BATSUKH: Newcomb’s workers have inflated expectations

The mission of Newcomb Operations is not to turn a profit, but it must not become a financial sink for the University’s resources

op-batsukh

The mission of Newcomb Operations is not to turn a profit, but it must not become a financial sink for the University’s resources. 

Ariana Gueranmayeh | Cavalier Daily

Structural changes at Newcomb Hall have recently led to hiring freezes and increased workloads for a shrinking number of employees. The student workers at Newcomb have voiced their discontent, especially surrounding the perception that students have not been adequately involved in the decision-making process. According to fourth-year Engineering student Christian May — who received 377 pages of email correspondence via an FOIA request — the fundamental issue is the budget deficit facing the administration at Newcomb. From May’s perspective, the administration plotted to create a hostile working environment and institute a hiring and promotions freeze, which caused increased turnover in Newcomb Hall student jobs without adequate replacement or relief for the remaining workers. These austerity measures for Newcomb Operations, according to May, have produced “abuses, large and small” of the student workers on staff.

While I sympathize with the many students who need to work and study at the same time to make ends meet, there are few grounds for most students to expect minimization of the recent changes. Most students are not entitled to work and should not rely on employment there as such. Students on the job receive the various perks of on-Grounds employment and according to the petitioners’ literature, enjoy a community that could not have existed without employment at Newcomb Operations. These attributes formerly made their jobs highly desirable. Yet, they likely hired and promoted too many students, resulting in the current deficit. As a result, the reasonable act for the administration was to tighten its belt and begin to shed its excess practices, however understandably painful for the part-timers. 

The mission of Newcomb Operations is not to turn a profit, but it must not become a financial sink for the University’s resources. To meet its goals of “operational efficiency” and “innovative thinking,” finding a more cost-effective and fluid procedure for its activities should be its priority. To that end, Newcomb Hall Operations has indicated a desire to overhaul the event space usage in order to increase efficiency and decrease costs. I believe failing to make these changes would inevitably contribute to the ever-expanding expenditures of the University by leaving budget shortfalls unaddressed, to the detriment of all students.

The responsibilities of employment surrounding Newcomb’s student labor have, from my observation, had little to do with managing small events, and the complainants have not said anything to the contrary. Their letter says that “menial, unpleasant tasks” were assigned to building managers but contains no actual description of said tasks. Additionally, altering employee responsibilities is inevitable, since switching to a more streamlined process for organizations seeking to use University spaces is the goal. 

May says that is impossible, citing the “physical constraints of the space.” That seems unlikely, seeing as a primary role of Newcomb Operations staff is to move furniture, a task that likely could be done by those seeking to use the communal space. Though, as May has asserted, the administration hasn’t yet implemented those self-service changes. Still, the expectation for student workers to maintain wages and conditions beyond what value their employer believes their work has for the wider community startles me. It strikes me as strange that students who are truly financially unable to leave Newcomb’s staff are not covered by financial aid policies or could not seek off-Grounds employment. It’s certainly difficult to find work as a University student, but if the need is there, there are resources available to students for aid while searching for new jobs. 

At the end of the day, the University’s uncanny ability to create budget deficits has put the employees and the employer in an awkward position. Newcomb’s budget could likely have been remedied without causing the strife and discomfort that student workers currently face, mostly by being more direct about layoffs and proactive provision of transition resources. The best solution would have been for the administration to not have expanded employment and working hours to the degree that they became a significant fiscal drain. Still, now that the mistake has been made, the budget must be corrected. Wish as student workers might, the administration does not owe them transparency. 

The unfortunate reality that students employed by the Office of the Dean of Students are now in excess of a reasonable budget does not change the fact that work on Grounds is not a right for students. Maintaining artificially high employment expenditures at Newcomb Hall creates a sort of financial aid system that undercuts the wider system. In light of President Ryan’s promises to drastically cut the expected family contribution for low-income students and to raise the on-Grounds full-time minimum wage to $15 an hour, something has to give. Making budgets more efficient is the best way to minimize disruptions to overall service. Consequently, labor at Newcomb and in the Office of the Dean of Students must make way for larger structural changes or run the risk of costing the larger community more than it’s worth.

Bilge Batsukh is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com.

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