Why President Joyner’s Influence Shouldn’t be Honored

Last week, “The Dayton Business Journal” named Wittenberg President Laurie Joyner one of the 50 most influential businesswomen in the Dayton area. Joyner’s honor is highly unsettling, as it highlights and reaffirms the direction of our liberal arts institution towards a callous business model — a model that has commodified and pre-professionalized our education, and a model that has rendered the housekeepers’ livelihood expendable.

“The Dayton Business Journal” is quick to discuss the positive influences of Joyner and the administration, noting technology upgrades and facility improvements. “The Dayton Business Journal” fails, however, to address that Joyner and the administration  have made a conscious decision to subject over 30 people to a poverty wage.

In 2012, facing a large budget deficit, the university switched to a  housekeeping contractor that pays its employees $8.50 per hour and offers very little benefits, as opposed to the former contractor, who paid $14 per hour and provided a much more generous benefit package. The administration had the opportunities to make cuts or raise revenue elsewhere, but opted to economically subjugate the housekeepers instead. Many housekeepers lost their jobs; others have been forced to rely on scant benefits and a sub-living wage — all justified as a mere rational market decision.

Joyner is not solely responsible for the cuts, but it’s absurd that anyone in the administration should be honored  when the university perpetuates poverty. A principle end of a liberal arts institution is to raise living standards, or, in Wittenberg’s case, to “pass light on;” while Wittenberg may do that for many students and faculty, it fails to do so for the families that have to rely on a poverty wage to survive. In fact, in this instance, Joyner and the administration have hoarded light.

Moreover, “The Dayton Business Journal” is also troublesome in reducing the leadership role of a liberal arts college to that of a businessperson.

The university is the only vestige of those willing to question and interrogate social norms — even when the hegemony is as ubiquitous as American capitalism. But Joyner and the administration’s actions can only be justified within these narrow, callous, capitalistic norms. In their tenure, rather than pointing to the a priori value in the discovery of thought, they have touted the monetary and professional value of a liberal arts education — a long, stark stride towards pre-professionalization.

But just as the livelihood of the housekeepers shouldn’t have been treated as expendable, our education shouldn’t be treated as a commodity, and our university shouldn’t be treated as a business. Indeed, they all deserve the ethical and intellectual respect that true liberal arts ideals can provide, respect not to be curtailed by market forces.

Certainly, it must be conceded that Wittenberg has to navigate these economic perimeters to survive. But if Wittenberg’s market actions run counter to the core mission of liberal arts, has the university actually survived?

Ultimately, the “influence” of a liberal arts leader cannot be measured by financial stability, technology upgrades or facility improvements, but instead should be measured by his/ her ability to carry out the lofty liberal arts ideals and provide students with a context to exercise a mode of thinking that pursues justice, empathy and the alleviation of suffering — especially in regards to those who are forced to live in poverty.

This, however, isn’t an exclusive indictment of Joyner and our administration. Instead, this trend is indicative of our society’s business class at-large, a class that has opted for concentrated-benefit rather than shared-prosperity, marketability rather than integrity and thoughtfulness. We now find these dangerous norms not only a part of, but a staple in our university — and these “influences,” though pervasive, are not worth honoring.

6 Comments

  1. The author breezily glosses over the implications of Wittenberg running a ruinous budget deficit. Were that to continue, the University would fail, and the liberal arts light would be passed on no more. Wittenberg and had to cut somewhere.

    The charge of our university is to teach; it is not to be a charity to unskilled housekeepers. Wittenberg has a Budget which at some point must be balanced (despite Erickson’s best efforts to pretend it didn’t), and we must not sacrifice the primary mission, to educate, on the alter of ancillary niceties.

    Truly, the author must first ask himself whether he (or his parents) personally want to make up the difference in pay, which is, by my BOTEC, roughly $15,000 annually, per housekeeper. Then the author must ask whether that money could be better spent hiring or retaining some of Wittenberg’s stellar faculty? Or giving financial aid to a needy or deserving student? Or to maintain our beautiful buildings? Or to develop new student experiences (or retain classics, like the WittSem)? I doubt he would conclude paying above market wages for housekeeping services is the best use of his money.

    Resources are finite, and choices must be made. The Joyner administration should not be above reproach, especially for its ongoing efforts to turn Wittenberg University into “The Wittenberg HVAC & Auto Repair Technical College and Salon Beautician School” (TM), but for this decision, which frees resources to be used on matters of primary import to the institution, the Joyner administration should be commended, not decried.

    • Hey, Nate,

      Thanks for writing in. Your comment, so far, has been one of the most coherent responses we have had. Thanks for taking your time to read and comment.

      First, it seems we fundamentally disagree on the responsibilities of a liberal arts institution. Certainly, the primary function of the institution is to teach, but the University is also responsible for creating a community characterized by empathy, thoughtfulness, and compassion. In fact, the latter is a staple in the former, we would argue. Thus, we think that paying this wage is fundamentally inconsistent with liberal arts ideals—and even a liberal arts education.
      Moreover, surely we can all agree that liberal arts institutions are supposed to hold some type of ethical superiority over, say, places like McDonalds and Wal-Mart. Thus, in a market economy, if the liberal arts institution is to hold any reputation that exceeds McDonalds or Wal-Mart, it must actualize it in the market place. Possibly the most effective way of doing that is paying a wage that doesn’t perpetuate poverty. To put it another way: if Wittenberg would like to retain a reputation as callously market-drive McDonlads, so be it—but that means the university does not get to champion the motto: “Having Light, We Pass It On to Others,” or, more generally, retain the label of a liberal arts institution.
      You also seem to imply that Wittenberg has no responsibilities to its surrounding community. I think the administration would agree that the institution has a responsibility to Springfield, a community that Wittenberg inhabits — evidenced in our rigorous community service and service learning programs. But, as your logic holds, we ought to completely disband community service, no?
      Ultimately, it seems your expectations for the institution are less lofty than ours; in fact, if McDonalds taught Plato, it seems you would readily endorse them as a liberal arts institution. {We sincerely hope that does not come across as snarky.}
      Tom has written on this elsewhere:
      http://thewittenbergtorch.com/?p=3840
      Further, we would also like to address your points on financial considerations. You are once again correct in suggesting that “Wittenberg had to cut somewhere.” We disagree, however, on where those cuts should have been made. Frankly, we think the administration should have absorbed the cuts; that would, indeed, constitute an act of true leadership.
      We have also wrestled with what it would cost to pay the housekeepers a living wage. Per Joyner, changing housekeeper contractors saved the university approximately $600,000 per year. Though we think that the cuts should’ve have been made at the administrative level, a one-time $300/ year tuition hike for each student would cover the costs of a fair wage. Once again, that is without any cuts to administrative salaries. If a slight tuition increase would have been coupled with administrative salary cuts, we feel the budget could have been balanced without “ruining the institution.”
      Surely, these cuts would have been tough for some—but they would pale in comparison to the harsh reality of poverty. See, for example, Harvard’s study on what poverty does to people’s physical and mental health:
      http://web.stanford.edu/group/scspi/cpr/cpr_lab_poverty_and_stress.html
      Or, what poverty does to children’s learning capacities:
      http://www.aecf.org/resources/early-reading-proficiency-in-the-united-states/
      Indeed, the list goes on.
      The fact of the matter is, running an ethical institution costs a certain amount of money, and if our education has to come at the expense of others, it best not come at all. We suppose not everyone will agree with this conclusion.
      Finally, we would also like to finish on some economic considerations. As I’m sure you know, wages in this country have been stagnant for quite some time. Take the minimum wage, for example. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage in 1968 holds a purchasing power of roughly $10.60 an hour today. In that same period, average worker productivity has ballooned. Laborers at and around the minimum wage not only deserve a raise per inflation, but they have also earned one. Thus, by re-contracting through a higher-paying employer, Wittenberg would not be performing a “nicety” or a “charity;” it would, in fact, be actualizing justice.

      Thanks,

      Trevor Brown
      Thomas Dwyer (co-wrote the article, though is not credited in the on-line version)

    • Evan,

      Come on, don’t you think $15/ hour is a pretty lame “utopia”? Don’t you think I have a better imagination than that? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  2. I agree with the “housekeeping staff” portion of this essay, I think it was possible to raise revenue elsewhere rather than downsizing and cutting wage and benefits of the people who care for the irresponsible decisions students make on college campuses everywhere. The second part about the “pre-professionalization of our education”, however, seems wildly unfounded. This is a liberal arts institution, the questioning and interrogation of social norms is mandatory. The requirement to take courses in multiple subjects outside of your major exposes you to every aspect of our “hegemonic society”; the actual interrogation of these social norms is up to the learner, the student, who must discover and challenge them on their own. The university is just a means to expose you and point you in the direction, and having personally experienced this institution before and during Dr. Joyner’s presidency, I can assure you there has been an increase, if anything, in educational value here.

    • Hey, Nate,

      Thanks for writing in. We appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

      In regards to pre-professionalization: our concerns lie in Joyner’s attempt to “sell” the market and professional value of a liberal arts degree. This is evidenced in a pretty relentless campaign by the administration that showers prospective and current students alike with a “how-much-money-your-degree-will-make-us-in-the-job-market” pitch. Surely, it is partially on us to engage in critical thinking, but it is also a responsibility of the president to embody these ideals. That, in our opinion, means not being a “business person”—but being a liberal arts leader.

      Indeed, we think the “business” award is but a further extension of this phenomenon.

      We find that her breaking the mold of a liberal arts leader — i.e., more precisely, discarding the principles of critical thinking — is a dangerous trend that is well worth pointing out, even if it has yet to manifest in some institutionalized policy.

      Certainly, policies with practical consequences (e.g., restricting our critical thinking ability per the post-grad job market) always begin with abstract ideas (e.g., putting a monetary value on our education).

      Thanks,

      Tom Dwyer (co-wrote the article, but is not credited on-line)
      Trevor Brown

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