A Lesson in Disparity

From The New York Times:

Learning takes place everywhere on a college campus. And sometimes, when what is taught outside the classroom undermines and contradicts what you learn in class, classroom instruction becomes meaningless.

Students, for example, may learn the value of fair employment practices in history and literature classes. They may learn the risks to political stability that the exploitation of workers brings. But the values communicated in these lessons do not have much staying power if the college’s own practices dishonor them.

When a college or university president has an annual salary 50 times what some faculty and staff earn, the institution delivers a powerful message about its values. It creates an educational laboratory that resonates with contempt for the notion that the campus is a community and a workplace in which fairness and concern for all rules. And it tells students they can set aside classroom learning and classroom values when they leave college and go to work elsewhere. If what is supposed to be an institution embodying higher values imitates the income disparities in a corporation devoted to maximizing profit at the expense of its workforce, why shouldn’t every employer do the same?

And if students learn that adjunct faculty are earning less than the minimum wage and cannot live on their income, while the university president earns a million dollars a year or more, that practical lesson may trump the other values the institution promotes. A university president is a leader whose salary has considerable symbolic value. It sends a message about the character of the institution and what it stands for. Too many presidential salaries are now sending the wrong message to our students and their families.

Read the op-ed here.