Recent budget cuts have caused the Office of Residential Education to instigate organizational changes at both the administrative and individual house staff levels. These changes come on the heels of concerns over Residential Assistant (RA) compensation and accountability, issues the Office has plans to begin reviewing.
Like the rest of the University, the Office of Residential Education has faced budget cuts. According to Deborah Golder, the newly-hired Dean of Residential Education, the office has been forced to decrease program dollars at the house level. In spite of this decrease, Golder states that the Office has tried to “protect things that were really essential to the program… and protect their [students’] experience.”
One money-saving measure has included the fusion of the House Manager and Social Manager positions into one position referred to as the Community Manager, which will only exist in row houses. According to Golder, this measure will save about $45,000 for houses on the row. Nathaniel Boswell, the Dean for Undergraduate Independent Living, Fraternity & Sorority Life, stated, “The savings from streamlining positions, provided the changes are sustainable, will be passed on directly to the houses and students residing in them.”
The row house staff positions are primarily funded through resident fees and some supplementary funding from Residential Education. When asked if the student managers in charge of the houses would decrease room and board costs for residents because of the saved money, Dean Golder stated, “I’m not sure what they would choose to do.” She stressed the importance of “equity across the housing system,” implying that room and board costs would remain equal from house to house.
Boswell gave another reason for the fusion of the House and Social Manager positions. He mentioned Residential Education’s emphasis on education and community building. He sees the fusion of the duties as “a way to better address issues such [as] alcohol awareness, sexual health education, and nutrition.”
“The problem for a house like Casa Italiana is that we really need seven staff members,” said Beth Coggeshall, La Casa Italiana’s graduate teaching assistant. According to Coggeshall, La Casa Italiana may be given the opportunity to hire an additional staff member upon further review.
In response to concerns about workload, Boswell said the new Community Manager position would be more similar in workload to the Financial Manager and Kitchen Manager positions and “thus more realistically warranting a 100% board bill reduction.”
Dean Golder said that duties would be shifted, redundancies eliminated, and critical pieces of both positions continued so that “in the end it will be the same amount of work, just slightly different responsibilities.”
Budget cuts also caused RA compensation to be cut from 79% of room and board to 75%. Dean Golder admitted that the amount and quality of work that RAs do doesn’t always equate with their compensation. She wouldn’t be surprised if in the current system, some RAs are overpaid and some underpaid. “Things are loose right now…I welcome the critique,” she stated.
One method previously used to assess performance was a resident survey. It was administered for several years to residents to gather data on their experience living on campus. This survey generally drew a 50% response rate. Golder thought “it was cumbersome” and “didn’t find it particularly effective.”
The comprehensive resident survey has been discontinued, however. According to Golder, Residential Education is “in the process of redeveloping much more comprehensive plans to gather feedback from students and residents.” She mentioned “multi-faceted focus groups” and surveys that are brief and effective as possible options.
To be sure, much of RA supervision is conducted by the Resident Fellow (RF). Also, according to Allison Stafford, a Residential Assistant in all-freshman Cedro House in Wilbur Hall, the house staff itself does a lot to hold staff members responsible for their duties.
As of yet, no standard measure of RA performance has been implemented by Residential Education. Golder explains that “it is early in the process.” Since her arrival in January of 2009, Golder has been conducting a structural reorganization of the senior administration of the Office of Residential Education. After the restructuring is complete, the office will be ready to conduct a “rigorous review” of RA accountability and compensation because it will have the right people in senior leadership to do so says Golder.
Some critics of the current method of accountability suggest incentivizing RA performance by tying it performance to their compensation. This assessment would likely come from student surveys, but, because RAs must sometimes enforce unpopular policies, students could take revenge on their RAs through surveys that determine their RAs’ compensations.
Golder is wary about employing this method because she wants an environment where RAs have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. She also worries about financial aid implications for RAs whose compensation levels would fluctuate. Stafford says she doesn’t know how one could go about quantifying the actual number of hours she has worked as an RA.
Golder is still asking the question, “What should Residential Education be?” She wants the office to have “shared goals and shared vision and shared purpose.” More changes in Residential Education are to be expected.