This article is the second installment in the series of articles highlighting changes made at William Jewell College over the summer. This week we are focusing on changes to Residence Life staff.
Based on Jewell’s housing policy, students are required to live in dorms on campus. Exceptions to this rule are granted only to students who are married, over 24 or have other extenuating circumstances. As a result, Resident Directors (RDs), Resident Assistants (RAs) and House Managers are employed to ensure student safety and satisfaction.
Ernie Stufflebean, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life, described the roles as student-centric and aimed at developing community within the dorms.
“[Resident Director is] a live in position, [RDs are] intended to be there as support and guidance for residents, to mentor them, to provide guidance for them. [RDs] supervise a staff of Resident Assistants. They’re completely responsible for all elements of the facilities they’re assigned to, so everything from the programming side of things to the residence in where they live, the maintenance and upkeep of the facility,” said Stufflebean. “[RDs are] kind of the CEOs of their buildings.”
This summer, the RDs’ role changed, and an entirely new staff was hired.
According Stufflebean, the RD staff is reorganized every year, and it is not uncommon to see personnel changes.
“We reorganize our staff every year; we look at our personnel, we look at personnel strength and we put people in positions where we think they’ll be most effective,” said Stufflebean.
Stufflebean elaborated on this by highlighting the 24/7 nature of the RD job and emphasized that they are designed to be short-term roles.
“[Being an RD is] a difficult position in that this is where you live and where you work. It’s very difficult to feel like you can get away from work, and so like, you know, in my job, I love my job, I work during the day and then I go home at night. Sometimes I take phone calls, and all that, but I get away from campus and decompress,” said Stufflebean. “[RD and House Manager roles are] not the kind of positions where you would think you’re going to hire somebody and have them for a long, long period of time, because it’s not typically… it’s not the nature of the positions themselves.”
Greg Irr, senior nursing major and former RD in Semple Hall, has a different perspective on the recent changes. He presented the staff changes as unprofessional and unsatisfying.
“On the 20th of May I was told my contract was not going to be renewed. The way everything happened was the most frustrating thing for myself and others involved. We were given very little notice even though we had been asking all semester about the next school year. I can handle being replaced, but I can’t accept getting replaced in an unprofessional manner,” said Irr. “Getting rid of an entire staff in this setting is not natural. So why did it happen?”
This semester the campus climate has reflected Irr’s confusion. There are numerous rumors surrounding the circumstances of the staffing changes. These include Jewell lacking the funds to continue employing RDs with families and an effort on the behalf of Student Life to ease Jewell’s transition into the new mentality brought on by the Branding Mission by removing any staff members who may dissent.
Stufflebean commented that the findings of the Branding Mission have influenced the RD role but not the overall expectations of the job.
“If there’s a big change this year [in the role of RDs], it’s that one of the things we’ve looked at is kind of our new philosophy for the institution as critical thinkers in community pursuing meaningful lives. So, that becomes our focus. So, how do we build our programs to get behind and support that philosophy,” said Stufflebean. “It’s more little things that may change. But, the overall expectations of the position, the time commitment, the responsibilities, those things haven’t changed at all.”
This explanation seems to render the student rumors groundless. In contrast, Irr stated that Jewell’s policy changes affected the RD’s duties and, in some cases, impeded their abilities to perform their stated duties.
“My responsibilities as an RD at the start of my time was to enforce Jewell’s rules and regulations for Semple Hall, to create programs to get students involved and active in their building community. I was trusted in my knowledge, education and judgment to make calls and create an environment for RAs and all students in my building,” said Irr. “This last year the dynamic changed and it felt as if control and decisions were taken away from RDs. We were no longer a part of the decision making as we once were. Other changes included that we had to start logging how all our time was spent, which is very difficult in a 24/7 on-call position. Anything could come up at any time and we needed to respond to it, but this past year if we were close to going over on time we needed to get permission to help a student, respond to a student and do our job as all overtime needed to be preapproved.”
There is some skepticism among students, but these opinions are not shared by Residence Life staff. Stufflebean insisted that the changes to RD staff were neither unnatural nor planned.
“No, it was not planned to turn over the staff,” said Stufflebean, “There’s a lot of different reasons [for the RD staffing changes], some of the RDs took on other professional positions, we had one RD who went to graduate school. … There were a lot of different reasons.”
Katie Wilkinson, recent graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and RD overseeing the upperclassmen triangle, commented that the process she went through while being hired was very professional and that she was surprised at the impact RD staffing changes had on the campus climate.
“I didn’t realize it would be as a big of a change until I started talking to students who were back, if that makes sense. I did know that things were changing, that things would look a little bit different just because I was here, but I didn’t realize how big of a change it was until students started coming back on campus. … that’s kind of how I was clued into [it],” said Wilkinson. “I realized the change when students were coming back and started asking questions, [before that] I didn’t realize that they had restructured staff.”
Irr also commented on the apparent secrecy of the staffing changes.
“On the day it happened, we were told by HR [Human Resources] that we were supposed to keep our meetings confidential. I asked why. I supposedly hadn’t been fired and supposedly did nothing wrong to not have my contract renewed. So, I asked, ‘Why do I have to keep this confidential?’ I was told technically there is nothing they could do to stop me from talking to people/students, but they would appreciate it if I would just stay quiet. I did not sign anything and because of that I feel comfortable doing this interview,” said Irr. “If you look at how we were treated, it is clear they were trying to slide the changes under the rug. None of the employees involved were ever in ‘The View From the Hill,’ which lists all new hires, internal changes and resignations.”
Irr has chosen to continue studying in the nursing program at Jewell, but he is no longer engaged in other aspects of campus life.
“There were a lot of people in the [nursing] program that helped guide me to decide on what to do when I lost my job. Since continuing things have been fine; I come to campus for class, but other than that I am completely removed from Jewell. … I no longer have a relationship with Student Life,” said Irr.
Photos by Sofia Arthurs-Schoppe.