In the four years I have spent at the College of Wooster, I have witnessed a dramatic change in the school’s administrative culture. Like the administrations of many other schools, both public and private, across the country, Wooster’s administrative bodies have increasingly betrayed the school’s fundamental virtue of being a not-for-profit liberal arts school. Now it seems our school’s administration conducts its business in a way not unlike a for-profit corporation — a move completely and utterly at odds with the institutional image that same body promotes to the public.
You have no doubt experienced the corporatization of Wooster in a variety of a ways, but it is hard to recognize these changes as indicative of this shift. That is the reason they are so very pernicious and perhaps the most pernicious move of all is just beginning to unfold. But before I discuss that, it is important to identify that which has brought this corporate cultural shift to Wooster.
I believe the blame lies with our administration for many reasons. For one thing, this body conducts its business in relative secrecy, acting more like a bank and less like an institution of higher learning. What’s more, Wooster’s administrative bodies keep getting bigger, and like their now peer-like equivalents in the world of business, their pay has gotten bigger too.
For example, let’s discuss the highest-paid administrator of them all: President Cornwell. According to the Chronicle of Higher Learning, Cornwell’s total compensation in 2011 — a number which includes his on-campus home and other non-salaried benefits — amounted to $633,430. This number has grown rapidly in the years I have been here, and as a 2009 copy of the Voice made clear, its growth is to the tune of well over $200,000.
Statewide, Cornwell is the third highest-compensated president of a private college and the fourth highest-compensated president at an Ohio college either public or private. He is also the highest-compensated president in the Five Colleges of Ohio organization — a group which also includes Ohio Wesleyan, Denison, Oberlin and Kenyon. But what really frustrates me about all of this is that at the same time, faculty and staff members not of administrative rank have become increasingly more insecure about their future employment. These are the realities of this corporatization. In light of recent developments about Dining Services, the corporatization of Wooster has found perhaps its largest victim so far.
All of us have heard that Dining Services may soon be outsourced. And despite what the administration has said, many Dining Services employees, as well as the students who love them, fear that jobs and benefits may be be lost if outsourcing occurs. It has also been said (at odds with what the administration has said, of course) that Dining Services’ employees could lose not only their jobs, but those who keep them might lose their health insurance and the tuition compensation they have worked hard for. More troubling is the fact that all of this is happening now, just a year after many of these employees fought and successfully won larger compensation and benefits packages which they now must worry about losing.
At the same time, tuition has increased by about $9,000 in three years, leaving students wondering how the College could justify such a cost-cutting, job-bleeding measure. So while the College is still by definition a non-profit institution, all of these recent activities suggest that the College no longer operates with the values of one. As a non-profit organization, the College no longer gives each member of its staff their fair share. And while I understand that my criticisms are based on seemingly lofty ideals, I know that it is possible for non-profits to do so and that other non-profits do! For example, because of my seasonal employment at a non-profit back home, I, a 21-year-old student, already have a 401(k)!
Rather than do right by all of its employees, the College has instead brought uncertainty and the overwhelming fear of job insecurity into the homes of a huge section of its family. All the while, administrators who make in one year what many in our College family might hope to make in thirty, tells our family members not to worry. It’s as if they do so with their fingers crossed behind their backs. It is this inequality, the fear that at anytime your job could be gone, that most marks the College’s descent into the practice of corporate immorality. It is a shameful thing for them to do to those at the College who care for us, the students, the most.