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Forum focuses on living wage

Nov. 11, 2004

By NELSON STAATS, reporter

Part of Baylor's mission is "to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service." In conjunction with that mission, Baylor is hosting the Living Wage Forum at 8 p.m. today on the fifth floor of Cashion Academic Center.

The forum raises the global issue of low-income, full-time workers being paid less than the amount of money necessary to provide food, clothing, medical care and housing for themselves and their families.

Tonight's forum will give students the chance to learn more about the living wage and how they can take part in the movement. During the forum, four panelists will speak about different aspects of the living wage, followed by a question and answer session.

Dr. Jon Singletary, professor of social work, helped organize tonight's event.

"One reason we're having the forum is just to raise awareness about what the living wage is," Singletary said. "The second for me has to do with the mission and identity of our university. As a part of our Christian identity, we have to recognize the value of justice as a part of faith. Economic justice has to be a part of that."

The panel will be comprised of living wage experts from around the United States. Panelists include Dr. Jerold Waltman, who recently published The Case for the Living Wage, Richard Troxell, chairman of the national Universal Living Wage organization; and Dr. Charles North, assistant professor of economics in the Hankamer School of Business. The Baylor Students for Social Justice will represent the student body on the panel.

Dean for University Life Dr. Todd Lake will be the moderator for the forum. Lake said the issue of economics is often neglected among Christians.

"When it comes to economics here in the United States, we've often not done a good job thinking about how to be a Christian with our credit cards and business decisions," he said. "The forum is a good way to get on the table a topic we haven't heard much about so far."

Singletary feels that the forum will be beneficial to students -- particularly future business leaders.

"So much of our focus has been on the other side of the business cycle, like profit," he said. "We think that to increase profit we have to decrease costs -- particularly by keeping wages low. Business students, for example, are learning about issues with management and accounting and business ethics and attitude. So many issues of the living wage will be relevant to what our students will be doing in the future."

Lake also believes the collegiate business community has neglected this issue.

"Most business schools teach that we are supposed to get a maximum profit," he said. "This crowds out every other human value."

The forum will apply to more than just business students. Singletary said all students will benefit from this experience.

"Just to talk about this aspect of being a Christian university is important for students," he said. "Whether it's business students, helping them learn the value of paying the living wage, or if it's our own university and our own contracted employees, making sure they're earning what is considered justice."

Lake believes that the forum will change the way students view Baylor.

"What do we mean when we say Christian university?" Lake asked. "Do we mean that we talk differently about things? Most of us hope being a Christian university means we live differently. I hope we become a model for Christian living and one alum who's doing it is Scott James."

This recent focus on the living wage began yesterday with chapel speaker Scott James. James is the marketing director for Pura Vida Coffee, an internet-based company that pays a living wage to coffee farmers in Central America.

James described his job as "using capitalism as leverage to combat poverty to bring hope to the poor."

The forum also will give students a chance to hear about the unique business operations at Pura Vida Coffee. Pura Vida, Spanish for "Pure Life," is one of the largest independent sellers of fair trade coffee.

Pura Vida has customers in 50 states and will pour over 20 million cups in the next year. In the past year, the company has grown in location from zero to 70 college campuses. They have achieved this monumental growth as a non profit corporation while paying the living wage to coffee bean farmers. The company has also developed food and clothing shelters, as well as scholarship funds, in South and Central America.

According to James, part of what drives him is his belief that serving the poor is more than just an option. He stressed the fact that this is a Biblical mandate.

Singletary agrees with this opinion and has based his involvement with the forum on that principle.

"Over and over again the words of the prophets and the words of Jesus have to do with our care for the poor," he said. "Compassion and justice have to go hand in hand. And that's a pretty simple reason for me to be a part of the forum."