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Whose Common Good?

May 4, 2018

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

The College knows that members of Bowdoin’s house- and groundskeeping staff regularly struggle to make ends meet, as we reported this week in the Orient. In addition, the Orient has learned that workers in dining make similarly low wages. According to Tama Spoerri, vice president for human resources, “The people in dining are the same as the housekeepers … They’re in the same pay scales.” For many of the staff members who make our lives at Bowdoin so comfortable, wages are insufficient and finances are painfully tight. The College could alleviate some of this financial hardship, but it chooses not to. This must change.

In interviews with the Orient, Spoerri and Matt Orlando, treasurer and senior vice president for finance and administration, explained that Bowdoin does not take into account cost of living and its workers’ ability to make ends meet when setting wages. Instead, the compensation of its employees is based on the cold, unfeeling logic of the labor market.

This treatment speaks to a basic lack of empathy for these members of our community and an undervaluation of their work, which keeps the College running. Our staff members should not feel the need to scavenge food from locker rooms. They should not have to frequent the food bank, and they should not worry about paying their bills each month. They should not have to work multiple jobs to support their families. In short, they should not struggle to achieve the quality of life that the College dedicates so many resources towards supporting in other communities through Alternative Spring and Winter Breaks, McKeen Center Orientation Trips and routine service opportunities. This week’s investigation reveals that the College’s wage structure perpetuates the same injustices in our own community that its students work to oppose in others.

According to Orlando, the budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year cannot be altered.

Wages, for the most part, are set. However, the budget process for the 2019-2020 fiscal year begins next fall. It is imperative that the College take swift action to implement a living wage policy for all employees by the beginning of the of the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

To this end, we recommend simple steps of action. The College should convene a working group composed of employees, students and administrators to study what such a policy would look like and how it could be achieved. The working group should begin by interviewing employees about their expenses, studying local markets and consulting labor experts to determine what wage it takes to make ends meet. The group should then propose a feasible path towards implementing a living wage, whether that be a reallocation of budgetary funds or a capital campaign.

We know that there is not an easy, readily-available fix. The issues outlined in the piece are caught up in a whole matrix of problems surrounding the corporatization of institutions of higher learning around the country. But the College—the same college that can and does mobilize enormous sums of money for financial aid, for the creation of new programming for students, for new facilities for sports teams, for new buildings and new properties—is obligated to make a change. If such a change isn’t in the service of the Common Good, we don’t know what is.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Dakota Griffin, Calder McHugh and Ian Ward. 


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  1. Paul07 says:

    If Bowdoin can spend tens of millions renovating an Art Museum and building a new Hockey Rink then it can spend millions providing a livable wage to its employees.

    Except paying housekeepers, dining staff, and groundskeepers a better wage will not attract more students nor more alumni donations. Only a fancy gym and climbing wall can do that…

  2. FX97 says:

    Exactly… Was it the faculty pay scale that was the draw for you? Also, I don’t know about the Art Museum, but I am pretty certain the new Hockey Rink was built with private donations, “Bowdoin” didn’t spend anything. If Bowdoin spent on the Art Museum to restore and maintain it, good for them, it is the right thing to do.

  3. Shaun says:

    A thoughtful idea and worthy pursuit but the harsh reality is this gains zero traction and goes nowhere. This is the norm for facilities, housekeepers, dining staff, etc. at institutions of higher learning around the country. The best way students can support these people or demonstrably thank them is through their actions: be polite and respectful, let them know they are appreciated with anonymous tips or surprise them with a card or flowers, don’t make their job harder by making a mess or destroying property, and maybe do some kind of student to staff direct outreach through the McKeen Center – volunteers for a food collection, basic home repair or maintenance work, free babysitting, etc.

  4. cheryl smith says:

    Great work on your article in bringing this terrible discrepancy in the wages for facilities and housekeepers to the fore. These people work under extreme conditions and receive very little respect. I commend you on your suggestion that the next budget include a “respectable” raise and for suggesting a working group to discuss these issues – not just the administrators of this College. Keep up the good work

  5. Bowdoin employee says:

    As a Bowdoin employee, I have seen the mistreatment of employees, and have been on the receiving end myself. I find it very disheartening to know how little the college thinks of me and my hard work; I don’t think I truly realized it until I read it in black and white. I believe that there are many employees that would like to speak out, but will not do so due to fear of retaliation. I think that if you were to keep investigating, you would find many more stories of the condescending attitude that we are often on the receiving end of.
    This college boasts a huge surplus of money every year, yet won’t pay their employees enough to feed their families and pay their bills on time. They are also stating that they can’t do anything about a wage increase until next July, which is not true. They are CHOOSING not to, in hopes that this all goes away and we forget all about it.
    My co-worker was at a housekeeping meeting last week and was told that during their mandatory overtime that there would be double the work, and that they could not leave until the work was done, even if this exceeded a 10 hour day. This is just one example of unacceptable treatment of employees who are at the very heart of this college.

    • Dismayed Community Member says:

      A very important and well-done piece of journalism. Bravo. The College clearly needs to re-examine its definition of “the Common Good.” As a community member, I’m shocked at the school’s response. According to this article, Bowdoin is barely matching (not not matching in some instances) the pay at Walmart and Hannaford. Examining the salary range for long term, loyal employees, for older employees and parents, and creating a pay scale structure that takes those factors into consideration is complicated and rife with challenges. But certainly, the College’s wealth of brain power might be able to come up with some answers, and Bowdoin’s considerable bank accounts are also capable of addressing the issue. Economic disparity has driven the middle class into a deep and very dark hole; the fact that the College doesn’t seem concerned with the impact of that on its own employees is disheartening, to say the least. The College has the power to lead, and to correct this.

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