June 23, 2024

This summer, my Twitter timeline — like I would assume many of yours — was flooded by a steady stream of tweets, as “Forbes Magazine” pitted colleges against each other in contest to promote, alongside Forbes, their respective brands.
Within these tweets were stories and anecdotes full of the virtues of community, pride, and caring that exemplify the very best of Wittenberg. However, absent from this hubris was any discussion of the plight of some members of our community.
In 2012, facing a deficit of $7 million and an uncertain future, the administration awarded the university’s housingkeeping contract to a company who pays a poverty wage. Since then, the men and women who do the important work of keeping our community a clean and safe place to learn, grow, and live have been people who, by the result of the administration’s choice, now have to live in poverty. I am, however, not cynical enough to believe this was a conscious choice. Rather, my idealism has forced me to believe that President Laurie Joyner, in the context of budget discussion, reduced the housekeepers to numbers on a spreadsheet.
This summer, when my timeline forced me to contemplate what I really thought of my institution, the cynic sought to direct me to respond to these tweets with the same capitalist callous that led the university to pay a poverty wage. “Wittenberg and I [are] engaged in an exchange,” I thought. “We are two rational actors: I pay for service that I have judged my marginal utility will exceed my cost.” After all, the professors — who I value highly — are merely selling their labor to Wittenberg, and I, in turn, pay the university for that labor. Nothing in these cold calculations is worth boasting about on Twitter. If the university can so easily reduce the humanity of the housekeeping staff to a cold calculation of value, why should not I do the same to Wittenberg? Why would I tweet and boast of my shrewd action in the market place?
Of course, as is almost always the case, my inner cynic was wrong. Reducing the actions of Wittenberg to a market decision is an affront to the very concept of a Liberal Arts education. Though I was quick to do it, the values of love, friendship, and pride found in these tweets are not something to be admonished — but, instead, are the very values that are worth protecting. However, these values cannot be reconciled with paying a poverty wage. Rather than rest on the fact that we have found these virtues at Wittenberg, we should be called to work together to extend these throughout this community. What truly makes Wittenberg a “top college” is too precious a gift to be reserved for the students only.
Only the dogged pursuit of social justice is the journey commensurate for the light Wittenberg has provided us. It is our duty to work together to spread that light throughout the community. Rather than be weighed down by our hubris, we should take the “top college” moniker and extend it throughout our community. The housekeepers would be a good place to start.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *