March 31st, 2014

News | January 20th, 2014
New residence model gets mixed reviews
System has fewer Hall Directors but will cost around $32,000 extra
Written by | Visual by Tamim Sujat | The McGill Daily

Correction appended January 20, 2014

McGill’s announcement that the University will be overhauling the model of Hall Directors at McGill Residences has been met with resistance from the floor fellow community. Currently, each residence has a part-time Hall Director, but the new model will see approximately four full-time Hall Directors hired to oversee McGill’s nine residence halls.

According to documents obtained by The Daily, Janice Johnson, Managing Director, Residence Life and Customer Relations, and the residence staff behind this decision are looking to hire people with degrees in areas such as counselling or social work, and who have professional experience within the residence environment.

Due to its size, New Residence Hall (NRH) has had a full-time Hall Director since the 2012-13 academic year. A current floor fellow at NRH, Allen Scholl, told The Daily in an email, “I sincerely believe that the changes to be made in the new system of Hall Directors are being set in place to improve the job of the Hall Director.”

There will also be new part-time Faculty-Mentors-in-Rez positions in each hall, and according to Johnson, it would be a bonus if current Hall Directors took the position; however, the value of these positions is a point of contention.

“It’s a position created so that the [administration] can say ‘Here’s a job – they can take it if they want it. If they leave then it’s their choice,’” said a Carrefour Sherbrooke floor fellow who wished to remain anonymous to The Daily.

Shock as pilot project becomes permanent

This year, a pilot project saw one full-time Hall Director responsible for three residences: Royal Victoria College (RVC), Carrefour Sherbrooke, and Varcity515. However, floor fellows under this new pilot project told The Daily that the model was implemented permanently without any consultation.

According to the Carrefour Sherbrooke floor fellow, quoted above, who works under the project, floor fellows felt betrayed. “The head of residences announced that [the new model] is what they’re going to do for everyone next year, and we had never been asked how it was going or what it was like.”

These sentiments were echoed by Jessica Coon, current part-time Hall Director of Solin Hall. “I do not think there was much in the way of consultation process, and I know many of the floor fellows are upset about this,” Coon said in an email to The Daily.

Questions over the sustainability of the current model

In an interview with The Daily, Johnson stated that the idea of installing full-time Directors was common practice at other universities, and had been considered at McGill for a while.

Unlike many decisions made at McGill, the changes to the Hall Director model were not motivated by budget cuts. According to Johnson, the new model will cost around $32,000 more – even though it will cut down on the number of Directors – but that the budget was balanced with savings elsewhere.

Johnson pointed to difficulties with finding applicants for part-time positions as part of the reason behind the shift.

“I don’t think [the current model] is necessarily unsustainable exactly at this moment, but I think we’re at risk of being unsustainable,” said Johnson. “Before things reach a crisis point, or a Hall Director burns out, it seemed like a good idea to be proactive. Coming in as new leadership is a good time to make change.”

Floor fellows criticized the reasoning given by Johnson for the changes. “How does [the administration] know that current faculty members and Hall Directors can’t handle their positions? There’s this talk of impending crisis, which is such a scare tactic,” argued Erin Sobat, former president of Douglas Hall Residence Council.

In an informal floor fellow meeting on January 15, RVC floor fellow Sean Reginio argued that other options should have been considered before replacing the current Directors. “They addressed the issue of hiring Directors by changing the model, instead of changing the recruitment [process].”

The importance of Hall Directors

“During my time as a floor fellow I dealt with multiple severe crisis situations that required immediate help of a Director, sometimes in the middle of the night. These were literally life and death situations, and if my Director had not lived in the same building, I do not think the situations could have turned out as positively as they did,” said a former floor fellow of three years, who wished to remain anonymous, in an email to The Daily.

Floor fellows also expressed concern that the full-time Directors may be inclined to side with administration. “Whenever we complained about administration stuff this year, [the current Director] defended it to us… because it’s [the Director’s] full-time job, they’re now someone who mediates concern as opposed to someone who brings concerns from the bottom up,” the Carrefour floor fellow told The Daily.

According to Sobat, resistance from floor fellows was expected by administration. “Current Hall Directors were told in a staff meeting in November to deal with resistance from floor fellows, and basically asked to do damage control. They know it’s not going to be popular,” said Sobat.

At the January 15 meeting, a floor fellow – who wished to remain anonymous – said that the relationship between the Hall Director and the floor fellows requires open communication, and that it would be difficult to maintain that with 17 people.

Although some of the floor fellows expressed concern over a shift away from the harm reduction system currently in place – where non-judgemental support is encouraged – Johnson told The Daily that there was no interest in moving away from that model. “I will swear to anyone who wants me to swear – I do not intend to go down the road of writing tickets and busting people all the time.”

According to Johnson, a working group dedicated to deciding the specifics of the new Hall Director model will be calling for input from the McGill community in the next week. For many, this call for feedback is too little, too late.

“A big issue that I’ve had with this is how untransparent this entire process has been and how no floor fellow or Hall Director has been consulted in this decision,” said Courtney Ayukawa, a floor fellow at RVC. “I think that this [will set a precedent], so in the future, if residences want to make other changes as well, they feel less obligated to make things transparent or consultative.”

- With files from Rachel Nam

In an earlier version of the article, The Daily referred to Allen Scholl as Allen School. In addition, The Daily referred to Scholl as a Hall Director; in fact, Scholl is a floor fellow at New Residence Hall. The Daily regrets the errors.

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