By Taylor Dobbs, News Staff
Eileen Rice might spend her last weeks of college – polishing final papers, exams and graduation plans – living out of a suitcase. For the past four years, she’s been a Resident Assistant (RA) at Northeastern, where she has come to love the communities that form in the residence halls. As an RA, she said she sees it as her duty to be there for her residents.
“No one knows my building better than I do,” Rice said. But next week, she might have to get to know a new building. Rice, along with six other RAs on her 14-person staff, was fired last week when the Department of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) discovered the majority of the staff had failed to perform some or all of their nightly rounds between the beginning of spring semester and spring break.
Across campus, dozens more might still be fired. ResLife has expanded the audit and is now investigating every RA on campus for similar lapses in duty.
The FLYS (Fairwood, Light Hall, YMCA, St. Stephen Street) staff, which Rice was on, is responsible for Northeastern’s “Fairwood Apartments” on Huntington Avenue, and dormitories in the YMCA and on St. Stephen Street. They were told in a March 12 staff meeting that ResLife was performing an audit of their Husky Card swipe records.
Each time an RA performs nightly rounds through a complex of buildings, they must swipe their Husky Card at the proctor station before entering. So ResLife printed a log of each RA’s Husky Card use and checked to see if they had been performing rounds as required while they were on duty. Under Northeastern’s “Resident Assistant Agreement,” which each RA must sign in order to hold the position, rounds must be performed by the RA on duty three times every night Sunday through Wednesday, and four times each other night of the week. The agreement clearly states that RAs who fail to meet its requirements may be fired.
Last week, following up on the swipe audit, half of the FLYS staff was fired in individual meetings with their Residence Director and, at least in Rice’s case, Associate Director for Residential Life Brie McCormick. At least one building in the complex – 337 Huntington Ave., where Rice was an RA – was left without any RAs, a resident said.
“It was hard because I had gone in hoping it would be a discussion, and clearly it wasn’t,” Rice said of the meeting. She said during the meeting, they reviewed the findings of the audit “and they said for these reasons you’ve been terminated from this position.”
A campus-wide problem
It is unclear why ResLife initially chose to audit the FLYS staff alone, but the findings make it fairly obvious why they chose to expand the scope of the audit to every staff on campus. The FLYS staff was told at the March 12 meeting that about two-thirds of their staff had fallen short in the performance of rounds. It’s unclear how ResLife determined which RAs would be fired and which would remain.
University officials declined to comment on specifics for this story calling it an internal personnel matter. Communications Director Renata Nyul issued the following statement:
“Northeastern is committed to providing a safe and student-centered environment for all of our on-campus residents. Our Residential Life group runs a robust operation dedicated to providing outstanding service and support in all of our residence halls. All staff members must meet a comprehensive set of qualifications and standards of excellence. We review and assess all of our services on an ongoing basis and make adjustments as appropriate and necessary to ensure the safest and most fulfilling student experience at all times.”
At press time, most RAs other than the FLYS staff had yet to be informed of the outcome of their audits. Multiple RAs, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press, said the majority of RAs regularly missed at least some of their rounds.
“They thought it was an isolated incident somehow,” said one RA who still hasn’t heard the results of the audit, noting that most of Northeastern’s 188 RAs were well aware that performance of rounds was often lackluster.
Residence Directors are poring over their staff’s swipe records in search of what McCormick called a “pattern of behavior” at a meeting with one staff this week, and their findings are due to their supervisors April 3, RAs said. Rice and other RAs think it will be hard for some Residence Directors to know, based on a log of Husky Card swipes, whether or not their staffs went on rounds.
RAs in International Village, Rice said, can complete their rounds without ever passing a proctor station, so it’s impossible to say if a lack of swipes on a duty night means the RA went to bed early or spent the evening dutifully executing rounds. Other RAs confirmed this, noting that they are, however, required to fill out a duty log outside the residential area, after which they need to swipe back in to return to their rooms.
Responsibility, accountability, transparency
For some RAs, most of whom learned about the audit and the firings through their close-knit network of fellow RAs, the process has been frustratingly unclear.
“It’s all just a big rumor mill,” said the RA who hasn’t heard the result of the audit. “They stress a lot about caring and community building, now they’re treating their own employees this way? It kind of raises questions about their priorities.”
RAs didn’t get any official word about the audit from ResLife administrators until Wednesday, when Director Robert Jose sent an email to all RAs on campus. The email, obtained by The News, informed RAs that a department-wide review was underway.
“I understand that this may well create anxiety and concern,” Jose wrote. “For this I apologize. However, Duty [sic] responsibilities are vital to the welfare of our residents. Building community, enforcing policy and insuring [sic] the safety of our residents are all critical aspects of being ‘on duty.’ Because of this, it is important that we understand how well we are meeting these most important obligations.”
Ryan Stewart, a middler digital art and game design double-major, said he was disappointed when he found out RAs had been slacking on rounds. Stewart was rejected when he applied to be an RA last spring, and feels as though some of those who did make the cut and skipped rounds were taking advantage of their privilege.
“It was disheartening to hear it,” he said. “You know, these people are trusted to do this sort of duty. I feel like maybe someone made a bad judgement call and it’s coming back to bite them.”
Stewart said that despite the news, he thinks Northeastern’s RAs overall do a “fine job.”
One current RA agreed that rounds are an important aspect of the function of ResLife, but that the sudden and harsh action around the issue was confusing.
“If it’s such an important thing, why hasn’t there been any accountability [in the past]?” the RA said. Rice said that in her four years as an RA, she had never heard of a staff-wide audit of swipe logs, let alone campus-wide.
Even after pulling swipe records, RAs said, ResLife has not made it clear to RAs how much delinquency in performance of rounds is considered a fireable offense, nor who makes the final decision.
Rice acknowledged she had “let it slide” this semester, but said she had hoped the audit could have a productive outcome – that RAs would get a chance to right their wrongs.
“When handling a crisis like this,” she said, “the opportunity for people to improve needs to occur.”
Rice also took issue with the idea she was being fired solely based on the fact that she hadn’t been doing all of her rounds. She said she has no way of knowing whether or not ResLife officials considered her three previous years as an RA, in which she says she never faced disciplinary action.
Appeal or get out
When Rice was fired, she was told she had three business days to either send a letter of appeal to ResLife – which would allow her to remain in her room at least until the appeal is decided – or move out of her room. ResLife offers on-campus housing for fired RAs who request it, Nyul said. When Rice inquired with ResLife last Thursday, a housing coordinator told her the pro-rated price for a standard double for the last five weeks of the semester would be $1,166.09, she said. She appealed her termination, and after a meeting with Jose, is waiting for a decision.
But even before her residents knew there was a formal appeals process, they were demanding an appeal anyway. Sophomore marketing and accounting major Alex Vipond, one of Rice’s residents, wrote a letter to ResLife in her defense.
Vipond, at least, didn’t seem to think Rice’s failure to conduct rounds was an accurate reflection of her ability as an RA.
“I can personally assure you that Eileen’s wonderful and friendly personality has done much more to discourage me from causing trouble than any physical check-up ever could,” he wrote. “RAs like Eileen are the solution, not the problem.”
Vipond and 59 other residents of 337 Huntington Ave., Rice’s building, signed the petition. Fired along with Rice last week was 337 Huntington’s other RA, leaving residents without an RA in the building.
As her residents anxiously await a new update written on the board outside her room that has become a record of the saga, Rice will stay in 337 Huntington Ave., among half-packed boxes and hopeful residents.
“They are my RAs,” Vipond said. “I don’t care about their official positions.”
Two members of The News’s editorial board are currently RAs on campus. Neither staff member played any role whatsoever in the reporting, writing or editing of this story. As always, The News strives to thoroughly and objectively report the stories it publishes.