AAPR Prompts Concern Among Union Supporters


Meg Parker

College plumber and United Auto Workers member Tom Wright works in Facilities Operations on campus

Oberlin is considering eliminating over 50 staff lines — a decision which could impact up to 40 current employees — as part of the Academic and Administrative Program Review. This is part of just one of the AAPR steering committee’s areas of recommendation meant to address Oberlin’s structural budget deficit.

The steering committee referenced Oberlin’s exorbitant employee costs as a reason for the area of recommendation, claiming that 63 percent of Oberlin’s operating budget goes toward employee compensation.

The steering committee suggested that Oberlin’s ratio of 2,850 students to 1,100 employees is one of the factors contributing to the school’s unsustainable financial trajectory. In addition, the committee released data collected during the AAPR process indicating that Oberlin’s hourly employees earn up to 34 percent higher wages than comparable positions at other colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio.

“Controlling employee costs will be critical for achieving financial sustainability and for conserving funds needed to support current and enhanced programming for students, which is key to Oberlin’s long-term success,” according to the AAPR Summary of Work to Date document, posted on the AAPR’s landing page on the Oberlin website March 29.

However, some critics argue that these statistics are misleading, as they do not take into account whether or not these peer institutions compensate their employees fairly.

“It’s important for students to care about the conditions of workers because our presents and futures are so intermingled and intertwined, and cutting compensation, benefits, and staff is so directly correlated with the quality of student experience,” said College junior Elsa Schlensker, a member of the Student Labor Action Coalition. “These cuts will impact people’s careers, livelihoods, families, and health care, and those are important enough to be worth considering on their own. I’m very concerned about the ‘34 percent over average’ figure, because it’s clear that the minimum wage in Ohio — $8.55 — is nowhere near living wages.”

The AAPR committee also noted that health benefits might be re-assessed after reporting significant disparities between benefits for faculty and staff and those of hourly employees. According to the AAPR report, hourly employees’ plans cost Oberlin around $17,000 per year, while administrative and professional staff and faculty have plans which cost an average of $9,800 per year.

Potential changes to compensation for hourly employees have proven particularly controversial as union representatives were one of the few groups not represented on the steering committee. Some of the union leadership feel it is unfair to lay off hourly employees as they were left out of the AAPR process.

“I can’t speak for the [United Auto Workers], but our request to participate was denied by the College because we have a collective bargaining agreement,” said Oberlin College Office and Professional Employees Union Vice President and Interlibrary Loan Specialist Diane Lee. “When we asked to meet with the steering committee for additional information, as they offered during the presentations in March, Dean [and Chair of AAPR David] Kamitsuka referred us to [Human Resources] because OCOPE has a contractual relationship with the College that is subject to labor laws. In the past, we have asked the College for a greater engagement with OCOPE concerning strategic planning, and believe it reasonable for the College to afford OCOPE the same opportunity extended to other groups on campus — an inclusive voice through representation in these processes.”

In contrast, Vice President for Finance and Administration Rebecca Vazquez-Skillings, a member of the AAPR Steering Committee, said that hourly employees did not sit in on the steering committee because official “bargaining” between the College and collective bargaining units can only happen through negotiation processes involving the Department of Human Resources.

“College employees that are members of the college’s bargaining units did not participate as members of the AAPR steering committee out of respect for the bargaining process,” said Vazquez-Skillings wrote in an email to the Review. “Provisions of each collective bargaining agreement can only be considered and amended as part of the negotiation process. The Steering Committee was careful not to venture into conduct that might be considered negotiation.”

The steering committee will continue to gather feedback and information from community members in the coming weeks before it presents its final areas of recommendation to the faculty at the end of the academic year. The faculty will then choose whether to endorse the recommendations. Following, the recommendations will be presented to the Board of Trustees at their June board meeting. If the board approves, implementation could begin as soon as this summer.