Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kenyon and Sodexo: An Overwhelming Amount of Information

*As of June 18, 2012, Kenyon College has officially suspended negotiations with Sodexo. Scroll down for a continually updated timeline of links to pertinent information regarding this situation.

If you are reading this, you most likely know that the administration of Kenyon College is planning to sign a contract which will outsource the maintenance department to the multinational company, Sodexo, next week.

I realize that I am opening myself up to criticism by being vocal and passionate about the situation at my alma mater, Kenyon College. I am also aware that a significant number of my friends and acquaintances from Kenyon, many of whom I would have absolutely expected to take a stand against Kenyon outsourcing the maintenance department, have, in fact, remained deafeningly silent about what is going on. I am uncertain as to what to make of this. I do not claim to have full access to all of the information there is regarding the contract with Sodexo. I do not claim that I know how to run Kenyon College any better than the President and Board of Trustees . However, I have been diligent in reading everything written on every single website I know of regarding this matter, studying the official responses from the administration of the college, watching the community forum live on Friday morning, communicating with trustees and other alumni who do not believe this contract to be a misstep for Kenyon, and I believe that I have given measured thought to all sides of the argument. With the information I have now, and having witnessed nothing short of a firestorm within the extended Kenyon family, I am quite certain that something has gone very wrong at Kenyon, and I want to be part of the solution. 

I have often wondered over the past week and a half, as a private joke, while making public posts on Facebook and Twitter indicating my concern and my disappointment over what is happening at Kenyon, exactly when the Kenyon College Alumni Office is going to let me know that I've been discharged from the class agent position that I have held for eight years. I am the person who has sent bi-annual letters to my entire class each of these past eight years, not to mention countless emails, imploring them to not only stay connected with Kenyon but to give Kenyon their hard-earned money. Just the week before the Sodexo contract was announced, my classmates received an email from me telling them that Phil Chase wanted them to give to Kenyon. I feel personally responsible for communication with my class, for my volunteer role as the liaison between the college and the class of 1999, and I take it very seriously. Of course, the Kenyon I know would not expect a volunteer to toe the party line, but I am feeling more and more unsure that I know Kenyon at all, given the current situation.

I have called myself a "Kenyon poster child" for many years. I think even as a student I started referring to myself in this way, because my love for Kenyon College was widely known. For the seventeen years that I have been officially tied to Kenyon College, this has remained true. I am not giving the following examples to be immodest, I simply provide this information for anyone reading this who does not know me personally so that there is no question of my devotion to Kenyon: In addition to many other activities I participated in as a student, I was actively involved in student government all four years, and this included serving as the Student Chair of the Trustee Committee on Student Affairs, alongside Buffy Hallinan who was Trustee Chair. Since graduating I have volunteered extensively for Kenyon - from representing the college at college fairs, to serving as my class agent, to chairing reunion planning committees. In 2008, inspired by the profound experience of our 2007 reunion, I organized almost 30 years of Chamber Singers alumni to fund a special luncheon for the 2008 Chamber Singers, compiled messages to the students from alumni, and made a video to be played on their tour bus while they were, unbeknownst to them, en route to this lunch at a seafood restaurant on the water in Baltimore. (If you're so inclined, you can watch said video here). When someone who currently holds a very important position at Kenyon told me it couldn't be done, "not in this economic climate", I redoubled my efforts and raised well over what was needed to shower the current singers with this support and love. I did this because I believed it mattered. Between 2007 and 2009, as I was living within an hour of campus, I made a point to be an active alumna, singing in the Community Choir, attending Kenyon events, and forming deep and lasting relationships with students, staff, and community members, even teaching a student - now an accomplished alum from New York City - how to drive over the course of a semester. Because I was active on campus and part of the community, I even had the honor of introducing the Kokosingers at the fall concert in 2008. For the past two years I have taught free yoga classes as part of reunion weekend which have been well-attended and well-received. Doing all of this and more as an active alumna and Kenyon College volunteer has only been a privilege and an honor. To this day I feel humbled and embarrassed by the opportunity I was given to attend Kenyon College, to have the experience I did, to be part of a community of some of the most amazing people I have ever known, to have received an education that truly taught me to think critically and value education for its own sake. I am the lucky one. I thank Kenyon for ALLOWING me to do all of the above. I am sure, though, there is much more I could have done for Kenyon. I know that there are many alumni with a far more interesting and distinguished list of alumni volunteer achievements. I am also sure - in fact, I KNOW - that there are many, many people who have given far more money to Kenyon than I have or probably ever will. But I have given my time, my energy, my love, and my commitment to Kenyon, and I have always believed that it meant something.

So let me be clear - I love Kenyon College. I do not believe that questioning the administration means that any of us who are doing so do not love Kenyon College. In fact, I would argue that it probably means we love Kenyon College even more. I have not rushed to judgement without the facts. I have patiently and thoroughly followed and read everything that has been posted and published about the impending contract that will outsource Kenyon maintenance workers to the multinational corporation with a disturbing human rights record since this first came to light. And I am deeply concerned that this decision - both the decision itself and the way it has been handled, as well as the way the administration has responded to community concern - could truly damage Kenyon, perhaps irrevocably. And because I do love Kenyon College so very much, I want to find a compassionate, reasoned way to keep this damage from happening, or, at least, to begin healing the damage that has already been done. Do not question or doubt my loyalty or my love of Kenyon, "our mother." I am upset about what is happening precisely BECAUSE I am "still obedient to some strange spell."

I stand by the Kenyon maintenance department. I have signed the petition linked below. I believe outsourcing the maintenance department to Sodexo to be a huge error on the part of Kenyon College. This is my opinion.

As I believe in transparency and easy access to information for all community members, I have compiled all of the pertinent links I know of regarding this situation. Please note: I am not suggesting that all of the information contained in the links below is accurate. This is the age of social media, immediate communication and a 24 hour a day news cycle. There is a lot of opinion and editorializing going on right now. However, I believe it is of the utmost importance to know and understand what everyone is reading and how they are responding in order to even begin to have a handle on the magnitude of this situation, and to begin to form an opinion. If I have missed anything, please bring it to my attention.  

Still obedient to some strange spell, I remain,
Hilary A. Lowbridge, Kenyon College class of 1999

Links regarding the Kenyon and Sodexo partnership: 
Updated June 19, 2012, 12:30pm  

  • The College announces a new maintenance partnership with Sodexo on Tuesday, June 5.
  • Facebook Group: Tell Kenyon College to Stop Outsourcing Good Jobs. Over 1,400 members and numerous comments, discussions and links.
  • The petition created by Rebecca Chowdhury '13 demanding an alternative to outsourcing maintenance. As of June 16, 2012 at 4pm CST it has 2,353 signatures and hundreds of eloquently written, thoughtful comments which are more than worth reading. Several comments from Kenyon College faculty members, including Andrew Niemiec saying "To publicly espouse one set of values, yet to behave in accordance with a different set of values is clearly disingenuous. Any future mention of a Kenyon “community” by this administration will likely be greeted with sneers of derision—and rightfully so! Secret backroom deals, such as this, demonstrate not simply a lack of respect for the community, but contempt for it. There IS a Kenyon community and it is comprised of good people who care about the College and each other, people who understand and value each other’s contributions to the work and life of College. Regrettably, such concern and dedication is no longer valued by the College administration."

  • June 7, 2012 post on The Thrill: Breaking: "Kenyon Contracts with Controversial Multinational Corporation to Manage Maintenance" which includes the text of the following allstu, allemp email:
    [redacted] []
    Dear Kenyon “Community”,
    I hope all of you are as sickened by Kenyon’s decision to contract out our jobs to a foreign company with a bad reputation. This company has paid out 100 million dollars in response to lawsuit’s involving sexism and racism since 2005. The skilled trades workers at Kenyon were never approached by Kenyon and asked about cost-saving ideas or concessions. The administration simply waited until June 5th, the very day the workers and supervisors had set up to bargain for a new contract, and it was sprung on us. We are currently exploring our options, but it is sure you will see us marching nearby in the village protesting. Please come out and join us and say “SHAME ON YOU KENYON” and put a stop to this. You and your job may be the next to go.
    Robert Smith
    President, UE Local 712
  • The Thrill's June 8, 2012 post, "Updated, Faculty Responds to Sodexo Partnership" - including responses and concerns from several long-time, well-loved Kenyon professors, such as Vernon Schubel, Steve Van Holde, Michael Levine, Royal Rhodes, Jennifer Clarvoe and Fred Baumann.
  • June 8, 2012 article from the Mount Vernon News: "Maintenance Workers at Kenyon get shock from college"
  • Kenyon Today's Sodexo website: "All college communications and updates about Sodexo will be made available on this site"
  • Sarah Young's (class of 1995) open letter to President Nugent, the Board of Trustees, and the Kenyon Community. 
  • President Georgia Nugent's first of two open letters regarding the Kenyon/Sodexo agreement, published on June 12, 2012. 
  • The Thrill's post: "Kenyon & Sodexo: The Story So Far" - with 123 (as of June 16, 2012 at 4pm) thoughtful, informative comments from members of the Kenyon Community.
  • Contained within the above post is a letter from Robb Forman Dew (the granddaughter of John Crowe Ransom) to Kenyon President Georgia Nugent, posted on Friday, June 15, 2012 which includes the statement: "I mourn the loss of my connection to Kenyon, and I regret the necessity of having to return my honorary degree, but I see no other acceptable course of action. The step Kenyon is taking flies in the face of everything I believe, and I think the damage caused by this step will alter the Kenyon experience in ways that you have not fully imagined. I hope for all our sakes that you reconsider this step while involving the entire Board of Trustees."
  • President Georgia Nugent's second of two open letters regarding the Kenyon/Sodexo contract, published on June 13, 2012, in which she reduces HUNDREDS of thoughtful and eloquently written concerns to the lowest possible common denominator, using two examples that in no way reflect the overall community response. Anyone who had not been keeping up on the comments from alumni, faculty, staff, and others that have been posted on the online petition, published by The Thrill, and posted in various places on Facebook, would read her second letter and think that Kenyon people are incapable of thought and analysis. (My opinion). 
  • Mount Vernon News: "Kenyon outsourcing decision protested" - and the video is heartbreaking.
  • Sarah Young '95 posts an unattributed transcript from the emergency faculty meeting that was held on Wednesday, June 14, along with her reflections on the day and a lot of excellent links to more (yes, there is more) information. 
  • Facebook group: Preserve Our Kenyon Community.
  • Anonymous Facebook account for Kenyon's maintenance workers to share their perspectives.
  • The Twitter feed from Preserve Our Kenyon Community. 
  • A link to watch the archived video of the community forum held on June 15, 2012.  Choose it from the "on demand" tab. If, for some reason, you can't watch a video at present, you can read Matt Lavine '97 present a "RAW, APPROXIMATE paraphrase-transcript of first Kenyon-Sodexo forum" on google docs. Union representative, David Painter, who works with Sodexo currently, claims that despite the administration's claims otherwise, Sodexo benefits are not comparable with Kenyon benefits, and that the Sodexo health insurance costs are so high that only 20% of the workforce can afford them. President Nugent says that she will investigate.
  • The Thrill's June 15, 2012 post, "At Protest, Professors and Union Workers Voice Objection to Sodexo Deal"
  • Kick Out Sodexo! (NEW LINK, 6/17) From this website: "For too long, our universities have awarded multi-million dollar contracts to Sodexo, while this giant multinational food service corporation flagrantly violates the most basic rights of workers on our campuses and around the world, and drives up costs for students and universities just to raise their own profits." Students are campaigning at... Ohio State | Washington | George Mason | Tulane | Emory | Georgia Tech | Georgia State | Northeastern | Loyola-NOLA | Purdue | Western Washington | Ohio Dominican | Tampa | Ursinus | and many more.
  • The beginnings of a powerful, beautiful and devastating Kenyon student-led tumblr response: "Outsource Me, Kenyon"
  • RELEASE: Award-Winning Author Returns Honorary Degree to Protest Kenyon Union-Busting (NEW LINK, 6/18) Robb Forman Dew is the author of six novels, the most recent of which, "Being Polite To Hitler," was published by Little, Brown & Co. in 2011. She sits on the advisory board of The Kenyon Review, which her grandfather, the poet and critic John Crowe Ransom, founded in 1939. Ransom Hall, which is named after Dew's grandfather, is the home of the Kenyon College admissions office.
  • Faculty Letter to President Nugent and Board of Trustees:
    June 17, 2012
    To President Nugent, Chairman Schwartz and the Board of Trustees:
    We the undersigned members of the Kenyon Faculty are writing to affirm our commitment to the
    Kenyon community. By “community” we mean all of those people on the staff, faculty, and
    administration who work to promote the success and distinctive quality of this institution as
    employees of the college. By “commitment” we mean the willingness to sacrifice collectively
    for the common good and to work to the best of our abilities to ensure that all members of that
    community are treated fairly and respectfully.
    We do not believe that the recent decisions of the administration and members of the Board of
    Trustees reflect this understanding of community or a commitment to what it stands for. We do
    not come to this decision easily. We regretfully arrive at this conclusion based on the decision to
    discharge members of Kenyon’s maintenance staff and outsource their employment. These
    actions reveal, to us, a willingness to peel away important members of the Kenyon community,
    to redefine what that community is and who belongs to it.
    That this decision was made without consulting broadly across the college is deeply disturbing to
    us not the least because it implies a far narrower understanding of Kenyon and its community
    than we think is appropriate. We fear, in fact, that key members of the administration and Board
    of Trustees may be operating with a very different model of the college than that entertained by
    many of the faculty. We fully realize that Kenyon must adjust to thrive under changing
    conditions and that some of these transformations may not be easy. Kenyon has made many
    such adjustments in the past and will continue to evolve for many years to come. We believe
    however, that such profound redefinitions of the college as are implied in the decision to
    outsource employment of some of our maintenance colleagues require deliberations across the
    college and that they not be presented as a fait accompli.
    Since our financial situation is difficult but not desperate, as Board Chairman Barry Schwartz
    assured us on Friday, June 15 at the campus forum, we call on the Kenyon administration and the
    Board of Trustees to organize such conversations in a measured and timely manner. We strongly
    petition the administration and board to postpone any moves to outsource the employment of
    Kenyon community members until those deliberations are completed.
    Jianhua Bai, Professor of Chinese
    K. Read Baldwin, Associate Professor of Art
    Michael Barich, Assistant Professor of Classics
    Fred Baumann, Professor of Political Science
    Sarah Blick, Professor of Art History
    Julie Brodie, Associate Professor of Dance
    Jim Carson, Associate Professor of English
    Jennifer Clarvoe, Professor of English
    Melissa Dabakis, Professor of Art History
    Adele Davidson, McIlvaine Professor of English
    Miriam Dean-Otting, Professor of Religious Studies
    Juan DePascuale, Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Ruth Dunnell, James P. Storer Professor of Asian History
    Eugene Dwyer, Professor of Art History
    Ennis B. Edmonds, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
    Kathryn Edwards, Professor of Biology
    Claudia Esslinger, Professor of Art
    M. Siobhan Fennessy, Professor of Biology
    Paul Gebhardt, Associate Professor of German
    Yutan D.Y.L.Getzler, Associate Professor of Chemistry
    Mort Guiney, Professor of French
    Barry Gunderson, Professor of Art
    Marcella Hackbardt, Associate Professor of Art
    Bruce Hardy, Associate Professor of Anthropology
    Kate Hedeen, Associate Professor of Spanish
    Sarah Heidt, Associate Professor of English
    Sheryl Hemkin, Associate Professor of Chemistry
    Dane Heuchemer, Professor of Music
    Karen Hicks, Associate Professor of Biology
    Judy Holdener, Professor of Mathematics
    Haruhiko Itagaki, Professor of Biology
    Jennifer Johnson, Associate Professor of Sociology
    Nurten Kilic-Schubel, Assistant Professor of History
    William Klein, Professor of English
    P.F. Kluge, Writer in Residence
    Deborah Laycock, Associate Professor of English
    Michael P. Levine, Professor Emeritus of Psychology
    Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Professor of English
    David Lynn, Professor of English
    Wendy MacLeod, James Michael Playwright-in-Residence/Professor of Drama
    Ellen Mankoff, Instructor of English
    Theodore Mason, Professor of English
    Robert Mauck, Associate Professor of Biology
    Janet McAdams, Robert P. Hubbard Professor of Poetry, Associate Professor of English
    George McCarthy, Professor of Sociology
    Patricia McCulloh, Assistant Professor of Art, retired
    William E. McCulloh, Professor Emeritus of Classics
    Kim McMullen, John Crowe Ransom Professor of English
    Maria Mendonca, Associate Prof. Asian Music and Culture, Anthropology, Music Departments
    Linda D. Metzler, Professor of Spanish
    Robert Milnikel, Associate Professor of Mathematics
    Sarah Murnen, Professor of Psychology
    Kimmarie Murphy, Associate Professor of Anthropology
    Andrew Niemiec, Associate Professor of Neuroscience
    Natalia Olshanskaya, Professor of Russian
    Wade Powell, Associate Professor of Biology
    Royal Rhodes, Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies
    Joel Richeimer, Professor of Philosophy
    Victor Rodríguez-Núñez, Associate Professor of Spanish
    Donald Rogan, Emeritus Professor of Religion
    Clara Román-Odio, Professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature
    Peter Rutkoff, Professor of American Studies, Co-Director of the KAP Program
    Edward Schortman, J. K. Smail Professor of Anthropology
    Vernon James Schubel, NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor of Religious Studies
    Marta Sierra, Associate Professor of Spanish
    Wendy Singer, Roy T. Wortman Distinguished Professor of History
    Joan Slonczewski, Professor of Biology
    Elly Smith, Assistant Professor of Mathematics
    Judy Smith, Professor Emerita of English
    Linda Smolak, Professor Emerita of Psychology
    Tim Spiekerman, Associate Professor of Political Science & Humanities
    Mary Suydam, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies
    Hideo Tomita, Professor of Japanese
    Patricia Urban, J. K. Smail Professor of Anthropology
    Kristen Van Ausdall, Associate Professor of Art History
    Steve Van Holde, Associate Professor of Political Science
    Joseph Venosa, Visiting Assistant Professor of History
    Stephen Volz, Associate Professor of History
    Katharine Weber, Richard B. Thomas Visiting Professor of Creative Writing
    Rebecca Wolf, Assistant Professor of Drama
    Roy T. Wortman, Emeritus Professor of History
    Yang Xiao, Associate Professor of Philosophy
    Addition after physical delivery
    Bruce Kinzer, Professor of History
  • Official announcement from Kenyon College that contract negotiations with Sodexo have been suspended.
  • story: Negotiations Suspended; Kenyon College Workers' Jobs Safe
  • The Thrill's June 18, 2012 post: BREAKING: College Suspends Negotiations with Sodexo, Will Form Advisory Panel.

*If you have something to add to this list of links, or any feedback (I love and appreciate ALL feedback), please feel free to contact me via the comments section below, or via email: hlowbridgeATgmailDOTcom (the actual symbols, not the words AT and DOT). Shanti. xoH