The University cannot function without its Campus Services employees. Our on-campus experience is possible only because of their tireless commitment to cultivating a safe campus. Particularly during the pandemic, when sanitation and safety have taken on new urgency, they have gone above and beyond to ensure students reclaim some semblance of a college experience. They are the backbone of this University, yet the leaders of Campus Services treat them as subhuman and disposable.
Wheel Executive Editor Isaiah Poritz’s (22C) recent investigation into Campus Services exposed administrators’ abuse of their employees and perpetuation of a toxic work culture. The egregious racism, misogyny and injustice from which Emory’s most essential employees have suffered is beyond deplorable. As privileged students attending a prestigious institution, many of us may find overlooking that suffering all too easy. This must no longer be the case.
The testimonials in Poritz’s piece reveal an extremely degrading and unsafe workplace. Since the pandemic’s inception, supervisors have forced employees to work double shifts without overtime pay. Vice President of Campus Services Robin Morey, who assumed his role in March, refused to admit to that practice and refuted claims of a toxic workplace, even though 11 employee claims and myriad email correspondence prove otherwise. Like his predecessor, Matthew Early, Morey is not merely out of touch with his staff. He enables and preserves malpractice against the employees with whom the University has entrusted him.
Additionally, Campus Services workers are not required to receive COVID-19 tests. By refusing to mandate tests for its employees, Emory is risking the health of their employees, their employees’ families and others on campus. This is an abdication of responsibility for the health and wellness of the staff, students and Emory community at large. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers are required to provide every worker with “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” By not mandating testing, Emory is putting their employees at severe risk.
Last week, the Editorial Board called on Emory to require COVID-19 testing for its staff. Poritz’s reporting reaffirms the importance of mandatory testing for all staff. Not only must Emory require its staff to receive the same weekly screening as its students, but with the recent implementation of saliva tests, which can take up to 24 hours to receive a result, the University must also guarantee employees paid leave while they wait for their test results. Otherwise employees will face an inhumane choice between feeding their families and protecting their health.
Campus Services’ problematic employee treatment predates both Morey and COVID-19. Since at least the early 2010s, veteran Campus Services employees have faced worsening and blatant sexism, racism and disrespect in the workplace. According to many of the employees, Early’s management deserves much of the blame. The toxicity he engendered in the department harmed numerous employees psychologically, professionally and physically. Miguel Duenas, a former Facilities Management supervisor, noted the harassment he faced contributed to his deteriorating physical health. During a meeting in which managers reprimanded him for failing to meet unrealistic performance standards, he suffered a heart attack. These employees’ mental and physical health are greatly suffering, and we can’t ignore their plights any longer.
While Campus Services employees work tirelessly to keep the University running, their supervisors have failed to extend to them even the basic courtesy of kindness and fair treatment. A welcoming, professional environment is not a perk to be earned or an achievement deserving praise — it is the bare minimum. Campus Services seems unable to manage the simplest functions of workplace etiquette.
Changes to Campus Services must begin with leadership. University President Gregory L. Fenves and Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Enku Gelaye must immediately open an investigation into Campus Services, focusing on its management and these accusations of abuse and mistreatment. They should seriously consider dismissing Morey and other high-ranking members of the department who have downplayed and facilitated maltreatment.
Any investigation cannot, however, remain an insular enterprise. Emory has a record of excluding students, staff and faculty from decision-making processes that affect day-to-day life. Just this year, administrators neglected to include any voices but their own in discussions of the University’s fall 2020 and spring 2021 COVID-19 and reopening plans. It is high time for administrators to learn from those repeated mistakes. Any investigation into Campus Services must proceed with the utmost transparency, all allegations must be seriously investigated and any action taken on such an inquiry’s findings must include staff input.
Additionally, the University should determine the overtime worked by each employee in Campus Services since March and provide hazard pay. The baseness of Campus Services leadership’s demands that their employees spend extra time on the job with no additional compensation is clear. It’s time to pay up.
As for Campus Services itself, administrators must metamorphose workplace culture. Rather than filling leadership roles with outside hires, supervisors should promote from within. That requires providing employees with the training and opportunities needed to advance. More than the moral choice, this is also the pragmatic one. Motivated employees are more productive employees. Campus Services, by failing its staff, also fails itself and the Emory community to boot.
As Fenves wrote in a Nov. 24 email to the Emory Community, “frontline staff members reconfigured our campus, found creative new ways of making our facilities accessible and safer for everyone, all while facing the risks and uncertainty generated by the spread of COVID-19.” Given the Wheel’s investigation, it’s clear that this statement was nothing more than performative rhetoric to tout the University’s supposed benevolence. Fenves, his immediate subordinates and his predecessors are not blameless for the injustice levied by Campus Services; it has happened and continues to happen on their watch. The fault is theirs as well, and by failing thus far to affect positive change within Campus Services, they are complicit in its abuses.
Many students complain about the pandemic’s subversion of the classic college experience, but Campus Services employees have been responsible for our entire college experience. If you are an Emory student, spread the word about the problems they face and demand change. To the University, your actions thus far have been cruel and immoral. We’re embarrassed and horrified at how you operate. You should be too.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Sahar Al-Gazzali, Brammhi Balarajan, Viviana Barreto, Rachel Broun, Kemal Budak, Jake Busch, Sara Khan, Demetrios Mammas, Meredith McKelvey, Sara Perez, Ben Thomas, Leah Woldai and Lynnea Zhang.