Editorial: RA terminations result of ResLife shortcomings

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Northeastern’s Department of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife) acted in haste when it fired seven Resident Assistants (RAs) last month. As detailed in a front-page story in last week’s edition of The News, seven RAs from the FLYS (Fairwoods, Light Hall, YMCA, St. Stephen Street) staff were fired for failing to perform their rounds, a core duty for RAs. But as The News reported, this was not an isolated incident. ResLife is now auditing every RA on campus, and at least two FLYS RAs also failed to perform rounds but were not let go. Six of the seven fired RAs appealed their terminations and have yet to hear back  from ResLife.

ResLife has every right to discipline their employees, and as rounds are necessary to ensure resident safety, these accusations should not be taken lightly. But due to the breadth of this problem, it is apparent that failures were institutional, and blame should not be placed solely on individual RAs. If one RA fails to do his or her rounds, it’s an isolated incident for which the RA is responsible; if the majority fails to do so, as appears to be the present case, ResLife as a whole is responsible.

It should be conceded that in cracking down on the RAs in question, ResLife is attempting to address this systemic problem, but it must also be recognized that these firings are merely a reaction to a problem that ResLife failed to prevent. While it’s presently unknown how long this has been a problem, it is clear that ResLife fostered an environment in which RAs were able to sidestep their duties. Up until the point when it became apparent that there was a problem, ResLife failed to sufficiently oversee its employees, thus allowing them to shirk their responsibilities.

Furthermore, based on available information, it seems the decisions of whom to fire are arbitrary. In FLYS, more than half of the staff were accused of missing rounds, but as ResLife mandates that half of a staff is always necessary to keep dorms open, the RAs in question received unequal treatment. At least one RA who previously had an exemplary record was among those fired. It is possible that there was some rhyme and reason to these decisions, but due to ResLife’s failure to communicate with the Northeastern community regarding this issue, this is yet to be seen.

Even if ResLife was just in firing these RAs, it is not working in the best interests of the Northeastern community to do so. The fact that ResLife had to leave on several RAs who were skipping rounds speaks to the importance of maintaining an RA staff. After last month’s firings, residents in 337 Huntington Ave. were left without any RAs in their building to whom they could go with their problems. Surely it is worse to have no RAs at all then it is to have two RAs who do not do their rounds. If more RAs are fired around campus, as it appears they will be, this situation could be replicated in other buildings. Even if it isn’t, once the firings are through, the remaining RAs will be stretched thin and most likely unable to perform their jobs to their fullest capacity. If ResLife really needed to send a message, it could have done so over the summer when there wouldn’t be as large a negative impact on the student population that ResLife exists to serve.

To effectively deal with this problem, ResLife should retain the fired RAs at least until the summer, and even then pending a full investigation into the extent of the problem and whom within ResLife failed to prevent the problem. ResLife will also need to look into and adapt institutional reforms to tackle to root of the problem.

One such necessary reform is obvious:  Recognize that RAs are students first and employees second. It is unreasonable to ask a student to perform rounds at 2 a.m. on a weeknight, as is required every Thursday. Apart from RAs who have early classes, many RAs are on co-op and shouldn’t be expected to be doing rounds in multiple buildings around campus five hours before they have to wake up for work. Instead, ResLife could hire outside security, or have NUPD do the rounds. ResLife may have to start offering RAs discounted housing instead of free housing to pay for these changes, but this is an acceptable, common sense reform, and if RAs are expected to do less work, then it is reasonable that they receive less compensation.

A thorough, good-faith investigation would likely reveal other necessary, rational and plausible changes as well. But until it does so, ResLife needs to put a stop to firing RAs and hurting Northeastern’s resident population as a reaction to its own systemic failures.