The double standard on Macalester’s campus: A call for transparency

By Josie Ahrens

Decisions are made every day on campus that affect the entire Macalester community. Some of these are small, like whether to plant tulips or daffodils along the pathways. Other decisions, however, like who Macalester banks with and who Macalester subcontracts to provide campus services, are much larger and carry much more weight. It would be unreasonable to expect the college to open up the decisions about flower selection to public commentary. It is not unreasonable, however, to expect and demand that the college be more transparent in its internal decisions that affect the entire community.

Last week, Occupy Mac launched its campaign to cut the school’s contract with Wells Fargo unless the bank agrees to end foreclosures by reducing the principle amount on homes. Since the campaign was launched on April 17th, a group of nine students met with President Rosenberg to discuss the campaign and to have him sign on to our pledge outlining the foreclosure crisis, Macalester’s role in it, and our commitment to end our relationship with Wells Fargo. The President expressed concern for the devastating foreclosure crisis, reflecting that foreclosures are both an economic and social issue. He also expressed excitement to see student activism and a willingness to work with us in the future. But he was unwilling to sign the pledge because he felt he was overstepping his role as President by officially endorsing a change to college policy without us first running it by the Social Responsibility Committee. At first glance, his reasoning makes sense. The Social Responsibility Committee is a body on campus comprised of faculty, staff and students to field the concerns of the Macalester community and to then advise and make recommendations to the administration. Although perhaps well intentioned, the SRC is not an effective or receptive entity. As a collective body, it is a lethargic side committee that limits student activism, especially direct action. The President’s request to direct us to the SRC would slow down the process of taking any direct steps in condemning the foreclosure crisis. This crisis is urgent and needs to be addressed immediately. We do not have time for our policy recommendation to take three years to pass through the SRC, like the Bottled Water Ban. Communities, like North Minneapolis where 51% of the homes are facing foreclosure, are disintegrating as empty homes crumble and families are forced to move away. We do not have time to wait. Let me map out a hypothetical situation. Say that the administration was unhappy with the way that Wells Fargo was managing our banking services. And because of their dissatisfaction with Wells Fargo’s services, they decided to end their relationship with them and contract with another bank. Students would not know, and thus would not care, about this switch because this internal decision was not made public to the wider Macalester community. But the issue is that students now do know and do care about whom Macalester has banking relationships with. We care because Macalester’s continued relationship with Wells Fargo implicates us in the foreclosure crisis. We have a chance as an institution to condemn or condone Wells Fargo’s unethical, and often illegal, foreclosure practices. We need to condemn them immediately. However, there is an even bigger issue at hand that our Cut the Contract Campaign demonstrates. A double standard exists on campus between how policy changes brought forward by students and faculty are treated and processed, and policy proposals brought forward by the administration. Especially problematic are the decisions made concerning the college’s banking relationships. These especially should be public information and should include a wider community conversation. When students raise issues or concerns, or suggest policy changes, we are directed to go through the SRC. The administration, however, is not directed to take the same policy changes through the SRC. But it is not only the decisions made concerning college’s banking relationships that are problematic. Decisions about subcontracting out services on campus are also not transparent. Currently food service, security, document service and mailing service employees are subcontracted out. None of these decisions to subcontract out were made openly or included community discussion. Subcontracting allows the college to be free from responsibility for managing those services. The college can evade any responsibility for the setting and maintaining of fair wages, complete benefits and just treatment of their workers. With so many services already subcontracted out, there is no telling what other Macalester employee’s jobs may be at risk. Take the possibility that the new Highlander store in the Lampert building will be subcontracted out to be run by another company, such as Barnes and Noble. The immediacy of this internal decision was not made public to the student body. If subcontracting does happen, students loose leverage over determining book prices or the type of apparel sold in the store. If the new company charges an additional service charge on books, they will become more expensive. If the new company does not allow a student input on the apparel sold in the store, then the hard work of MPIRG’s Economic Justice Taskforce to get sweatshop free Alta Gracia clothing in the store would be completely nullified. Subcontracting out services has been a nationwide trend since the 1980s. Colleges and universities are now run like businesses, and Macalester is no exception. This does not excuse the college from being hypocritical. Despite all our “civic engagement” rhetoric, we only tout the “civic engagement” horn when it conveniently furthers our business ventures. The only way for students to hold the administration more accountable with its decisions is to demand transparency. The administration demands transparency of student proposed policy changes by filtering them through the Social Responsibility Committee. Students need to demand the same transparency of the administration. Massive policy and campus changes, such as subcontracting and banking relationships, should be made known to and discussed among the student body and the wider Macalester community. We demand transparency not only because as a self-proclaimed socially responsible institution it would adhere to Macalester’s values, but also because a double standard currently exists. This double standard treats policy proposals brought forward by students and the administration unequally. Both deserve intense consideration and public conversation. Both deserve an equal chance of being implemented within a reasonable time frame. In demanding transparency, I speak for Occupy Mac and MPIRG’s Economic Justice Taskforce. But I also speak on behalf of any student or student organization that has brought issues before the SRC demanding institutional change so that our campus and wider community can be more just.

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