OP-ED: It’s Okay to Not Pay Outdoor Education Workers Because They’re So Good at Foraging for What They Need (by President Martha Pollack)

As the 14th president of Cornell University, one of my foremost responsibilities is to ensure the well-being of our many employees. To that effect, my administration has made tremendous strides in improving working conditions and ensuring harmonious labor relations. From generously raising the pay of grad student workers to confirming a previous positive assessment of the well-being of our employees abroad, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that Cornell is the best employer it can be.

While most Cornell employees are grateful for our efforts, a small but vocal minority insists that we are failing them. Unfortunately, many Outdoor Education staff are upset that they receive a so-called “sub-minimum wage” or “don’t get paid” for their hard, important work.

As an experienced administrator and current executive of not one but three large organizations (Cornell, IBM, and the PepsiCo Fan Club), I am afraid that their logic is flawed. For, you see, the Outdoor Educators simply do not require the same compensation as us city slickers. They are outdoorsmen, rugged and skilled survivors who not only know how to fend for themselves in the wilderness, but are also adept enough to teach others. 

Outdoor Education workers, use your skills! If you’re knowledgeable enough to lead the children of our precious donors on treks through the wildlands of Upstate New York, surely you are able to snap a few squirrel necks or gather some berries. Rising rents? Sleep under the stars! Inflation at the grocery store? Aforementioned squirrel strangulation! You are Cornell Outdoor Educators—the best of the best! Use your talents, and live as your ancestors did! You don’t need more money; you need to free yourself from the materialistic mindset of us city folk.

I will admit that I am not as skilled as our Outdoor Educators are when it comes to survival. Unlike them, I unfortunately require around half a million dollars from Cornell every year. It’s a personal weakness, I admit, but I’m just not Outdoor Educated enough. But don’t try to help me learn or anything—I have bad knees, and actually, I have an IBM board meeting to get to. Sorry, maybe next time I’ll try your goose-and-mushroom stew. Sorry. See you next time I come to Ithaca.

—Martha Pollack is a free speech enthusiast who moonlights as the 14th president of Cornell University.

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