — we’ve donated our entire collection of Holocaust artifacts so that it may enhance the education of anyone who wants to study them. We’ve also created a scholarship fund which has allowed students from around the world to come and learn here. We love Kenyon, and Gambier, and all we want is to see the College succeed.
On March 3, 23 Kenyon alumni wrote an open letter to Joe Lipscomb, the vice president of the Board of Trustees, calling on him to use his power and influence to allow student workers to vote in a union election, which Kenyon’s administration has been intentionally delaying for months. I commend these alumni for attempting to reason with one of Kenyon’s most powerful decision makers, and I agree with what they wrote.
But it is not enough to simply ask politely for Kenyon’s trustees and administrators to treat its student workers decently. We must give them a financial reason to do so. This is why, until administrators sit down with the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee and negotiate terms for a union election, I will be removing Kenyon from my will.
Like those who wrote to Mr. Lipscomb, I am deeply disappointed in the way the administration has treated its students. When two-thirds of student workers filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board in October of last year, they weren’t even asking for a union — they were simply asking for an opportunity to vote for one.
However, it seems that for Kenyon’s administrators and trustees, democracy is too much to ask. Their well-paid lawyers filed a series of motions to cancel or otherwise indefinitely delay such an election, withholding workplace democracy from hundreds of student workers.
In the meantime, Kenyon’s administrators have made use of their unilateral authority over student workers’ lives. It is well known at this point that they removed the residential program at the Kenyon Farm, a program that has benefited the lives of student workers and members of the community for the past 10 years.
It is less well known, but perhaps even more concerning, that administrators are now publicly declaring Community Advisors exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In the administration’s view, the student workers who make residence halls into safe and supportive communities do not deserve the protections enshrined in the FLSA — an act explicitly passed to ensure that workers receive a basic minimum wage for their labor.
When I chose to include Kenyon in my will, it was because I felt I could trust the College to use my family’s resources for the benefit of students and the rest of the community. But the administration’s recent behavior has made clear to me that it cannot be trusted with unchecked power over the rights of its students. I cannot trust Kenyon to use my donation dollars wisely if it chooses to spend its money on lawyers from Jones Day, money it could be spending on the wages and support services that the student workers deserve. And I cannot look away while the administration disenfranchises and alienates the student community it claims to care so much about.
Like many colleges and universities before them, Kenyon could, at any time, stop these legal delay tactics and sit down with its student workers to negotiate a free and fair union election. Until that day comes, I will continue to leave Kenyon out of my will and refuse all attempts to solicit donations. I encourage all alumni and friends of Kenyon students to do the same.
Class of 2014