Opinion: Open Letter to President Beverly Warren

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at jhess14@kent.edu.

John Hess is a senior political science major. Contact him at [email protected]

John Hess

Dear President Warren,

I have been lucky enough to meet you several times, and have consistently been impressed by your forthrightness, your approachability and your genuine interest in student affairs. Despite this, I don’t think we’re quite good enough friends for me to walk directly into your office to chat. You see, we at Kent State United Students Against Sweatshops have made several attempts to contact you and haven’t received a reply. We hope that this brief letter will find you well.

I truly enjoyed your “Sharing the Heart of Kent State” speech last Tuesday. You hit on a number of important points, not least of which being the need to end the credit hour cap. However, one other point really stuck out to me—improving the wages of our university staff.

Our campus workers are hurting. Their previous contract provided a two percent raise annually for the past three years. This has done little to provide them with financial security in the always-trying post-recession economy, all while your predecessor collected a six figure bonus check. Several employees have even lost their houses in recent months. That’s right, as of this moment our campus is staffed by workers who don’t have a home of their own to return to at the end of the day. New contract negotiations are currently ongoing and by law I am unable to know the specifics. That being said, I can say definitively that our workers not only deserve more than they’ve been getting—they need it.

Who are our campus workers? They are our custodians, our cooks, our groundskeepers, plumbers and more. These people, who many of us walk past each day without thinking, are the ones who make the university run. They come from Portage, Summit and Trumbull counties. Many of them were even born and raised in Kent itself.

The previous administration did much to bridge the town-gown divide, that difficult to articulate but very tangible disconnect between college and college-town. These efforts focused on building connections with business owners and community leaders. However, our campus workers are as integral a part of Kent as anyone else, and they’ve been ignored. This divide will persist so long as workers from Kent and the surrounding area are permanently excluded from the prosperity that our university offers. This must be changed.

Another point which I quite liked about your speech last week was the idea of “boldly declaring the essence of the Kent State story.” While I’m sure we’re employing a very talented marketing team whose job it will be to decide what that “essence” is, this is an opportunity for us to reflect on just what Kent State is and what it could be. Is our university just for students—a place for young people to secure a comfortable position for themselves in the middle class and slam the door on the workers who make this all possible? Or could Kent State instead be a place for hard-working people, students and workers, to build something better for themselves and us all?

I believe in that greater vision. I believe in that more profound and inclusive Kent State story. I hope that you believe in it too. I would like to call on you to support our campus workers in any way you can, particularly in the ongoing contract negotiations and to make a public statement to that effect.

Sincerely,

John Hess