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Skilled Manufacturer at Hypertherm or a Dartmouth Cook Helper? You Choose.

Hypertherm.gifIt is astounding to hear Dartmouth Bubbleheads defend the high staff salaries and benefits that are squeezing the life out of the College. Though some students comprehend the obvious fact that current staff remuneration is over the top compared to national compensation standards, the Dartmouth community as a whole should pause and look at the compensation available in the local employment market for comparable jobs.

Between you and me, our staffers are more than thrilled at their pay. The down-to-earth ones have been laughing under their breath for a long time at the level of their wages and benefits compared to their hard-working, private-sector friends and acquaintances.

One that latter subject, the Valley News had an article the other day on the resurgence of manufacturing jobs in our area. Matt Bruge, a representative of Hypertherm, Inc., described the challenging nature of the jobs at his high-tech company, and the wages that it pays:

The skills he’s searching for [in manufacturing jobs] involve advanced math, critical thinking and attention to detail. For qualified workers, firms such as Hypertherm are willing to pay wages that start at $12-$13 an hour and can go up to $17 within a few years.

Manufacturing jobs like those at Hypertherm are prized in the Upper Valley, said Nancy Merrill, director of planning and development in Claremont:

“The pay is really good and the benefits are much better than a lot of other jobs.” … “They’re good, steady jobs.”

Now Hypertherm is no low-wage, backwoods outfit. The company is as close as we get around Hanover to a home-grown multinational: it has over 1,000 employees, 100 of whom work at eight foreign offices on three continents, and its distributors sell its cutting edge (pun intended) products in over 100 countries. On top of that, Hyperthem has received numerous awards as one of New England’s best places to work and for being an important contributor to social responsibility in the workplace.

Contrast a manufacturing job at Hypertherm with a cook helper’s position at Dartmouth: first year pay at Thayer’s entry-level job is already $15.82/hour, and from what I understand, DDS’s cook helpers are not often called upon to employ advanced math or engage in critical thinking. In point of fact, this position is the lowest level union job at the College. Beyond the rich pay, the benefits package at Dartmouth far outstrips that provided by private sector companies like Hypertherm. The College offers five weeks of vacation, a 7-9% of salary annual pension contribution, a plush family medical plan, an easy-going work rhythm, and incomparable job security.

At a time when the College is cutting courses, leaving faculty slots empty, depriving academic departments of the resources that they need to thrive, hiking tuition to Ivy League-leading levels, and nickel and diming students wherever possible, it is unconscionable that the College continues to overpay its staff. For what reason would the Kim administration want to lavish far-above-market wages and benefits on the College’s non-specialized staffers, whose job it is to support Dartmouth’s key employees (the faculty) and its customers (the students)?

If this makes any sense to you, I am open to hearing any and all explanations. But until then, I see the Kim administration’s failure to align the compensation levels of the College’s staff with those of the Upper Valley labor market to simply be a continuation of the Wright-era’s weak-kneed self-indulgence, and a formula for the progressive decline of Dartmouth College.

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