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Off Campus Fellow Program sees budget cuts

Program continues despite difficulties

Correction appended October 8, 2014.

After a period of uncertainty about its future, the Off Campus Fellow Program (OCF) was renewed for the 2014-15 school year, having undergone restructuring and cuts to its funding. The program, created in 2010, offers events, information, and support to first-year students living off campus.

For the last four years, OCF has been run under Rez Life by Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS). This spring, however, there was much uncertainty about the future of the program.

“It wasn’t apparent to me that the program was still going to happen until I was offered the job I’m currently in,” said Alice Feldman, who was an off-campus fellow last year and became the program coordinator this year, in an interview with The Daily.

Feldman explained that it was established that OCF fit neither under SHHS nor Rez Life, and other affiliation options were considered. According to Feldman, Campus Life & Engagement would have been willing to integrate OCF into its services, but had already allocated all of its budget.

OCF was finally allowed to remain under Rez Life for one more year, but suffered budget cuts that caused a reduction in staff this year from four off-campus fellows to two.

“[McGill] settled on the lowest budget that this program could possibly feasibly exist on,” said Feldman.

While Feldman was hired for the student program coordinator position, the supervisor position was left vacant over the summer. The vacancy created a difficult situation, as the program coordinator only had limited administrative access.

Feldman identified the loss of simple administrative access as a serious obstacle.

“It’s quite impossible for me to do this job,” Feldman told The Daily in an interview. “They placed me in a very tricky position where I don’t have the administrative access I need in order to do this job effectively. I do not have access to our funding because I’m only a student coordinator, I’m not the supervisor of the program; I don’t have access to any of the institutional memory.”

A supervisor was hired at the end of September, only after what Feldman identified as a crucial period for the program. “It’s really during the first three weeks [that] students have the most difficulty adjusting,” said Feldman.

Prior to the hiring of the supervisor, OCF events were organized and run by only three staffers, including the Off-Campus Fest, which is a day-long event that takes place during Orientation Week and is attended by 1,000 students. The hiring of a supervisor should remedy future administrative issues, but will not alleviate the workload of the off-campus fellows, according to Feldman.

“We have two fellows for a group of thirty students; last year we would always have four,” said Feldman. “It is just unfair to the students; we don’t have the manpower to actively engage with them.”

In an interview with The Daily, off-campus fellow Adam Li also identified inadequate staffing as a source of concern, noting that off-campus fellows are meant to be resources to the student body rather than administrators.

“It hasn’t been too bad – it’s just been a staffing issue,” said Li.

Teo Baranga, a U1 Science student, expressed appreciation for the off-campus fellows’ work in an email to The Daily.

“The Off-Campus Fest was awesome and it was a great way to meet new people,” said Baranga. “I also loved the pub crawl that they organized recently.”

Baranga also noted the importance of the program for building community among off-campus students and as a resource. “I was actually looking for a barbershop, so I went on OCF’s Facebook page and somebody was looking for the same thing, and people were really helpful and suggested a bunch of places,” Baranga said.

Yet, according to Feldman, the administration is reticent to support the program. “The University has not made an effort to actively integrate this program into their structure,” she said.

“I think that McGill is going to try to make an effort in the future to promote commuter student life and engagement in the community. They’re just not sure if this program is the most successful way of doing that,” added Feldman. “I get the impression they’re trying to weed it out in order to let something bigger emerge.”

Whatever McGill’s future plans for the program, it prominently advertised Off-Campus Fest as the off-campus alternative to Rez Fest. “If you click on the Orientation Week website, five things will pop up at you: Discover McGill, Frosh, Rez Fest, Off-Campus Fest, Engage McGill,” noted Feldman. The event quickly reached its capacity of 1,000 attendees – more than double last year’s attendance of 450.

Feldman highlighted the important role that OCF plays in student life.

“We really try to have as many relationships with the students as floor fellows have [in residence]. We are trained: sensitivity training, depression training, the whole shebang,” said Feldman. “[Off-campus students also] need a supporting shoulder, someone to hear them out.”

Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker and Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens could not be reached for comment by press time.

A previous version of this article stated that the Off Campus Fellows Program was now classified under the general umbrella of Student Services. In fact, the program remains classified under the Rez Life department of Student Housing and Hospitality Services. The Daily regrets the error.