Most of us agree that Oberlin College must pay all its workers a living wage. But perhaps not all support this view. There is no universally agreed-upon definition for what amount of dollars represents a “living wage” — a sum for one person or a family of four, for those living in the most expensive area of the country or the least expensive?
Let’s allow that the term lacks precision, but is a concept that must cover what we all think of as basic needs — food, housing, clothing, health insurance, etc. — with some notion of a barrier still, but hardly impossible to overcome. It is urgent for us to impress upon the College a sense of oneness as humans, caring and supporting each other in life’s journey, however much we may fail to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Oberlin College’s endowment may exceed $900 million — still, the existence of a serious budgetary challenge is indisputable. We should only hope that the Board of Trustees and the president explore all imaginable ways to respond to these challenges.
It need not be pointed out that the College is not in the business of providing jobs for certain employees and that students seek to enroll at Oberlin because of our outstanding academic departments and programs. However, we all need to be reminded that there are easily hundreds or more colleges out of more than 3,000 in our nation where there are outstanding professors in any discipline.
What has so long distinguished Oberlin from most, and is a driving factor for many students’ choice to come here, is our sense and purpose of being an institution with a progressive conscience; a longing for and striving toward social justice, so much lacking in our nation’s richness of material goods. At Oberlin, students get both a superb education and an added yearning to go out in the world and make a name for themselves while practicing, exploring, and sharing their humanity — their understanding of what it means to be rich in the pursuit of fairness, dignity, and purpose. Let our existence be a much richer one, not solely about the dollars and cents.