Middlebury AAUP Writes in Solidarity for Oberlin Faculty Compensation

To the Oberlin College community,

Life at a small liberal arts college is often referred to as being “in the bubble,” as it is easy to lose touch with the larger world around you while you focus on the daily life and insular struggles within your community. Those local struggles can often feel detached from larger trends and forces as you focus on the specific people, policies, and debates that feel unique to your campus.

We write from Middlebury College, Vermont, where we have read about Oberlin’s recent struggles over employee wages and benefits, with a message from outside your bubble: you are not alone. While every college campus is unique, these struggles are not. Across the United States, colleges and universities have seen record gains in endowments coupled with salary freezes — which are effectively a pay cut when offset by inflation — benefit reductions, union-busting, and other means to leverage the COVID crisis to disempower employees and hoard institutional wealth, often in the name of unity or “shared sacrifice.” Administrators at such institutions like to tout “intergenerational equity” to justify limited draws on a booming endowment, yet such policies undervalue current employees and students in the name of future wealth, promoting a skewed version of intergenerational inequity.

Thankfully, you are also not alone in seeing faculty and staff stand up to these administrative maneuvers. We stand in solidarity with the Oberlin American Association of University Professors, which encouraged professors to cancel class to demand fair compensation. We stand in solidarity with Bates Educators and Staff Organization, who are trying to unionize Bates College staff and contingent faculty together over objections from the college administration. And we hope you stand in solidarity with Middlebury’s AAUP, working to advocate for fair employee compensation and truly equitable endowment policies. 

One of the core values of a liberal arts education is thinking across boundaries and drawing connections between separate realms of knowledge and experience. Thus we reach out across our institutional boundaries to share our experiences, knowledge, and advocacy, hoping that our peer colleges can all work together to ensure fair and equitable compensation for employees and provide the best possible educational experience for students.

In solidarity,

Jason Mittell, OC ’92, Professor of Film & Media Culture at Middlebury College on behalf of the following members of Middlebury College AAUP

Laurie Essig, Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies

Amy Holbrook, Academic Coordinator of Economics

Peter Matthews, Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics

Jamie McCallum, Associate Professor of Sociology