Memo to the Next President: On Outsourcing
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
If Kenyon’s next president has read any admissions literature by the time she steps onto the Hill, she will know that she is not just accepting the highest office in the administration of a liberal arts college. She is also becoming a member of our much (and rightly) praised Kenyon community. My charge to our next president is to respect the responsibilities of this office, specifically as it relates to the controversy about outsourcing maintenance workers. We need a president who understands that outsourcing labor is not compatible with maintaining Kenyon’s cherished community.
At the Maintenance Management Advisory Panel (MMAP) town hall meeting a few weeks ago, Larry James, Kenyon trustee and head of the MMAP, admitted that the current administration handled presentation and communication of the initial decision to outsource labor very poorly. What neither Mr. James nor President Nugent acknowledges, however — what the next president must — is that there is more than just a presentation problem. The initial decision to outsource labor was wrong, and the fact that outsourcing remains on the table at all is still troubling.
Contracting with an outsourcing corporation introduces a new member to the Kenyon community, one that Kenyon cannot regulate. Kenyon has no power to hold Sodexo, or any other outsourcing company, to the standards of this community. To paraphrase one faculty member, there are standards here at Kenyon — academic, disciplinary and personal. We don’t admit students who don’t meet these standards, and we don’t hire or retain faculty and staff members who don’t meet these standards. So why would Kenyon consider admitting Sodexo, a multinational corporation with a long history of discrimination lawsuits, unsafe labor practices, union suppression and other employer abuses, into this community?
It is hypocritical for Kenyon to emphasize the importance of small class sizes, close faculty-student relationships and engagement with our local community when it is considering outsourcing workers instead of retaining them as Kenyon employees. It is hypocritical to ask students to think deeply, to form opinions and to write papers about human rights and the “Quest for Justice” when the College does not take a firm stance against negotiating with companies that have abysmal human rights records. It is hypocritical for Kenyon to advertise itself as a collaborative community of learning when important decisions are made unilaterally and announced abruptly, without consulting students, faculty or, most importantly, the workers themselves. And it is hypocritical to expect students to think critically and solve problems creatively when internal solutions proposed by the local unions to the very real financial problems of the College are ignored or disregarded by the administration. If Kenyon truly believes that learning is a way of life, then our next president must understand that the academic and managerial missions of the College should not be kept separate. They should share the same values and the same goals.
Kenyon’s next president should try to connect with those who stand to be affected by proposed changes in policy. The skilled trades union, UE Local 712, has put forward its Middle Path Proposal, which lists concrete ways to renew a sense of collaboration between labor and management, save money and increase productivity without outsourcing. Both UE Local 712 and Kenyon’s other maintenance union, the International Association of Machinists, agree that Kenyon’s current work order system has been underutilized. They suggest exploring the capabilities of our current system before purchasing a costly new one or outsourcing any member of the maintenance staff. The next president should consider these solutions and continue to actively seek input from community members to identify creative ways in which Kenyon can save money in the coming years.
It is still unclear how the current administration will respond to the panel’s final recommendation next month, and which decisions will ultimately fall to the next president’s judgment. What is clear is that this decision and the ensuing controversy have eroded trust in the current administration, causing unease and discontent. This struggle to maintain Kenyon’s community, however, has also reaffirmed the value of the community itself. In the audience of the MMAP town hall meeting, in the weekly meetings of the Kenyon Community Alliance and at the weekly peaceful picketing (rain or shine) against MMAP meetings, I see workers, faculty and students standing united to keep Kenyon Kenyon, a place where we value our studies and each other, and where the two are not mutually exclusive. Our next president must understand this. She must listen, heal, communicate and ultimately make the right choices. Choices that will rebuild, not dismantle, our fragile, but united, Kenyon community.
Lydia Shahan ’15 is a history major and a member of the Kenyon Community Alliance. Her email is email@example.com.