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On Values and Perpetuity: A Group of Employees Reflect

Editor’s note: All opinion pieces published in the Clerk represent only the views and ideas of the authors. This letter was written by a group of Haverford employees and was co-published by The Clerk and the Bi-Co News—you can read their copy of the letter here.

Members of the Haverford Community,

The Covid-19 crisis has forced Haverford College, like other institutions of higher education, to make a series of difficult decisions about its finances and operations. The recent popular outcry against ongoing anti-black violence and structural racism has also precipitated a need for the college to reflect on its operations and commit to justice-oriented change. We write this letter as employees of the college who see this as a crucial moment for institutional transformation. We are invested in shared governance and in collaborative thinking about the values that will shape how such decisions are made.

The values of trust, concern, and respect were highlighted in several of the faculty and staff meetings at the end of the spring semester. So was the guiding principle of maintaining Haverford as a perpetual institution. We ask: If Haverford is to be a perpetual institution, how will the decisions made at this defining moment ensure that Haverford is an institution worth preserving? And if trust, concern, and respect are to guide us, how can these values be realized not only at the interpersonal or cultural level, but also – and more importantly – through the structural procedures and economic decisions of the institution? What would it entail to build trust structurally or embody a concern for justice economically? Our aim here is to encourage a wide range of Haverfordians – including students, alumni, and employees – to consider the values of trust, concern, respect, and perpetuity as unresolved questions which require attention and open dialogue.

We worry that there is a potential tension in the institution’s stated commitments to perpetuity and change. We view our current historical moment as an opportunity to ask whether actual change necessarily challenges perpetuity as we know it. We are not sanguine about the reality of the financial crisis that the college faces. But neither are we willing to pit financial stability and institutional perpetuity against the humane values to which Haverford College aspires. We hope to open a substantial conversation about this topic among faculty, staff, students, alumni, and senior administrators who are interested in imagining what institutional transformation might look like if we as a college didn’t view economic stability as a check to social change.

As a group of college employees co-authoring this letter, we end by offering two of our guiding principles, which we propose as additions to trust, concern, and respect as we move forward. These are:

  • Participatory governance and transparent decision-making. Employees should participate in the decisions that affect their work and lives. This includes faculty and staff. Decision making ought to be made more horizontal. Where representative governance is in place, employees must have means of holding administrators and representatives accountable for their decisions. If the college must revert to the “guardrail budget” and decide how to reduce operating expenses, these decisions should be made through broadly inclusive and equitable participatory budgeting processes. Consultation and uni-directional information flow are not a substitute for participation, representation, and accountability.
  • Equity. The burdens of structural racism must not be reproduced in the hiring, contracts, service labor distribution, and promotional procedures of the college. The risks of our institutional response to the Covid-19 crisis ought not to be borne by the college’s most precarious members. Decisions ought to increase equity among the college’s employees rather than creating greater disparities in salary, benefits, and job security. Salary cuts among senior staff are a start; the refusal to renew contracts or extend benefits for contingent faculty and precarious staff is not. We must take a global view to think more critically about both salary distributions and the distribution of insecurity across the college. We hold that all Haverford employees deserve what they need to reduce undue material stress and to thrive. Moves toward social equity require economic equity.   

Thank you and we hope this is just the start of a larger dialogue.

Christina Zwarg, Professor of English
David Harrington Watt, Douglas and Dorothy Steere Professor of Quaker Studies
Molly Farneth, Assistant Professor of Religion
Daniel Grin, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Stephanie Bursese, Program Manager, Philadelphia Area Creative Collaboratives, HCAH
Joshua Moses, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology/Department of Environmental Studies
Benjamin Le, Professor of Psychology 
Vicky Funari, Senior Lecturer of Visual Studies
Lindsay Reckson, Associate Professor of English
Ken Koltun-Fromm, Professor of Religion 
Tarik Aougab, Assistant Professor
Gustavus Stadler, Professor of English
Terrance Wiley, assistant professor
Guangtian Ha, Assistant Professor of Religion
Sorelle Friedler, Associate Professor of Computer Science
John Muse, Assistant Professor of Visual Studies
Steven Lindell, Professor
Shannan L. Hayes, Visiting Assistant Professor of Visual Studies and PJHR
James Krippner, Stinnes Professor in Global Studies and Professor of History
Matthew C. Farmer, Assistant Professor of Classics
Craig Borowiak, Associate Professor of Political Science
Rajeswari Mohan, Associate Professor of English
Jill Stauffer, Associate Professor and Program Director of Peace, Justice, and Human Rights
Amanda Payne, Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Emma Lapsansky Werner, Writing Program and Emeritus Professor of History/Curator of Special Collections
Kate Riestenberg, Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics
Joshua Sabloff, J. McLain King 1928 Professor of Mathematics and Department Chair
Anna West, Assistant Professor of Health Studies

The title of this piece has been updated to clarify that the letter’s authors do not intend to speak for all Haverford faculty and staff.

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