Resident Assistants across campus are petitioning against a standardized meeting time that is set to be implemented by the Office of Residential Life next fall.
The initiative will require all student staff members to maintain their availability during the assigned time and day of the staff meeting.
The proposal has been met with backlash from some Resident Assistants. Last week, a petition was drafted in an attempt to reform the new ruling.
The current format for weekly staff meetings allows each RA to choose his or her staff meeting time, which requires a two- to four-hour time block. With the new rule in place, every RA will have to attend the designated time and day for the staff meeting.
Many RAs were reluctant to speak out at the risk of putting their jobs in jeopardy. Three anonymous RAs sent emails to The Ithacan, in which they shared a common dissent with the proposed meetings.
“I made this email account because I know that talking to you about this puts my job at stake,” one RA wrote. “One of the RDs, whom I won’t name, preaches to his RAs during staff meetings about how replaceable they all are and that they shouldn’t object if they want to keep their jobs.”
Junior Gary Cohen, who has served as an RA for three semesters and spearheaded the petition, said the change did not fully take the RA perspective into consideration.
“I don’t believe in the way that this action is being implemented,” Cohen said. “One of my core values is that everybody that is involved in something should have an input … especially when it affects them. When such a large group of people are not taken into consideration by the minority, it really bothers me.”
Bonnie Prunty, director of residential life and judicial affairs, said the rule is meant to create benefits for the staff.
“One of the added benefits is that if we had some kind of major issue that happened and we needed to pull the entire department together so that they can get all the same information at the same time about something, we would have an opportunity to do that,” Prunty said.
Many RAs argue that the meeting changes will detract from their academic experience at the college.
As outlined in the petition, “As a liberal arts college with a commitment to excellence, we will be deprived the opportunity to explore our interests in other fields of study if it conflicts with the time that Residential Life deems appropriate for the staff meeting.”
Prunty said the only exception to the rule will be if the meeting time conflicts with classes needed to graduate.
Still, some RAs are concerned about the restrictions on academic exploration that the rule could impose.
The same RA from the email said the new rule does not follow the priorities that the Residential Life policy stresses.
“After preaching to us about how deeply they understand and care for our educational priorities, the Res Life staff only claims to be understanding when we tell them about academic difficulties,” the RA said. “It is even more hypocritical now that they are preparing to install policy that literally forces us to compromise our class schedules and, vicariously, our education in order to make it to a standardized meeting time.”
Resident Assistants make up the largest group of Residential Life employees with 116 resident assistants currently employed.
This was not the first time this concern has been expressed. The Office of Residential Life considered the possibility of standardized meeting three years ago, but the office could not find a staff meeting time that worked.
Prunty said when the idea was introduced the first time, it received an overwhelmingly negative response. The previous initiative did not, however, include an academic exception.
Ron Trunzo, associate director of residential life, and Pat Walsh, residence director for Terraces One through Four, conducted research concerning colleges and universities that have a standard meeting time and found a standardized meeting time was effective.
Walsh said the selection of the schools was based on staff size and similar population.
Although feedback is being requested from all RAs, the feedback will not affect the decision to enact the proposal, Prunty said. Instead, the feedback will contribute to setting up the common meeting time.
“As a professional staff we made a decision that this is something that we want to move forward and try,” Prunty said. “I would want to go to the staff for a decision that we know is going to move forward.”
Cohen said he plans to take his petition, along with the signatures of several RAs, to the Office of Residential Life tomorrow.
The petition will include the RAs’ disapproval along with some alternatives to the rule, including more compensation for room and board and a request to redraft the proposal with the contribution of the RAs.