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.