Kenyon College: Stop the Cuts to Your Workers’ Retirement Plans!
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The undersigned members of the Kenyon community—students, alumni, faculty, staff, and parents—express our committed opposition to the College’s decision to cut the retirement contributions to all Kenyon employees for one year without a commitment to make workers whole later on. The suspension of retirement contributions will generate $4.9 million in savings as part of a broader College plan to make up for a $19.3 million shortfall in the College operating budget for the coming year.
These cuts run counter the sentiments expressed by President Decatur in the March, 16 Virtual Staff Meeting where he pledged “mutual support for each other...that means actually making sure we are not cutting off folks in a time where they actually need support from the institution.” Rather than supporting College employees, raiding their retirement benefits for temporary cost-savings inflicts further pain on our community members when they are already reeling from an unprecedented economic crisis that has devastated retirement plans more than the Great Recession did. Furthermore, as the stock market begins to recover, it is critical at this time that Kenyon continues contributing to their workers’ retirement plans, not cut its contributions.
Beyond the immediate economic pain that these cuts will entail for College employees, we are deeply troubled with the process in which the College decided to take this course of action. Instead of opening a dialogue with the community members who would be most affected by this decision—the workers themselves—on the best approach to addressing the budget shortfall, the plan to cut retirement contributions was presented to staff as a unilateral decision by the College administration. Our faculty and staff understand that sacrifices that may need to be made to see the College through this crisis and it should be noted that Kenyon employees have been asked to shoulder a wage freeze across all departments, a concession many were already prepared to make. However, we believe staff should be treated as equals through this process and deserve a voice in the nature and conditions of their sacrifice.
Unfortunately, this recent episode fits into a larger pattern of top-down decision making by the College administration on crucial matters related to campus life—something students are acutely aware of in regards to the College’s handling of mental health policy and the gutting of representative institutions like Campus Senate, just to name a few examples.
The decision is also a step backwards in terms of the College’s labor relations. While most current students may not be aware of this history, the College attempted to outsource the employment of its maintenance workers in 2012 to SODEXO—a decision it reversed after widespread community opposition. Instead, maintenance workers introduced the Middle Path Partnership (MPP), an institution that provides for the cooperative governance of the maintenance department. It is disappointing to see that the College has, in this instance and others, conveniently forgotten the MPP’s philosophy of “creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect; through...open communications...and to the greatest extent possible, decision making by consensus.” While we recognize that the College is under severe strain caused by an unforeseen set of difficult circumstances, we also believe that the strength of Kenyon’s community is best measured in our commitment to our values when it is hard to do so as well as when it is easy.
Lastly, we reject the notion that the College must force its employees to choose between their retirement plans and potential layoffs, furloughs, or wage cuts as we do not believe alternatives to providing the $4.9 million in savings the retirement cuts would generate have been exhausted. Why has the College not tapped its $13.3 million Rainy Day fund? It seems like the present situation would fit under any description of a “rainy day.” Kenyon alumni were just able to raise over $1 million in a matter of days and major donors have shelled out tens of millions of dollars for campus projects in the past. Can the College not call on their support to cover a $4.9 million gap during an unprecedented crisis?
This crisis is a test to see what we actually mean when we say Kenyon is a “community.” To us, a community means people who, at the very least, have each other’s backs; who work together in times of crisis for the common good. The College’s decision making process on COVID-related financial challenges, as well intentioned as it is, has not reflected this vision of community. But we still have time to rectify that.
As signatories from all parts of Kenyon’s community, we ask that the College halt their current plan to implement this cut to their employees’ retirement benefits without a concrete commitment to make workers whole after the crisis is over. We also ask the College to create a forum in which all College employees can be included in crafting a resolution to the College’s temporary financial difficulties that will minimize the negative impacts to the financial well-being of our community members.
Members of the Kenyon College community
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