Dear Editors of the Wellesley News,
I am writing to express my dismay over the recent move by the college to eliminate union jobs from the greenhouses and replace them with managerial jobs that require a master’s degree. This impacts me personally; I am one of three union employees in the Botanic Gardens. The other two are Tony Antonucci and David Sommers. Together, we have watered plants, controlled pests, mowed lawns, and performed all the day-to-day responsibilities of keeping the greenhouses and the Botanic Gardens healthy and beautiful for decades. The College plans to eliminate our union jobs, claiming they now require a master’s degree to perform. The College says that it is doing this in order to further the educational mission of the college – which the union actively supports – but cannot explain why our hands on work will suddenly require a master’s degree.
I am thankful for the great job the Wellesley College Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) is doing in communicating the details and the human costs of this situation to the College community on Facebook and Change.org.
I also want to convey the bigger picture of what this says about the growing inequality in the US and the disappearance of the middle class. I have been reading about the role of elite colleges, like Wellesley, are playing in compounding inequality because of admission policies that give advantages to richer families in the “admissions frenzy.” https://harvardmagazine.com/2017/11/american-colleges-inequality. Colleges are making an effort to diversify by class with more financial aid, but it is rare someone who is financially disadvantaged can get close to Wellesley and, if they do, they face more hurdles.
By eliminating good paying working class union jobs and replacing them with jobs that require a master’s degree, Wellesley is further isolating itself from all but those who can afford a higher education. By afford I mean not just money, but time, ability and social circumstances. Wellesley is making an effort to support first generation students who enroll here, but not everyone can rise above their social and economic conditions to get a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s degree. The statistics are: close to 70% of those over 25 do not have bachelor’s degrees and only 8.9% of the US adult population has a master’s degree. Wellesley is taking away working class jobs that at most have required an associate degree, to search among the top 9% of the population. It makes sense if Wellesley wants to reinforce its image as a bastion of the elite.
The jobs in the Greenhouses have been union for more than 50 years. They allowed their holders to be part of the middle class. This move to make them managerial is insulting to those of us who have cared for the physical wellbeing of the campus, be it through keeping plants alive in the greenhouse, cutting grass, cooking meals, fixing plumbing, or cleaning buildings. If Wellesley wants to improve its image when it comes to class diversity this is one giant step in the wrong direction.
Senior Gardens Horticulturist
November 9, 2017