Layoffs for Oberlin Workers
To the Editors:
should consider ALL options, including the option of increasing
the payout rate of the endowment, before laying off ANY employees,
especially those employees who are older, who have children, etc.
The Trustees alone, not the faculty, not the alumni, not the students
and not any other college employees, etc., have the full and unquestionable
legal authority and responsibility to oversee the financial health
of the College both now and forevermore. Our Trustees volunteer
their services; they do have to answer to anyone. They merely want
to do what is best for the College. And to that end, they listen
to all points of views.
Trustees understand quite well that taking steps to ensure the mental
health and good morale of the campus is of paramount importance.
Surely, we must know as faculty members that however objective our
disciplines are, our fields are suffused with varying kinds of values,
Indeed, the central purpose of all that we teach is to make the
world better for all human beings. Our caring about the mental health
and good morale of all college employees is a good step toward making
the world a better place.
It is one thing for a college to have to lay people off when it
has no endowment or just a puny one. But when a college like Oberlin
has an endowment approaching 600 million dollars, it is not easy
even for ardent supporters of that college to believe that it is
necessary for workers to be laid off. Again, our Trustees do not
have to convince anyone that their actions are justifiable, much
as President Bush doesn’t have to convince the UN or the world
that we need to invade Iraq. The Board has the power to act unilaterally
and with impunity.
I will give it to the Trustees that they might consider most seriously
increasing the payout rate of the endowment before taking away people’s
jobs. Yes, I think we all understand that it is absolutely essential
to manage the endowment most prudently to ensure that the College
will be as sound in 20 or more years as it is today, and we are
disposed to believe in and trust the Trustees implicitly.
If layoffs are inevitable, it is all the more humane for employees
to know as far in advance as possible that they may have to go,
what, if any, severance pay they may receive, what they are to do
about health coverage, etc. Those immediately threatened with layoffs
deserve this minimum level of treatment, respect, and consideration.
I doubt that there are any Trustees and very few faculty members
who can imagine a scenario arising that would ever necessitate laying
off professors, especially tenured ones. Yet in a case or two it
has been done before at other colleges, but never here.
We professors must work with the Administration and Board to find
ways to avoid layoffs because this is the HUMANE thing to do, even
if some professors may believe that supporting other workers is
also our best defense against our facing layoffs.
Perhaps, for both humane and selfish reasons, we should cut out
many things at Oberlin and pray that the Trustees will indeed consider
increasing the payout rate of the endowment before we start cutting
out people’s jobs, inflicting, in some cases, irreparable
pain and suffering on our fellow workers and friends.
Professor of African American Studies