Ohio State is getting more expensive. If you walk down High Street today, you’re likely to pass a half dozen construction sites advertising future luxury apartments, starting at the low price of $999 per month. On campus, the trend is the same. A decade ago, students weren’t required to pay for university housing and meal plans for two years. Four years ago, May Session was tuition free. Out-of-state students paid $1,000 fewer for tuition during the 2016-17 school year than they do now. Parking passes were affordable before our parking spots were sold to an Australian investment bank.
Qui bono? This new arrangement certainly seems to favor our esteemed University President Michael Drake, who last year made more than $1 million between his $800,000 salary and $200,000 bonus. An army of six-figure administrators surrounds him, each benefiting from the rising price of an Ohio State diploma. According to the university’s statistical summary for Autumn 2017, the university anticipates bringing in half a billion dollars more in revenue this year than it will pay out in expenses.
Who produces that product manifested in the diploma? Is this thing we’re paying such a high price for created by the same people who are enjoying such prosperity in our university? In fact, quite the opposite.
Ohio State is made by its workers. Everything about its day-to-day functioning — its classrooms, resident halls, gyms, dining halls, and libraries — are only usable because of the hard work of people paid much less than Drake. That product we’re buying with our tuition is made by the people who clear snow off of the sidewalks on Woodruff Avenue, the people who scrub vomit off of the bathroom floors of Smith-Steeb, the office assistants who get stuck with the 2-5 a.m. graveyard shift, and the sweatshirt-clad RPAC employees who rerack heavy weights. It’s made by the professors whose jobs are never secure and the grad students who live in complete precarity. We have this thing called Ohio State because of those people. We ought to take care of them.
But we don’t. As all sorts of prices seem to rise, the only one that stays level is the price of labor. One hour of work at the minimum wage of $8.30 isn’t enough to pay for a meal at Kennedy Commons. It’s certainly not enough to pay for all the things needed to keep an employee alive and able to do their job, expensive things like rent, doctor’s appointments, groceries, gas and education. Minimum wage is the wrong term for $8.30 an hour, for it obscures the cruelty this meager sum represents. Rather than a minimum wage, this is a poverty wage and a starvation wage. It’s a denial of someone’s inherent value, a blatant act of dehumanizing violence.
We believe that the people who create this massively profitable university deserve to have all their basic needs met. They deserve luxury as well; workers at Ohio State should be able to afford tickets to a football game, they should be able to afford to take a Lyft home late at night instead of having to walk, and they should be able to afford dropping a few shifts when they get sick or need to study for a test. The workers who give us this place deserve more than a starvation wage; they deserve a living wage. At minimum, this should be $15 per hour.
To do this, we have organized a ballot initiative in the upcoming Undergraduate Student Government election. This election represents the will of some 45,000 students on this campus. We are many, and administrators are few. We possess enormous power over this university we attend, and this is one of the ways we can use it.
There are those who will believe our proposal is preposterous, radical or unrealistic: We think trying to make someone live on $8.30 per hour is preposterous, radical and unrealistic. Drake’s 2020 vision of “access, affordability and excellence” could make serious progress by raising campus wages. Others have claimed this campaign will backfire and result in the university raising tuition. Fortunately, this is practically impossible since in-state tuition is frozen through the 2019-20 academic year. As we have shown, the university is bringing in enough revenue already that a raise in out-of-state tuition would be an unnecessarily difficult way for them to offset the cost of fair pay for labor. We also believe that if we can organize as a community against unfairly low pay, we also could organize against unfairly high tuition.
Students of microeconomics will pose another line of argument, that the university will respond by employing less people and ultimately a living wage will result in greater economic distress for our community. This idea is an oversimplification that fails to grasp the point we’re making: There is enough for everyone. By paying its workers more, Ohio State is investing in the community; those microeconomics students might understand this as demand-side economics. For the rest of us, we can summarize our point more succinctly: A rising tide lifts all boats. Our living wages will go back into Ohio State and Columbus, not only as simple purchases like housing, food and football tickets, but also through increased personal freedom. If someone can afford to spend less hours at work, they can afford to spend more hours raising their kids, volunteering in the local community or working on passion projects like a research thesis, a debut album or a new app. Instead of creating unemployment a living wage will increase the university’s prosperity and the number of jobs it offers.
Undoubtedly, someone who doesn’t know Ohio State will claim this is part of some larger, graver trend; they will say we are just entitled millennials lacking the toughness and resilience of generations before. We reject this false narrative because we believe that workers who are being paid poverty wages are the very epitome of toughness and resilience. We look at the workers who make this university and see thousands of fighters, veterans of a thousand battles. Some struggle against economic hardship and impossible student loans; others are newcomers to this country, carving out a living far from home; many more deal with the daily marginalizations faced by people of color, by women and by LGBTQ people. All of these are people whose burdens we can ease; all of these are friends and neighbors whose lives we can materially improve.
We are Ohio State Fight for $15. We’ve seen that these people deserve more than what they’re getting, and we know that the university can afford it. We believe that a better Ohio State is possible. If you agree with us, vote yes on Issue 1 in the USG election March 5-7.