Oberlin College has been in the throes of turmoil for a decade. Aggressive, and sometimes absurd, social justice warfare hit the school’s image and enrollment long before the Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit and massive verdict.

The latest controversy surrounds cost-cutting in an attempt to narrow a multi-million dollar ‘structural deficit’. While there have been some cutbacks at administrative and faculty levels, the college now is attempting to jettison it’s unionized custodial and dining hall workers.

As Legal Insurrection was the first to report, Under financial stress, Oberlin College seeks to end unionized custodial and dining hall services:

Oberlin College has been under financial stress for a number of years, in part the result of problems filling incoming classes. for the tuition-dependent school. There have been cutbacks in many areas of the campus, including faculty.

Oberlin College is rated as financially sound by bond rating agency Moody’s, but the outlook was downgraded to negative in 2018.

The financial impact of the Gibson’s Bakery loss is not yet clear. It will be interesting to see if the negative publicity impacts the incoming class, and how much in grant money needs to be spent to maintain quality and quantity. But clearly Oberlin College has suffered a public relations body blow from the case.

The seriousness of the situation is further revealed in a campus announcement that Oberlin College will seek to replace UAW union workers in the dining hall and custodial services with outsourced contractors.

There have been protests on campus in support of the union workers, but the reaction of alumni is harder to gauge. At least one alum, someone who funds a scholarship, is expressing her disgust.

Susan L. Phillips, Oberlin College Class of 1976, is the former International Vice President of the Food and Commercial Workers Union and is a current labor consultant. Phillips established a summer social justice internship fund for Oberlin College students:

Susan Phillips ‘76 Social Justice Internship Fund

The Social Justice Internship Fund provides financial support to students for expenses related to unpaid or low-paid summer internships that directly support workers’ rights, civil liberties and rights, poverty, food security, gender equality, environmental protection, and homelessness. Other areas will be considered if the applicant can satisfactorily demonstrate how their internship relates to social justice or the greater social good.

Susan Phillips spent most of her career in the U.S. labor movement. She served first as publications director and then as an international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, where she created programs to increase the involvement of women, young members, and retirees in union activities. She is eager to support students who are considering work in various aspects of social justice.

The fund is intended to cover expenses associated with, but not limited to travel, transportation, housing, food, utilities, equipment, or other such appropriate expenses. Students selected to receive this fund whose need-based financial aid package from Oberlin includes a summer earnings expectation may use a portion of their award to cover this obligation and offset lost summer earnings.

Eligibility:

Students from all classes (including graduating seniors) and all majors

Students with demonstrated financial need are encouraged to apply.

https://web.archive.org/web/20190725001228/https://www.oberlin.edu/career/set/funding/descriptions

The entry above is from Wayback Machine, because the scholarship no longer appears on the Oberlin College website scholarship page because Phillips has suspended the scholarship in protest of the union layoffs.

Phillips announced suspension of the scholarship fund in an An Open Letter to Students published in the student-run Oberlin Review. Here’s an excerpt (emphasis added):

It’s with sincere and profound sorrow that I want you to know that the Susan Phillips Social Justice Scholarship Fund spring interviews have been suspended indefinitely….

As you well know, the Oberlin administration has announced that it is seriously considering laying off 108 United Automobile Workers-represented custodial and food service workers and outsourcing those positions. As a lifelong union activist, I can’t in good conscience fund a social justice program when Oberlin’s administrators are contemplating going down the road of union busting. The outsourcing proposal runs completely counter to Oberlin’s long history of promoting social justice. Consequently, if Oberlin succeeds in busting UAW Local 2192, the scholarship fund will be terminated permanently.

I fully understand the need to cut expenses to ensure Oberlin’s long-term survival. But targeting members of the union that has represented Oberlin’s service workers for two-and-a-half decades is callous, short-sighted, and of questionable benefit….

The College administration claimed that Oberlin’s support staffs’ wages are far higher than comparable positions in the area. This statement overlooks the value of the cooperative history of labor relations that has existed between the UAW and Oberlin since the 1990s. Outsourcing these jobs not only would devastate the lives and futures of those laid off but also would undermine Lorain County’s economy by creating throw-away jobs with substandard pay. Even a single person can’t live comfortably on the $9–13 per-hour rate subcontractors typically pay for custodial and foodservice employment — much less support a family.

The so-called “shared sacrifice” is not being evenly felt across the board. Even if top-salaried employees, including professors, have taken wage freezes and benefit reductions, they start at a much higher level and the economic squeeze is likely felt minimally by those who do keep their jobs, if at all. Living in a small town like Oberlin is more than affordable for people who have six-figure salaries…. Workers should never be considered expendable.

I love Oberlin and continue to try to find ways to be involved with Oberlin students. But union busting, added to the Gibson’s fiasco, will serve only to strike another deeply damaging blow to Oberlin’s reputation and future….

Clearly, Oberlin College is facing multiple challenges. The biggest challenge is not financial, it’s credibility. As one student protester noted, “Willingly impoverishing over 100 longtime employees and their families means that, at the end of the day, the values we claim to stand for are hollow.”

The ferocious attacks on the Gibson family and the willingness to discard long-term union custodial and dining hall workers demonstrate that Oberlin College may not be what it purports to be. As that sinks into the public consciousness, something will have to give. Loss of credibility for a higher education institution can be more damaging than money. Just ask Mizzou and Evergreen State.

[Featured Image: Screen grab from Chronicle-Telegram video]

 

 
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