Over spring break, student work study awardees found their desk options to be shrinking once again. Skoglund Center student workers were contacted and warned that the south desk position was no longer available. This means that students who rely upon this position to fulfill their work study hours in full or in part need to find other jobs for the rest of the school year to compensate for the lost funds. This is not the first time this has happened this school year, either – front desks in dorms have shifted back their starting hours to 3 p.m. instead of noon and there are caps on how many hours students can work if they are first years. For first year dorms, this has proven to be a challenge.
This cut in work study hours and positions makes me question the school’s role in helping students fulfill their financial aid packages. These packages are arranged by the administration for students as they enter St. Olaf their freshman year and are guided by a hefty set of regulations to ensure students stay within their allotted set of hours. Given that it is the school who coordinates these limits and the individual amount of hours each student can work, it does seem as though they have a responsibility to assist the students in finding existing work positions for the rest of the school year.
The school made the decision to cut hours over halfway through the year and placed students in the awkward position of trying to find enough work until the end of the year to satisfy their work awards, yet not too many hours that they would get in trouble and go over their award. By making this change before the end of the school year, the school has further complicated this issue and offered no solutions to the students who bear the consequences of having fewer hours.
That also assumes that all of the students who previously worked at the Skoglund south desk or other positions modified this year would be offered new positions in response. However, the number of jobs that are still open for hire are limited, while those that are still hiring have already given away all of their shifts. This leaves students on substitution lists for work that cannot promise enough hours to meet their award by the end of the semester.
To accommodate budgetary costs, it may seem like front desks are an easy place to cut hours. Workers can often bring homework or read things on the internet for fun – it’s not usually a strenuous job. Yet the presence of the front desk worker can shape students’ experiences. For RAs and JCs, desk workers provide a strong supporting role when they are on duty, functioning as someone who can direct residents to Residential Life staff for help as they generally know which staff members are in the building. They can also direct emergency responders in the event that an RA or JC cannot leave to find a Public Safety officer. Being a desk worker is a job that doesn’t do a whole lot – until it does.
Similarly, by not opening the front desk until 3 p.m., students’ access to dorm games, cooking and cleaning supplies are cut off for several hours a day. This sounds like a minimal consequence, an inconvenience at best, but for students with limited meal plans who rely on cooking their meals in the kitchen with the pots and pans provided by the front desk, the shorter hours are more than a hassle. Desk jobs, while often slow and tedious, are useful and necessary for many students.
If desk workers’ hours are cut, then the school ought to help them find new work study openings. As their employer, the school has the best knowledge of what jobs are open and for how long. Even if they choose not to work with the students individually, it would be helpful if they provided students with suggestions and resources to find the new work on campus.
Julia Pilkington ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Santa Barbara, Calif. She majors in English.