Submitted by Evan Banks
It is the responsibility of those to whom one entrusts their livelihood to act as a fair and just custodian. When one does not have the ability to exhibit agency over that submission, the responsibility of that custodian, in this respect, increases significantly. And as such, that responsibility should be treated with the utmost reverence, sensitivity and care. If society is to be judged by how they treat their marginalized, then the reputation of Missouri Western State University is at risk. Last November, the citizens of Missouri, by overwhelming majority, voted to increase the minimum wage from $7.85 to $8.60 at the beginning of 2019 to terminate at $12.00 by 2023. Within that measure was an exemption for state employees. Considering this, Missouri Western has a decision to make. Do they allow themselves this exception, or do they don the yoke of responsibility and use it to pull the university and its students forward? Yokes are heavy. They are, quite literally, a burden. The burden of leadership comes with it the duty to do right by those that consent to being led. The powers that be at Missouri Western, while experiencing considerable turnover in leadership, have within them individuals of varying degrees of influence that seem in uproar and are advocating for students’ interests. These individuals are worthy of commendation and appreciation. The inability for Missouri Western to immediately accommodate the newly desired, but not legally required, minimum wage stems from an obvious lack of funding.
It is not entirely fair to point to scoreboards, exhibits, new stadiums or other endeavors–that seemingly cost a lot of money–as a metric by which the university’s priorities may be evaluated. Meeting an alumni member or benefactor and trying to redirect their passion from something large–that they may put their name on–to something seemingly not as high-profile, like a fund to help pay student workers, is a hard-sell. One cannot expect to dictate how donors request their money be spent, and their donations are undoubtedly appreciated, but perhaps they aren’t sure on what students need. Will shedding light on problems and trying to garner support from these individuals, help alleviate the university’s issues? Perhaps. It helps to demonstrate why supporting fair-wage practices towards students is in their best interest. Assessing further fees and/or increasing tuition to meet budgetary demands is met with bureaucratic red-tape and is often even a legal impossibility. The best way to alleviate the institution’s financial woes is to increase and maintain enrollment.
Currently the university’s top two priorities are recruitment and retention. They are above-average in these areas when compared to universities in the rest of the state, but they are looking to improve considerably. It should be easy to understand why uncompetitive student employment rates are detrimental to these priorities. Students are already being taken advantage of by artificially inflated tuition and book costs by entities to which they can launch no effectual protest other than to consternate their Facebook posts. Yet most egregiously, international students do not have a choice, by the stipulations of their visas, to work anywhere else. People who are not citizens, with limited political agency, contributing to Missouri’s enrichment and Missouri’s economy, would be forced to work for less than state minimum wage. Is this going to contribute to enrollment or damage it? If eager students’ potential alma mater does not do everything in their power to assuage bad policy, then it is morally questionable and making decisions regarding young adults’ livelihoods that betray their roles as custodians.
No one likes a critic without a solution. It is this author’s opinion that the university use the remaining funds from the higher echelon administrator—that ironically signed off on wage policy and promptly took a more lucrative position elsewhere– to offset the costs of meeting an amicable and expedient solution. There are ways beyond this to accommodate all parties and reach a compromise that not only supports student workers, but further demonstrates Missouri Western’s commitment to applied learning. Let us work towards these ends with determination and establish a precedent that can inform fiscal decisions in the future.