Campus News

November 7, 2011

Campus conversation continues around labor issues, balancing dissent and community

University committees are continuing to explore labor issues and how to balance dissent and community as part of an ongoing dialogue sparked by last spring's student protests against Sodexo, the University's food service contractor.

The Committee on Class and Labor and a Task Force on Dissent, Protest and Community are pursuing their respective charges through campus conversations, research and other activities throughout the fall and spring semesters.

The Committee on Class and Labor

The Committee on Class and Labor, formed in February by the provost and executive vice president for finance and administration, has been exploring the nature of class and status with the Emory community. The committee is examining a wide range of questions about relationships among workers across the University, including the role of contract workers and guidelines for establishing contracts for services.

"To some extent the Sodexo issue sparked this conversation, but it occurs in a much larger context," explains committee co-chair Nadine Kaslow. "There are issues relating to class and labor that affect everybody in our community."

The committee, whose members include faculty, staff and students, is investigating five central issues:

• The role of class at Emory.

• The role of Emory as an employer of the non-academic labor market.

• An evaluation of data on promotion, advancement and self-improvement within the Emory non-academic labor force.

• An evaluation of retention and turnover, including structural impediments to employment and career advancement.

• The role of contractors at Emory and the principles that guide their use.

The committee has been meeting throughout the summer and regularly this fall, collecting data, benchmarking best practices, and generating a campus conversation.

"We are gathering a great deal of information, and are listening to the stories of employees from throughout Emory," says committee co-chair Gary Hauk, vice president and deputy to the president, ranging from faculty experts on labor economics to campus managers of contracted workers, and from Students and Workers in Solidarity to governance bodies.

A series of open forums and focus groups are being scheduled in coordination with the Student Government Association, the Employee Council and Faculty Council.

"We really hope that as many community members as can will participate. The more input we get, the better," says Kaslow, a School of Medicine professor and chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital.

As part of its fact-gathering work, the committee is benchmarking how Emory, as one of the largest private employers in metro Atlanta, compares with other universities and employers in the region, including the total picture of compensation and benefits for employees.

"There are some universities that have done a good job with particular aspects of issues – and we're looking to them as guides – but we're one of the only institutions to be doing this in such a serious way," notes Kaslow.

Subcommittees have been assigned to each of the five charges.

"Our aim is to consolidate our five subcommittee reports into an executive summary of our findings and recommendations along with supporting documents," says Hauk, who anticipates that the report will be ready in April.

This spring, the committee will be sharing its findings with university governance groups and others to get feedback, before submitting it to the provost and executive vice president for finance and administration.

The committee is looking at various layers of class at Emory, including the built-in hierarchies of a system that distinguishes faculty from staff or tenured from non-tenured faculty, for example.

A full examination of class and status at Emory is expected to span several semesters.

University Senate

Emory's governance groups can help provide a forum for dialogue, and for gathering information, says Kaslow, a past-president of the University Senate/Faculty Council, who notes how important it is "for everyone in the community to get fully informed."

A special University Senate meeting in September was dedicated to addressing allegations concerning Sodexo. An ad hoc committee of faculty, students and staff—working with the executive committee of the University Senate— is developing a recommendation on whether Emory should continue its contract with Sodexo.

According to Senate President Erica Brownfield, the group has found no evidence to prematurely terminate the Sodexo contract and will wait to hear the final results from the Committee on Class and Labor this spring before making any final recommendations.

"Regular governance structures are set up to address a lot of the issues that have come forward," notes Hauk.

Task Force on Dissent, Protest and Community

President Jim Wagner appointed a task force to study how to balance the freedom for dissent and protest with other values of an academic community.

The task force has been working through multiple stages of dialogue and process, says chair Frank Alexander, Sam Nunn Professor of Law and founding director of Emory's Center for the Study of Law and Religion.

"What we are experiencing thus far is a sense of very challenging, enriching, provocative and exciting conversations," says Alexander.

Starting with small group discussions over the summer, there are now about a dozen faculty, staff and students from across the university engaged in conversation and writing about the issues of protest, dissent and community.

The group is working on three simultaneous tracks:

• Developing a succinct statement of principles related to dissent, protest and community.

• Compiling a document to collect hypotheticals or examples of dissent, protest and community involvement.

• Collecting all available rules, regulations, policies and codes, both internal to Emory and parallel information that may exist at other universities.

The task force will circulate its work with various groups around the University "to encourage and promote dialogue, discussion and education on these vital issues," Alexander says.

"We are intentionally going to start reaching out and inviting others to brainstorm and participate in this process," says Alexander, who anticipates a January through March timeline, "always with the eye toward how can we not just have productive discussion, but gain clarity and richness in whatever documents we prepare."

Alexander is careful to point out that the task force is not charged with writing a policy for the University. Rather, he says, "We have been called upon to think and engage in dialogue. And if the documents prove to be of value to others that have formal roles in the University — whether it's the Board of Trustees or a grievance committee in a particular unit — then we are happy to have contributed to that."

"The collective processing of principles and norms is really the goal of our committee, and we want to be the catalyst for that," adds task force member Thee Smith, associate professor of religion.

A successful model, notes Smith, is Emory's Transforming Community Project (TCP), which over five years engaged faculty, staff, students and alumni in provocative dialogues to examine the issue of race at Emory.

"We can talk about ways in which the case of the Sodexo protesters on the Quad that day might have been handled differently," says Smith, "and that's part of what our committee has been charged with."

Like TCP, says Smith, the task force can lead a wider campus discussion around issues of protest, dissent and community so that "for future incidents, there's a sense that the community has thought about this collectively, that we have identified certain guidelines."

Balancing protest and dissent with the bond of community is an idea whose time has come, says Smith.

From the Arab Spring to the Occupy protests, people's movements are on the rise. Citizens are "seeing the thematic connections around issues of economic justice and sustainability, issues of race and gender, of child welfare, and seizing the moment to be in solidarity," explains Smith, who regularly leads campus peace vigils.

File Options

  • Print Icon Print

Related Information