The tension was high and the ideas were heated as both sides of the living wage controversy clashed Thursday night during a debate between Students for Staff (SFS) and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).
The debate saw three members of each organization squaring off against one another in 115 Shideler, moderated by Ben Voth, associate professor of communications.
Miami University’s branch of ISI was founded in November 2006, joining other campuses across the country under the umbrella of ISI nationals.
According to the organization’s Web site, ISI seeks to enhance college students’ knowledge of “limited government, individual liberty, personal responsibility, the rule of law, market economy and moral norms.”
ISI was responsible for the debate, according to junior Benjamin Alexander, president of the Miami branch. The group’s executive board brought up the idea at the beginning of the semester.
According to Alexander, ISI intended for the debate to bring to light factual inconsistencies with SFS’s arguments concerning living wage.
“We (did) this because SFS isn’t presenting what we consider the full story,” Alexander said. “If they change their ways, then maybe my story will change. But I really don’t foresee that happening because of the way they’re running things.”
The debate with SFS, Alexander said, was ISI’s first public event.
Juniors Lindsey Shufelt and Matt Hebebrand joined Alexander in the debate as representatives of ISI. Students for Staff was represented by members junior Robert Winslow, senior Mike Nau and senior Dylan Daney.
Issues brought up during the debate included the claim by SFS that Miami employees are currently living at or below the poverty line. ISI pointed out that while some members of Miami staff are being paid $17,000 a year, the poverty line is designated at an income of $10,000 a year.
“Miami University is the largest employer in Oxford and the most desirable employer in Butler County,” Alexander said during his opening comments.
Hebebrand also stated that Miami’s wages are above average, especially for the region.
“(Employees) are getting paid well above the minimum wage, in a town that has a cost of living that’s 4.9 percent lower than the rest of Ohio,” Hebebrand said.
Alexander also mentioned that the healthcare package offered by Miami is one of the most desirable in Butler County, with members only paying an average of $34 a month out of pocket for expenses.
However, Winslow countered that argument.
“It’s one thing to say what they are doing, and another concerning (how things) should be,” Winslow said.
Alexander contended, though, that Miami employees have plenty of opportunities for advancement, including free tuition for themselves and any children who attend Miami.
“Entry-level employment is meant to be a hand up, not a handout,” Alexander said. “Every man and woman is created equal, but from then on it’s up to them.”
Daney, however, argued that using low wages to encourage career advancement was unethical.
“We don’t think a proper incentive is to pay them a low wage,” Daney said.
SFS contended that their intentions concerning a living wage was to create a living wage committee, an idea that was rejected by Hodge earlier this semester. According to the debaters, they have no way of knowing monetary figures until the issue is more closely examined.
Yet for SFS, this issue of a living wage was more about dignity than anything else.
“If we could give more of a voice to a group who doesn’t really have a voice then the university could finally work towards advancing human dignity,” Nau said.
Nearly 40 people attended the event, all of whom were students. Although Alexander claimed that President David Hodge was extended an invitation, he allegedly declined due to scheduling conflicts.
Alexander said that despite Hodge’s refusal to create a living wage committee, per SFS’s request, ISI has not approached Hodge for his support in this issue.
“We have just taken this as student-to-student discussion,” Alexander said.