Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Real Great Divide

-Fair Treatment to all college employees -

-Inti Martínez

Dr. Chris Stewart’s article, “The Great Divide,” published in The Houghton Star and in the Milieu, addressed some misconceptions that Christians have about glorifying God through their professions. I could not have addressed this theme any better. Stewart hit the spot.

It’s very peculiar how Houghton College seems to embrace Stewart’s thesis—that whatever one does as a profession, as long as it does not blatantly contravene God’s commandments and biblical principles, brings glory to God; there are no “better” professions in the kingdom of God—but in the praxis The Great Divide permeates this institution to the point of grossing out (almost) anyone who knows about it. A Christian liberal arts institution playing favorites on who is more important, who can keep the job and who can be easily discarded, whose projects and ideas will put into practice, and who cannot even open his or her mouth to comment on something…classy.

In my four years as a student-worker in the Maintenance Department, learning about the financial, administrative and (obviously) physical inner workings of this college, I have been convinced that if you are a regular staff member, your voice, if not “requested” by The Rich and The Powerful (and they are), is of little importance to the dynamics of this institution. No bachelor’s degree, no master’s degree, no doctoral degree, plain and simple, equals no voice and no vote in this college. If you are not part of the elite you are threatened to receive last-minute pay cuts, you can be relocated with ease, your position maybe eliminated in the blink of an eye, or, simply put, you can be fired. (Exception to this rule: you can have a doctoral degree and you can be loved by your students, but if you defy the ideological status quo and put freedom-from-ignorance into practice, you are a heinous criminal and you will be fired.)

I understand that Houghton College, as an academic institution, needs to operate as a business: there need to be some restructuring and staff cuts once in a while. I also understand that the job of professors requires continuity, and that professors are hard to replace. Now, thinking outside the faculty-staff divide (which is huge…just ask any staff member), within the staff world there are those who have a superiority complex, fed by administrators who are thankful for these individuals’ monetary contributions to the college, their logistical and ideological support (a.k.a. ass-kissers), their alleged service to Christian higher education (even though year after year they have miserably failed, for example, to meet department goals, to bring progress to our college, or to finish an institutional project—interestingly enough, anywhere else, these people would be fired), or their personal and family connections with those in power. These Holier-than-Thou staffers (sometimes treated as administrators) strongly believe that “How Great Thou Art” was composed for them. They are dangerous people for our college, but they are The Untouchables (and, no, it’s not because they are so low in chaste system—these are supposed to be the maintenance and custodial workers).

The Untouchables are treated with lengthy trips, multiple farewell parties (but they actually never leave or retire), classrooms and scholarships after their names, special awards, and so on and so forth. This is not supposed to be questioned by anyone since, like I said before, they financially support the college, give much-needed support to others more powerful than them, or are related to someone in power. The 2005 review by the Middle States Commission noted the clique-ish behavior in this institution, just so you know.

This Great Divide is real and needs to be addressed. Threatening the welfare of some staffers’ families, but not others, by unjustifiably eliminating some positions or reducing working hours, needs to stop. We are under a new college administration and the elitist mindset and institutional structure needs to be addressed properly. Our new president is very committed to open communication and fairness, but as long as she inadvertently surrounds herself by The Untouchables this task will be near to impossible to accomplish. With a new administration there is also the threat of carrying out misguided institutional policy due to ill advice and ignorance. Learning about how this institution works requires consulting with “the untouchables” (yes, the regular staffers)—not only their bosses—who really know what’s going on in this place and who really run this place. Informing regular staffers that “there will be major changes” and that they “should be prepared,” but not actually wanting to know more about their lives and other activities, is outright unjust and insulting. Try that with a non-staffer or one of The Untouchables….

After I graduate this May I will continue loving and supporting Houghton College because I have had great experiences here. The Facilities workers (Maintenance and Custodial) are the best human resources and assets this college has—followed by the Tech Services crew—but they are the ones who are treated the worst on campus. I can tell you story after story of how Facilities workers and other staffers get crap from many (not all) non-staffers and The Untouchables, but time and space do not allow so. One maintenance employee recently told me that when he was working in the brand new third floor of the library, a professor said, “I can’t believe they let people like you up here!” And Houghton College sometimes wonders why surrounding towns outright despise us….

Pretty much all staffers are rich in joy, wisdom and Christian spirit, but in some sectors of this institution this is simply unthinkable. These workers can receive a good-bye letter with not much difficulty. Try that with a non-staffer or one of The Untouchables….

Eradicating The Great Divide in Houghton College needs large doses of love, wisdom, grace and creativity. I challenge our new administration to treat all Houghton College employees fairly and equitably, to uproot all power-and-influence groups, to defy the economics-dominated molds, and to value more—much more!—the work and opinion of all regular staffers. All this should be done, not because it’s good PR, but because this is how we fulfill the two Greatest Commandments uttered by Jesus Christ: love God and love your neighbor.

Moreover, and lastly, the concept and practice of community in Houghton College is outright bizarre. Ask an average staffer if she feels part of the Houghton Community or if she knows what the liberal arts are or in what way she is helping form scholar-servants. When the college president addresses the Community, are students ever invited? In my four years here I cannot recall one time in which students were informed about staff changes (outside of what I’ve written in the Star, which has been pure personal initiative and investigation, and a desire to strengthen the Community, if there is really such thing). Ask maintenance workers if they feel loved and cared by their brothers and sisters in Christ who have doctoral degrees. Try it…


Argenlibre said...

Saludos desde el Movimiento Argenlibre

Shalaidah said...

Keep up the good work.

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The contents of this web log (blog) were authored by Inti Jordán Martínez Alemán, unless noted otherwise or that it is obvious that it belongs to a publicly recognized entity of any kind. 

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