Note: interviews with staff discussed in this article have been anonymized as a result of alleged implied threats of retaliation from higher administration towards individuals who directly speak up, as described by staff.
Staff members are an integral part of the Reed community, and their contributions can be seen in all aspects of the way in which the college functions. Staff includes any person employed by the school who are not educators (otherwise known as faculty members), and make up a large percentage of the 500+ individuals employed at the college. Following recent changes in staff pay ranges, however, more information has come to light about the way in which staff is treated by the college, and the issues seem to be deeper than a simple miscommunication about pay ranges.
For all coverage of the staff pay controversy, see reedquest.org/staffpay.
In a written statement to the Quest, one anonymous staff member expressed frustration for Reed’s decision to follow — rather than question — societal trends & practices relating to the payment of staff. “While I understand that we will never be isolated from the realities and biases in the world around us,” they said, “I also feel that to uphold our stated values, Reed as an institution needs to engage in critique (and perhaps even resistance) of these base assumptions/paradigms.”
They further stated that, “If we just accept that ‘the way things are done’ elsewhere is adequate for Reed too, we are complicit in continuing inequity and injustice both here and more broadly. An institution that is unwilling to grapple with these tough questions feels like it can only superficially claim to value deep critical thinking. And if the institution’s practices don’t uphold those core values, I believe there could be a day when students/families will no longer be willing to buy what could be little more than false promises if the institution alienates the people that make the learning community at Reed possible.”
The operating principles of the college state that, “The educational mission of the college requires the freest exchange and most open discussion of ideas,” yet staff members have expressed doubt as to whether Reed is applying this mission to their own employees.
In another interview with an anonymous senior staff member, these feelings of lack of clarity and lack of empathy for staff were echoed. In addressing the pay-range changes, they stated that, “there was no prior communication of – this is a project that we’re going to start doing – there was none of that. They had just made the change and then announced it weeks after the change had happened.”
In reference to staff’s relationship with HR, this same staff member expressed some negativity: “Lynn [Lynn Valenter] said at last Tuesday’s meeting that she was surprised that people hadn’t come to talk to HR, but it is really no surprise to staff. We did not go to HR. We don’t trust HR. HR lies to us* … [staff is] afraid of HR and HR is also just mean to them … every conversation I’ve heard about has been very caustic and hostile. So that idea that this could be fixed through HR is not a viable idea … It needs to be done as a community, as a group … we need to have more big meetings like we had on Tuesday.”
While apparently HR has paused the process of moving forward with the new pay system, staff and faculty continue to express discontent.
“It’s not like we had a good system that they trashed and they’re moving to this new system,” this same staff member said, “Our old system was just as bad, and I’ve personally been battling wage stagnation among hourly employees for years.”
“Last Tuesday’s meeting when Lynn’s first sentence was, we’re not gonna discuss a living wage … the opening sentence to that meeting is like, those are things that are out of scope of this conversation … but a living wage is the only reason why we’re here,” they said, “if we’re doing so well financially, as Lynn stated, when will Reed prioritize a living wage for every employee?”
They continued, “[HR’s] intent is not pure. I’ve learned that after [Tuesday’s] meeting, administration has been reaching out and talking to supervisors about how they need to get their staff in line** … the retaliation is real here, which I find very fascinating because Reed is all about dissent … it’s encouraged, and the current administration is just completely trying to squash any kind of dissent.”
It can be argued that during John Kroger’s presidency, the corporate model that Reed currently has was created. According to staff who were there during his presidency, many of the senior staff that Kroger hired have corporate backgrounds, and following his presidency, Audrey Bilger embraced that as well, continuing to hire individuals with backgrounds in the private sector that may not necessarily fit into an academic environment such as Reed. “The head of HR was at FedEx [before Reed]” this same staff person said, “How is that a good fit for a Reed? I mean, we know that those companies do terrible things to their employees. Why would we hire that here?”
There has been a tangible change within the college over the past decade, they continued, “When I first started here years ago, this was a wonderful place to work … Reed was always known as … you’re not gonna make much money, but once you get a job there, you never leave because it is such a great place to work. The life balance is so wonderful … it’s about quality of life, and when I started here, that’s exactly how it was. It was, I loved it. I thought this was the most amazing place to work, and then just over time they keep changing policies and basically trying to be corporate, but we’re not a corporate entity.”
“I know [from some] staff members that their supervisors have told them that they don’t care if they stay or leave,”** they said, “I know people that can’t afford to eat … I know a coworker that takes money out of savings every month to make ends meet.”
They continued, “I feel really lucky to be under faculty in the academics department. I heard about one supervisor who went into a meeting and sat everybody down and told them how they’re a big disappointment and how they are messing everything up.” As a result, they said, “Staff feel that they’re gonna get fired. They feel that they’re gonna be retaliated against and it seems like that’s coming true if they’re targeting people after that meeting. They don’t feel that they can speak up.”
In another interview with a different senior staff member, some similar sentiments were expressed.
“I’ve been at Reed for quite a while,” this staff person said, “I have had very highly competent, skilled supervisors that whole time. No one has ever said to me in over a decade that my job description needed to be reevaluated or upgraded … So to hear HR say there’s no current job description was shocking. Because now everyone is in a position where they have to have a new job description, and there is this serious pressure to change those job descriptions into outlines that capture minimum qualifications for the job. I have heard of people who are being greatly pressured to reduce the amount of experience that the job requires, so basically that would catalyze a de-qualification of the staff, meaning that people who are less qualified than the people who currently have those jobs will be hired when the people who currently have the jobs leave, and they will be paid less because they’ve clipped off the ends of our salary ranges”
This staff member hypothesized that this is an attempt by the college to save money: “If you’re here for 20 years,” they said, “the college will give you additional benefits, but if you’re here for three years or five years, the college doesn’t really have to do anything. So it seems that it’s a way to catalyze turnover now, and save money in the near future and then continue that kind of turnover and cost saving into the future.”
They continued, “Internal advancement is a way to get to the top level of your pay scale. It’s only applicable to a very small percentage of the people who work at Reed because most of the people who work at Reed don’t work in the administration in a way that would allow them to advance, because their jobs are already very specialized when they come into them. And that’s incredibly unfair because every position, every department is different for every staff member.”
“It used to be a way that best supported the people that you work with,” they said, “whether that’s faculty or administration or other staff. It wasn’t this kind of cookie cutter corporate approach, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the staff are also so upset, because across the board, everyone feels very dishonored.”
“It’s so hypocritical,” this staff person said, “Honestly, it is an honor case violation, so I think it’s very appropriate for the staff to bring a community on our case against the administration.”
“I have also heard firsthand from people who have experienced this,” they said, “and I’ve experienced a little bit of it myself, but supervisors are being … told to get their staff in line if the staff that they supervise are vocally opposed to [issues with HR].”
This supports the previous staff member’s interview above, where a similar sentiment was shared about administration talking to supervisors about keeping their staff “in line.”**
“I have never experienced nor heard of anything like this,” they said, “Back in the day, the staff was composed of a lot of faculty, spouses, people that were really connected to the faculty, and as that has changed as the administration has changed, they’re starting to treat the staff like a corporation would.”
“It’s fine to review staff jobs,” they continued, “it’s fine to have salaries based on what else is happening in the country. But this word ‘market’ that Heather [Quinn-Baron, Head of HR] keeps throwing around is BS. And we’ve been given absolutely no proof, and no data, for anything that she’s talking about. If the college really wants us to understand what [the] market rate is for jobs and they want us to accept this, then let us see all the data.”
“I think for the staff and the students and the faculty, everyone is kind of surprised by how they feel,” they said, “This is very shocking and I’m not scared, and I know a lot of staff who aren’t scared, but again, I think that goes back to institutional memory. If I imagine you’ve only been at Reed for a couple of years and you don’t really know it very well, of course you’d be frightened. But if you know that Reed isn’t supposed to be this way, and I think a lot of staff know that, then I think we feel empowered to speak up, but not the way that a tenured faculty member would.”
Again, similar sentiments were expressed when asked what message they would like for the greater Reed community to hear. One of the senior anonymous staff members said, “I would love for Reed to answer why, why will we not support a living wage for every employee? Why are we trying to race to the bottom? Why are we not celebrating staff?”
“I am hopeful that we will have more large conversations,” they said, “and I’m also hopeful that when they work on this new system, whatever it is, that they have members of the community involved, staff members who are hourly and salary and not working in the HR department, and that the community builds the new system together, as we do everything at Reed.”
In closing our interview, the previously interviewed staff member stated, “I want the administration to really understand that this isn’t about earning a little bit more. This is about our values as human beings and the great lengths that we go to make Reed a better place every day, to be of service, to bring our best selves and all of our knowledge and all of our expertise. And they will destroy that if they carry through with this.”
*The Quest would like to emphasize that we can neither confirm nor deny whether HR has recently or ever lied to staff members. All that the Quest claims is that this quote was said by a staff member in an anonymous interview.
**These specific communications between administration and staff have not been fully confirmed, although claimed within these quotes. All that the Quest claims is that these quotes were said by staff members in an anonymous interview.