No Layoffs for Oberlin Workers

To the Editors:

The Trustees 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, purposes, etc.
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.

–Booker Peek
Professor of African American Studies

October 4
October 11

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