By Tatyanna Carman
Changes implemented by the university as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have led to the stop of compensation for Community Assistants (CA) on campus, according to an email Residence Life sent to its student employees on March 18.
Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown provided an explanation for the decision to stop compensation for CAs.
“On March 17, the University made a decision to extend the remote and alternative instruction period throughout the spring semester, including exams, and a subsequent decision to close the residence halls,” said Brown. “Given that all of the duties associated with the role of Community Assistants focus around supporting individual students and developing community within the residence halls, it became apparent that the work of CAs could not be continued this semester. This was communicated by Residence Life the following day.”
In the midst of the university’s decision, an online petition was created that urged the school to continue to compensate CAs, which has garnered over 340 signatures on the website Change.org.
“There was a petition started over the weekend. I was not a part of that,” said junior communication studies major and CA of Ziegler Hall Giavanna Troilo. “I actually heard about it from one of my staff members. The petition was to be sent around for the CAs to be compensated for the rest of the year to receive the rest of our stipend.”
She brought up the details of the contract for CAs and questioned why they were not being paid for the rest of the semester and stressed a need for explanation.
“Our contracts obviously do not account for what’s due during a global pandemic. That was obviously [a] very unforeseen event. However, we are within our right, according to our contract, to be compensated for a full year and as far as I understand it, the section for termination in our contract does not cover this. I do not think we were terminated. Our job just ceased to exist because of this event. It was not covered in our contract and because [of that], I think it is something that is worth providing a further explanation for.”
Junior musical theater major and Student Government Association (SGA) Executive Vice President Dylan Erdelyi said that SGA has been communicating with university administrators about this situation.
“Based on the contract that the CAs signed, we believe that there were several indications that the CAs deserved the rest of their annual stipend,” Erdelyi said. “After much discussion, the administration holds firm that based on the New Jersey governor’s orders to discontinue residential life on campus, the CAs are not able to fulfill the terms of their agreement and therefore will not be compensated for the rest of their stipend.”
Erdelyi, who is running for student body president, shared concern for any students who find themselves in a vulnerable situation and ensured that the SGA is doing everything it can to see that all students are taken care of during the crisis. Erdelyi also said that while they disagree with the administration’s response, SGA is “at an impasse,” and “it is up to the CAs as to if and how they want to proceed.”
Troilo quoted from the 2019-2020 Residence Life Manual that dictated new CAs receive a fixed annual stipend of $4,966 as compensation, equivalent to 25.5 hours every two weeks at $10.30 per hour. She also explained that the stipend is distributed bi-weekly for their work. Troilo said that the March 18 email from Associate Dean for Residence Life Roberta Butler explained that CAs would be receiving their last payment of the semester on Apr. 10.
Sophomore health science major and CA for the Delta Phi Epsilon sorority house Brianne Lipford said that the CAs were told at an informal meeting with the community directors on March 13, prior to the university closure, that Residence Life was unsure if CAs were going to get paid for the duration of the extended spring break period. If they wanted to increase their chances of getting paid, they recommended going back to school early to work the week of the extended spring break.
Lipford also shared that there has been a sense of lacking support for the CA staff members.
“This has been an ongoing feeling by a lot of CA staff members because the lack of benefits we get when compared to our bosses, Community Directors, who receive free room and board and stipends even though we do most of the work, as well as comparing our roles to those at other schools receiving benefits like free room and board. These ongoing issues, as well as this stipend issue, shows the lack of care and support.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg provided a statement in response to benefits and the compensation package for CAs.
“We have reviewed the market regarding compensation for residence life paraprofessional programs at other institutions to continue to evaluate the competitiveness of our funding levels,” Fenneberg said. “This process led us to a significant change in the CA compensation package this academic year, when CAs moved from receiving a discount of 25% of their room charges to a 50% discount this year. We are always looking for ways to offer competitive wages for work performed, and this year’s change is a testament to that commitment.”
Troilo also expressed that CAs have been working the past three weeks before spring break and during this time of crisis. She said between conducting individual check-ins and decorating the residence halls. CAs have also been checking up on their residents during “this horrific time,” who also had concerns about their residence hall situation.
“We have been trying to reassure them that everything is going to be figured out, so those are also hours we’ve been putting in,” said Troilo. “I’m just unclear as to why we would be cut off for our compensation when we have really been putting in some of those hours throughout the whole school year.”
Senior dance major and CA in Steven R. Beckett Village Rose Conroy-Voza expressed her frustration with the discontinuation of compensation.
“The stoppage of payment is absolutely unfair. Rider University still expects me to pay my payment plan bill, but how can I do that if I am not being paid? As well as being a CA, I am also an Office Assistant, in which payments have also stopped and an off-campus dance teacher which is now closed,” Conroy-Voza said. “Within a week, I went from having three jobs to being unemployed. However, being a CA, I was under a specific contract that employed me until May and this unexpected virus should not stop me from the money I have earned and that I need to continue school in the first place.”
Troilo also shared how this situation has put a strain on her financial situation as well as her concern of paying her bills.
Fenneberg said in the statement as a response to the criticism on the compensation decision that the implications of the COVID-19 response are significant, which includes all aspects of university finances and university leadership had to carefully weigh out factors for the decisions related to “university operations, and decisions related to full-time, part-time and student staff.”
“We were not in a place to continue to pay for work that could no longer be performed given the circumstances which prevented us from continuing our residence hall operations this year,” she said. “I am deeply saddened by the impact this has on CAs and other students whose work does not translate to remote delivery. CAs play such an essential leadership role on our campus and on the student experience.”
Brown also said that she was aware that several CAs are advocating for the continuation of pay and expressed her understanding of concern of the discontinuation of wages.
“We hope they understand that this university decision is not a reflection on their value and contributions to Rider University and that the conditions precipitating this decision were beyond the University’s control,” said Brown.
When asked what will happen to the rest of the stipend for CAs, Brown said that the university is incurring immeasurable expenses associated with the response to COVID-19 and, “any savings recovered will be used to offset these expenses to assure the ability to continue to offer a quality Rider University education moving forward.”
Erdelyi shared his thoughts on how the Rider community is impacted by this difficult situation and suggestions on how the community should move forward.
“I think that everyone is in a bind for money right now – students and institutions alike. Everyone is in a difficult situation. Students, especially those that may have financial insecurity or unstable home situations, are most at risk. We need to be actively reaching out and supporting each other as a community,” Erdelyi said.