Our Staff Deserve Better


In an op-ed published in last week’s edition of The Campus, Professor Noah Graham discussed the massive paychecks allotted to top administrators at the college. During the 2015–2016 fiscal year, these included numbers like $482,773 for the Monterey President/Special Advisor for Initiatives and $458,932 for the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer. A commenter on Graham’s op-ed wrote that they were “embarrassed, infuriated, and pained by this information. Everyone knows that Middlebury College is not a beacon of equity and inclusion, but I did not realize that the situation was this dire — that our own administrators were perpetuating the income gap that I am sure they speak frequently of closing.” Truly appalling, however, is the stark contrast posed by a comparison of these paychecks to those on a spreadsheet of Middlebury staff pay ranges, where some yearly salaries amount to as little as $22,165.00. (It should be acknowledged that some staff work part time, thereby lowering this number.) Such inequality, while extremely pronounced, is not surprising; income inequality exists across the U.S., and the Middlebury College community is no exception. At the same time, Middlebury compares itself to 21 institutions — NESCAC and other liberal arts colleges — and finds itself among the upper echelon for exempt (salaried) workers, but just above the median for non-exempt (hourly) workers.

The workers who belong to the latter category form the vanguard of day-to-day staff interaction with students at Middlebury College, and wage inequality is just one injustice they face: we are all aware that the students with whom the dining hall and custodial staff interact on a daily basis behave disrespectfully and embarrassingly towards these workers. As a board, we would like to call for the improved treatment of Middlebury’s wage-earning staff on the part of both the administration and the student body. The administration, on its part, should increase non-exempt workers’ abysmally low wages. We as students can, and must, elevate our behavior in dining halls, dorms and other campus spaces from that of children to that of the college-age adults we are.

A recent example of student misconduct came last week when the SGA sent out an email announcing the suspension of 10 o’clock Ross. The email identified issues with “cleanliness, including ice cream spills, dirty dishes, and general disarray.” The email went on to point out how “the Ross Dining Hall Staff trusts the student body by allowing us to enjoy late-night snacks in the dining hall after hours and we have failed to step up to the task.” This is not the first cancellation of 10 o’clock Ross: last year, the discovery of beer bottles and other uncleanliness led to a similar suspension.

Students’ behavior indicates a severe lack of consideration for our staff, which manifests weeknight after weeknight. We are better than this; dining hall staff should under no circumstances be called upon to clean up childlike messes made by adult students. It’s hard to blame Ross Dining Hall for a suspension that seems so fitting; students are acting like elementary school kids, and as a result are having their ice cream and sugared cereal privileges taken away.

A similar pattern of thoughtlessness occurs in dorms. The custodial staff routinely has to deal with problems beyond what should be reasonably expected of them. Among these are dirty dishes, left out in the hallway by students too lazy to return them to their rightful dining hall. An email to residents of Coffrin Hall called for improved student behavior in light of beer cans being left in hallways, signs being ripped off of doors and vomit in bathrooms. On a floor in Milliken Hall, a custodial staff member has taken to leaving notes, often humorous in nature, in an attempt to make students realize that their actions have tangible consequences. “My mother works with disabled elementary school kids,” reads a note above the hall garbage cans, “and even they know how to recycle.” This indicates that the normal systems of response — which consists largely of hall-wide emails sent out by RAs — are not enough to keep students mindful of staff. Whether it be food fights in Ross, people drunkenly leaving behind their plates on St. Patrick’s Day or students leaving dirty dishes in hallways, students constantly act in ways that make the lives of staff members more unpleasant.

Another example of this lack of respect has arisen with the new swipe system implemented in dining halls. Students interact with dining hall workers every time they get a meal, swiping in inches away from a seated staff member.  “If people forget their card, they get pretty upset with me,” says a worker at Ross who is responsible for overseeing the new swipe system. “I don’t make the rules, I’m just following them.”

Overall, the significance of students’ lack of consideration for staff cannot be overstated. Staff are working diligently to perform duties beyond the scope of their responsibilities while receiving inadequate compensation for the duties within their job descriptions. We are not arguing that paying non-exempt workers more would justify current student treatment towards them — regardless of income level, this treatment is unacceptable. Paying them more would, however, demonstrate that the Middlebury community values them and their jobs.

The President of Kentucky State University set a glowing precedent in 2014, taking a $90,000 pay cut and distributing it among the university’s lowest income employees. As a result, 24 employees salaries raised from $7.25 to $10.25 per hour, representing a huge increase in yearly earnings. “This is not a gift,” said President Burse, “it’s an investment.” We are not asking for anyone at Middlebury to take a pay cut, as such band-aid action does not challenge or alter systemic issues at the root of wage inequality. However, the ethos of Burse’s action applies; by treating staff with financial respect and care, we invest in the school the same way we do when paying out large “stay bonuses” to various administrators. Middlebury’s administration should apply this same ethos in considering future pay rates for non-exempt employees.

While profound disparities in Middlebury’s pay scale staff are beyond students’ ability to change, treatment of staff remains very much within student control. This means recycling, so that custodial staff do not have to do it for us. This means returning our own dirty dishes to the dining hall when we’ve finished our most recent unlimited meal. And it means recognizing that the staff are not in charge of systems like swipe-ins, however personally irritating we might find them. We as students may not be able to increase paychecks, but we can at least try to account for the difference in basic human decency.