Without a desk assistant, more rules are liable to be broken, leaving students without help and buildings without a supervisor. Photo by Raven Fawcett

Student desk assistants losing vital hours

TU is changing the desk assistant position in dorms, which cuts down on student safety and earnings.

TU housing is about to undergo some changes. According to Assistant Director of Resident Life Andreya Williams, the department has hired several department assistants who will staff the desk during business hours, allowing students to work from 5 p.m. to midnight. While the new change may be a well-intentioned gesture meant to make students’ lives easier, it also will negatively impact many student workers.

Currently, students can staff any dorm desk 24/7. Housing staff (i.e., SRAs, RAs and administrative coordinators) and non-housing staff students, both work study and non-work study, fill this position. The five open dorms attempt to have every hour covered during the week; of course, this doesn’t always happen. Looking through the shift books for each area, however, most places had under 10 hours of the week unstaffed. Counting all five dorms, students have 840 available work hours every week. The average student works about 10 hours a week; staff sometimes work less, as they’re mandated to have “visibility” hours and to make enough money to support themselves, but students can work a total of 20 hours per week for on an on-campus job.

In the coming year, however, housing plans to install department assistants. These assistants will be staff, not students, and will work the desk during business hours. Williams explained that these assistants will help with various tasks and will “complete requests such as room changes, replacement keys, check-out building equipment, etc.”

Once the assistants leave for the day, desk hours from 5 p.m. to midnight may be taken by the students. It is unclear if the desk will be staffed during weekends as Williams did not get back to further requests.

This change, with or without staffing during weekends, represents a drastic cut to available hours for working students. Leaving students only seven hours during each weekday, instead of 24 hours, presents a problem.

How will students who currently rely on working at a dorm desk continue to support themselves?

Even with the five available dorms, student hours during the week are being cut from 600 hours to 175 hours. About 100 students work desk shifts weekly currently. Some work up to the max of 20 hours a week, while most average near 10 hours.

For all dorms, staff gets first pick of the hours they are mandated to have per week, followed by work-study students, a mixture of student staff and non-staff, and then non-work study. With the new positions, student staff may no longer have mandated hours, but unless the university is raising their pay, or paying for the meal plans they are required to get (which is another discussion for a later date), these students will still need those hours. And so will other students.

If everyone works equal hours (which they don’t), students would, as it stands, have an opportunity to work six hours during the week days for a total of 8.4 hours a week.
Desk study is a minimum wage job ($7.25/hour), with raises being incorporated for length of time served, but if we assume 10 cents over minimum wage, to account for raises across the population or night shift, the average student working this much would make $72.50 per week.

Now with the hiring of these new positions, students could work approximately 1.75 hours Monday through Friday, with less than a half an hour available per student if the weekends will be staffed (which, may I remind you, is not confirmed as of yet). With the same calculations for pay, this would drop the student’s pay $12.68 per week, a drop of close to $60.

That’s absurd. Tulsa is a cheap city, but the university isn’t, and paying for both college and normal bills does not lend itself to surviving on that little money.

I’m sure someone will say, “This isn’t that much of a problem, students can find new jobs, and learn the meaning of hard work.” And yes, some of them will find new jobs.
But that presents a whole host of problems. Many places find it difficult to work around a student schedule, as we have gaps in odd hours or are unavailable when needed most. Other students lack cars, especially as out-of-state or freshmen, and can’t get to a job off campus. And students face competition for these jobs, against people who might have a bit more steady of a schedule or who aren’t liable to leave for breaks for long periods of time.

The school hasn’t announced any accompanying plans to hire these students in other positions, and frankly, I’m not sure where they would go. The gym always seems to be hiring new people, but I doubt they need close to a 100 fresh new faces. Maybe we could open up some places later with all these student workers, but then again, the school would just be spending even more money paying both students and these department assistants.

On top of all of this, why is this new position even necessary? Student desk assistants can check out building equipment, RAs/SRAs deal with room lock-outs and RDs currently deal with room changes and key requests. Plus, if the desks aren’t staffed over the weekend, it may make students’ lives even more difficult in that to check out equipment (like a vacuum if you need to clean for a visiting friend) or get locked out, students will have to call the duty phone and wait for student staff to arrive and help them. I understand that having someone there to help do those might make those living in the dorms have a tiny bit easier of lives, but we have to consider the whole picture. Is that five minutes you save going to your department assistant versus dealing with upper housing really worth affecting fellow students that much?

Plus, how much will these new positions even be used? The bulk of our classes are between business hours, with spaces for lunch or studying or work, so many students might not even get to their dorm during the day. From talking to current desk assistants, some mentioned that the nighttime hours can be the busiest – people get locked out after parties, want to watch movies at night or other things the desk assistant is needed for.

One of the other major problems with the new changes is safety. During tours, university ambassadors often claim that desks are staffed 24/7, providing an extra layer of safety. Now, they’ll no longer be able to claim that. Desk assistants can question people wandering into the building at late hours of the night, alerting campus security to potential intruders, or prevent someone from following someone in who’s trying to get out of a bad situation. Yes, the desk will be staffed from 8 a.m. to midnight, but there’s a huge gap in there where it won’t, and at night, some of these threats may become more evident with people returning late from parties or other events. Student staff aren’t armed guards (and neither, I’m assuming, will be the new positions), but they are, however, the first line of defense at the dorms. And changing the structure of this alters how well our dorms are protected.

As students, we need to make our voices heard. If you’re one of those students affected, tell administration exactly how less hours will affect your life. And if you’re not, stand with your peers. If you think this change is detrimental to other students, let administration and upper housing know. If you’re not affected by these changes (perhaps you live in an apartment on- or off-campus or don’t work the desk), it might still affect you. If you’re friends with anyone who works the desk, get ready to hear more complaints about money issues from these friends; until they find new jobs, they might be struggling a bit more to make ends meet and miss out on events because they can’t spare the cash.

Even if these positions have already been hired, rules can still be changed, and a year from now, these positions could be altered or removed entirely.
While student voices may not be able to change what is already in the works, it will perhaps give them pause next time they consider making changes without asking students or considering all the effects on students. Too often we let the university make major changes (e.g., raising tuition year after year) without making too much of a ruckus.

This needs to stop. These changes pose a threat to fellow students’ welfare, and we should hold the university accountable.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get the full details of the plan from housing. I made multiple attempts over the course of a month, but was only able to get a brief description of the changes. At the very least, I hope housing gets back to students who will be affected by these changes relatively soon.

Post Author: Michaela Flonard