What in the World: A response to the Editor-in-Chief

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Though this will likely be tiresome for the reading public, please allow me a response to Molly’s response aimed at my response to the “Fight for $15 Minimum Wage”(Ff15) push on campus. It appears to me that at the center of Molly’s Ff15’s and my written views is the desire to reduce the cost of education at Lawrence.  

Molly and Ff15 look to remedy the issue by putting more money in students’ pockets ­— a bottom-up solution — by expanding paid positions on-campus, or getting higher wages for the positions that already exist. My proposals are top-down and bottom-up, urging the university to reduce extraneous expenses and positions, while also giving time to the idea of wage increases for necessary campus work more in line with the market (somewhere in the $10-$14 per hour range) and a bump of the cap on work hours for students — currently at a meager 20 hours per week.  

I say all of this to point out that Ff15, Molly and I agree that there is an urgent need to arrest student debt. It is a tragedy when students leave campus after four years with a degree and six figures of debt. This usurious system delays graduates’ abilities to purchase homes, attend grad schools and job-search without the anxiety of bills shortly coming due. Not to mention grads likely will have to wait to start families and are financially incapable of donating to the university’s endowment for the foreseeable future. To put it most explicitly, I applaud Ff15 and Molly’s concern for student and graduate welfare. 

To Molly’s piece, let us then go, because it is worrisome that she missed the overall thesis of my piece — and it could be that poor writing on my part befuddled her oft-excellent reading comprehension. What I think most likely is that she lost the forest for the trees, i.e., there was a single dandelion of argument upon my palatial lawn of rhetoric that she found offensive, and given her position, it is reasonable to think so. The metaphorical dandelion in question — beloved of metaphorical rabbits — was my quip suggesting that paid positions at The Lawrentian are not really necessary.  

I suggested termination of pay for The Lawrentian staff to exhibit a willingness to make personal sacrifices in reducing school costs. All too often, writers prescribe remedies that benefit themselves at the expense of others — a reprehensible tendency of the chattering classes.  

Molly is the Editor-in-Chief of The Lawrentian and it reflects well on her when she writes critically of my proposal, “I found myself in quite an interesting position as Editor-in-Chief, reading one of my writers declare that The Lawrentian staff should not be paid. I actually plan to do just the opposite.” Glad tidings! Let it be said that I appreciate compensation for my writing and editing. “Lucre” and “Luther” rhyme, and I don’t think that’s coincidental. 

Let us not pretend, though, that The Lawrentian, or any other campus employment, pays at a rate that amounts to more than supplemental income or beer money. Working at The Lawrentian as both a writer and editor, I make approximately $600 per term. Tuition for the same period is in excess of $6,000 for many students. If campus employment were my only form of income, I’d be able to cover a paltry 10% of ye olde tuition bill. Ouch.  

If I were to make one argument in favor of making The Lawrentian a volunteer organization, it would be this: The Lawrentian, a student newspaper, is funded by the university; because of this relationship, it is in the best interest of student writers to favor the university in their writing. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” and such forth. In the interest of honesty, I do think an argument could be made for divestment from the university in the ethical interest of the paper. 

I think we cover both the university’s sins and celebrations well, but it’s easy to see how there could come a time when pressure is exerted from on high to quash a story or writer. We should ever view financial entanglements with a wary eye.  

Another point Molly raised in her piece deserves attention and delicacy, both for the subject matter and the possible solutions to that thorny problem. In the original article, I had suggested a way to increase per-student income by partnering with one or more of the many manufacturers in the area, using LU’s shuttle to get student workers to and from work safely. The pay and hours are plentiful in town, and I think students would find more long-term value in such work than sitting at a welcome desk on Netflix.  

Molly writes of her own experiences on a factory floor “As someone who has worked shiftwork while taking a full load of classes…there just aren’t enough words in the world to discuss the sexual harassment and the ‘fluctuations of job satisfaction’ that I experienced.’” 

It is loathsome that she was treated in such a way. All too often, people are subjected to harassment at their places of work. Enter here the value of Lawrentians at these places of business. If we assume that my suggestion of 4-hour shifts after the school day is realized, the student employees will work together on the floor. This way, Lawrentians are looking out for each other, as well as reforming these workforces. It’s easy to sweep one complaint of hostile conditions under the rug, but it’s another thing entirely if a dozen voices speak about protecting the harassed and removing the harasser. Workplace activism by Lawrentians could help change these places for all employees, but especially for women, who can be a minority in manufacturing.  

Ff15 and Molly are both well-intentioned — there can be no doubt — but what I don’t see from either party is a way to significantly move the needle on student debt. While my suggestions might be hare-brained (see rabbit reference above), they would make a marked impact on the cost of education relative to anything else offered thus far.  

Agree? Disagree? Have a suggestion for reducing student debt-accrual? Let me know at abell@lawrence.edu.