Proposed changes in Newcomb Hall could lead to fewer student job opportunities

A budget deficit and restructuring of Newcomb Hall’s operations have altered the way student jobs function

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Student employment opportunities at the University are currently available in areas such as event assistance for the daily operations of Newcomb Hall.

Ariana Gueranmayeh | Cavalier Daily

Over the last year, various structural changes have been implemented for the event planning services at Newcomb Hall that have resulted in a decrease in the number of student staff members.

Currently, student employment opportunities at the University are available in areas such as event assistance for the daily operations of Newcomb Hall, the Office of the Dean of Students, the Student Activities Center and technology support. 

The division of Student Affairs — which helps promote the intellectual development of students at the University — began to reconsider the University’s methods for offering spaces to students and student organizations last fall. Student Affairs concluded that there is a need for improvement in the services and experiences they offer. These improvements will include new methods to reserve spaces at the University as well as new audio and visual equipment. 

“The objective is to be more intentional in identifying what our students need and then deliver on that need,” University Spokesperson Anthony de Bruyn said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “We expect these changes will result in increased efficiencies and a better user experience at a reduced operational cost.”

In addition to physical and reservation changes for University spaces, de Bruyn also said, “It is likely student and professional staff job responsibilities will change as we use staff in different ways after completing the current assessment.”

However, student staff members fear that the real reason these changes are being implemented is to reduce Newcomb Hall’s deficit — which will target student employment since there is a significant amount of spending going towards staff. Some student staff members have already felt the negative effects of these changes, saying they are worried about losing their jobs for the upcoming year.

According to fourth-year Engineering student Christian May — an event assistant in Newcomb Hall who assists in the daily operations of Newcomb — these changes have also included hiring freezes and increased workplace responsibilities without added pay. The proposed changes could affect up to 180 student employees, including 50 event assistants and 10 managers. May says these changes appear to be geared towards encouraging students to quit working.

“They are not hiring any more [event assistants] if someone quits, and they are not promoting any new managers,” May said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily. “What that amounts to is as soon as someone quits, everyone else on the shift has to pick up the slack caused by there being one less [event assistant] on the shift.”

May and other student staff members first became suspicious of the proposed changes to Newcomb Hall when their long-time boss Kenny Roston — who worked at Newcomb Hall for 17 years — was abruptly moved to the Facilities Management division at the end of last semester. 

“At the meeting where Kenny announced that he was leaving for another position, they presented it to us that our boss was just changing, and there were no other changes going on,” May said. 

According to de Bruyn, no student staff will be cut during the current academic year, and no student staffing decisions have been made for the 2019-2020 academic year. He added that longer-range staffing levels are still being evaluated.

Student staff members planned on writing a letter to University administration regarding the employment changes but refrained from doing so, as they did not want such a letter to negatively affect Roston’s career. 

Many student staffers feel that the changes occurring in Newcomb Hall were obscured from them and that their job security is in jeopardy due to the phasing out of certain positions. 

“It feels like many of these decisions are made behind closed doors, and there is no student input,” said James Hutson, a graduate Engineering student and Newcomb Hall manager. “Even when we ask about what happens in these closed meetings, they refrain from telling us.” 

Approximately a month ago, May filed a Freedom of Information Act request in order to gain access to emails regarding the proposed changes. His request was met, and he was allotted almost 400 pages in emails that discussed the reorganization and restructuring. 

May and other student staffers’ general impression of the email release was that higher-ups were going to reduce and consolidate the current jobs available as staffing positions are reconsidered. There is a sentiment among student employees that the higher-ups believe all student staff members “do about the same thing” and that the positions are being phased out in order to cut costs as they move towards a self-service model. May argues that this is impossible due to the physical constraints of space. 

Another proposed change to student employment opportunity is the phasing out or complete transitioning of the manager role. Doing so would prevent opportunity for increased wages and would mean less job mobility for students.

Currently, May works a Thursday morning shift where the manager has quit and the hiring freeze has prevented any EA from being promoted to manager, causing May to take on the responsibilities of manager without increased pay. 

“Under the old system, I would probably be a manager right now, and now I am taking on the role of the manager without the pay, so that is the main effect for me,” May said. “EAs are paid $8.50 per hour, and managers are paid $10 per hour. Neither are great wages, but there is a significant difference there.”

According to May, building managers’ positions were also eliminated, and those who held the former position were demoted to manager. 

“Apparently, some are still making $12 an hour, while others are back at the manager pay of $10 an hour, and there's no clear reason why,” May said. 

There will be impacts for those who rely on their jobs at Newcomb Hall as a result of these changes. Many of the students that staff Newcomb Hall require the added income to attend the University, and many of these students belong to low-income and minority groups. This raises the question of what the costs of student well-being will be if the University decides to cut costs by decreasing student jobs opportunities.  

The appeal of working in Newcomb Hall is that students would have a job close to their classes where they would also have 30 minutes to one hour to do school work. Many worry that if they are forced to find jobs elsewhere, they will not be close to Grounds, they will be paid less, they will not be given study time and they will lack the sense of community that they once felt at Newcomb Hall.  

“If you go through and discuss, [the emails] never once considered the impact that this has on students,” May said. “They never think how will this affect low income students who are depending on these sorts of jobs. How will this affect students who are working there and are taking on a greater workload as they refuse to hire more people as people quit?”

May said he and others felt a lack of consideration by the University for their student employees, and were especially angered after the announcement of the new University policy that would implement a raise in minimum wage for full time employees to $15 per hour by 2020. 

“[I]t seems really disingenuous that they're currently taking advantage of us the way that they are,” May said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “The face that they're trying to present to the outside world is one of compassionate and progressive labor practices but, at least for us part-time student employees, that seems to be far from the case.”

De Bruyn said that the changes in Newcomb Hall are independent of President Ryan’s announcement to increase full-time wages. 

Still, the student employees will not be taking on these changes without a fight. There have been talks of protesting the changes as well as a meeting held Sunday evening to discuss their next steps. 

“Best case scenario, we will write a letter,” May said. “That will put some pressure on administration to say, ‘We screwed up, let’s talk about that.’ Hopefully, those talks go productively. If not, I do not think it is out of the question that we walk into Dean Groves’ office.” 

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