Refusal to Raise Faculty Salaries Disgraceful

On March 1, the Board of Trustees released a three-page letter formally refusing the faculty’s request for better compensation and benefits. This article is not the first, nor will it be the last, written in the Review about the nearly 10-year fight for higher wages for faculty. 

In the past several years, Oberlin has been falling behind its rival liberal arts schools, such as Swarthmore College and Pitzer College, in terms of compensation. This has had a devastating effect on faculty members and, by extension, students. Many faculty members have chosen to leave Oberlin in favor of colleges and universities that offer better pay. As a 2019 opinion piece by Raavi Asdar, OC ’21, stated, “For me and many of my peers, these changes have meant the sudden departure of some of our most valued professors, advisors, and sources of support on campus.” 

Between teaching multiple classes, publishing a book, coping with deaths in her family, caring for elders in her community, and simply surviving in the face of violence against Black and Brown women, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Comparative American Studies Yveline Alexis is just one of many faculty members who have been significantly affected.

“I’m told by a financial planner in my life that I could make more teaching at a high school,” Alexis said. “The students who are curious and really committed keep me here, but I think there’s gonna be a real impact about us being able to stay with security.” She also mentioned that she and many of her colleagues are being approached by other prestigious institutions, including Ivy Leagues such as Princeton and Brown University. 

Oberlin has an approximately $1 billion endowment, so why is it that esteemed faculty members, who are regularly praised by the College for their dedication, barely make enough to get by? Almost nothing has changed in the 10 years since the Board of Trustees passed its 2013 resolution to increase faculty salaries — except for rising copays, a two-year salary freeze, and most recently the compulsory switch to a Consumer-Driven Healthcare Plan and Health Savings Account. It is clear that, as an institution, Oberlin has abandoned its values of “Learning and Labor” in favor of austerity and greed. 

It’s also worth noting that the lack of faculty compensation has a disproportionately adverse effect on marginalized faculty and students. Oberlin prides itself on its progressive values, such as being the first college in the United States to accept women and Black students. Yet, by refusing to compensate professors adequately, Oberlin sacrifices these very morals at the expense of both marginalized faculty and students. By losing marginalized faculty members, students lose invaluable resources and mentors who are already underrepresented in academia. 

Alexis addressed the premature departure of marginalized faculty and how it affects students in terms of representation in academics. “You can study these people, but do you know them? Are they invited to your house?” she asked.

There has already been action planned in response to the trustees cementing their abandonment of their own five-year plan to raise faculty wages approved in 2013. The Student Labor Action Coalition released a statement in response to the Board of Trustees’ decision, which reads, “We echo the calls from students around the country fed up with the current system of unelected and unaccountable wealthy individuals with nearly absolute power that has wreaked havoc on campuses around the country through their mismanagement and misplaced priorities. The Oberlin Board of Trustees is not alone in their incompetence and condescension, but we are also not alone in opposing them.” 

Crediting her union background, Alexis planned a two-hour protest this past Thursday, in front of Memorial Arch and the Cox Administration Building. Hundreds of students and faculty gathered to speak, perform, and read works by Black revolutionaries. During the protest, Visiting Assistant Professor of German Peter Woods stressed the importance of openly discussing salaries, describing how one of his colleagues earned only $6,000 for teaching one course and was denied an official position, and how another makes only $26,000 annually teaching three courses. Additionally, multiple student spoke about the one-to-two-year turnover rate for professors and the lack of adequate mental health resources. These speakers showed how students and faculty alike are overlooked and mistreated and that change is long overdue. 

At this point, telling faculty we are thankful for their “incredible ingenuity and resilience,” as in the Board of Trustees letter, is empty and hollow. It’s time for the Board to take action and for the Oberlin community to rally together to finally uphold our institution’s values of “Learning and Labor.”