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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

Filling in the gaps: on institutional pride and a living wage

While I don’t dare speak for all staff in my role as Staff Council president, I personally want to speak up and thank The Campus for excellent recent coverage, editorials and overall support for staff here at Middlebury. These have been trying times for many of us.

Positions that the administration referred to as “entry level” in a recent open staff meeting — even though many have held those jobs for a decade or more — are paid a little more than $12 an hour. And pay rate increases over the last several years have barely kept up with the consumer price index, which is nearly meaningless anyways at lower salaries. For example, what is a minor increase in the price of food or fuel for those better compensated? This can throw an already stretched budget in chaos when employees have no true discretionary income to absorb problems. The past several years of only cost of living increases in salary only widens the gap in income between the lower and upper pay bands, so our workers financially are going backwards, and we aren’t keeping up. Some staff need to rely on the Chaplain’s Fund, an emergency fund available to staff from leftover FSA funds, for heating expenses; others must hold multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Yet we call our institution “financially sustainable.”

[pullquote speaker="" photo="" align="center" background="on" border="all" shadow="on"]Go anywhere on this campus and you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of pride in the institution.[/pullquote]

Go anywhere on this campus, though, and you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of pride in the institution. The last faculty/staff survey reflected this. Seventy-five percent of all faculty and staff are “proud to be part of this institution,” and 70% agreed that “All things considered, this is a great place to work.” And I see and hear this every day. Working at an elite institution means everything is better, from educators and students, to the dining halls, rooms, floors and landscape that make Middlebury what it is. Here, staff are equally as invested in the drive for excellence as faculty and students.

We are also starting to feel like we’re being heard. Recent meetings and communications from Senior Leadership Group reflect a new openness, a willingness to acknowledge and discuss difficulties. For instance, the administration has acknowledged the pay gap between the market and our rates in the lower pay bands. At the same time, however, the administration has not committed to implementing any salary increases regardless of the outcome of the still-in-process compensation review. And we still struggle as an institution with opportunities to give feedback, which I acknowledge is as much a failure of mine in my role on Staff Council as it is a failure on the part of the administration.

Vandalism is a particular blight on our community, in part because our “entry level” workers take great pride in making our institution clean, safe and attractive, both inside and out. We need to show the people that do the day to day work here we appreciate them. We can do better at this, all of us, faculty, staff, and students. (The pet dogs of the CCI can just keep on doing their thing.) Staff across all our campuses are deeply committed to the educational mission of Middlebury. True sustainability is for everyone, and we should acknowledge and reward this commitment with one of our own: a living wage for all of our employees.

Tim Parsons is the college’s Landscape Horticulturalist and president of Staff Council.