RA Pay Undergoes Change
Temporary compensation changes for the University at Albany’s students working for Residential Life has had a mixed reception among resident assistants across campus living areas.
For over a month, resident assistants and housing managers have earned Podium cash, or money transferred to their SUNYCard, after receiving paychecks in the past years.
Unlike paychecks, Podium accounts are limited to several campus services, university venues, and designated off campus businesses.
A senior RA on Dutch Quad said that the new compensation system has created issues when it comes to making payments towards businesses that do not accept Podium funds. He requested anonymity out of concern that criticism of the temporary system could lead to employment conflicts with Residential Life.
“I understand that we don’t have as many duty hours as most other jobs, but if [Residential Life] is going to pay us in currency that we can’t use, I don’t know what’s the point of this?” he said.
RAs are limited to 10 hours of work each week. The switch to Podium, approved early last spring prior to RA selection, was made as a result of provisions that limited the amount of hours student workers could have while working state positions.
The Albany Student Press received multiple reports that the change was prompted by provisions under the Affordable Care Act. Student Affairs, Human Resources, and Residential Life did not confirm these claims at press time.
“Paying the RAs a stipend became an obstacle for them in pursuing other campus paid positions and any internships that were within a state agency,” said Laurie Garafola, assistant vicePresident of Student Affairs in an email. “This was a way to compensate the RAs without interfering with paid state internships.”
While the new system will not be permanent, Residential Life will not switch back to paychecks despite challenges in the new system the department told student workers in August.
Carol Perrin, director of Residential Life, did not respond to comment at press time.
According to a sophomore RA at Indian Quad, while the new system has impacted her own purchasing power, the policy change has had a greater impact on returning RAs who do not have additional financial support.
“For other students that don’t have on campus or other jobs that were a backbone for them to financially support themselves, this is very inconvenient,” she said.
Along with a room waiver, RAs earn $1,400 in their first year on the job and $1,800 after their second year working for Residential Life. An idea to waive boarding further was originally proposed to replace student compensation, but the idea was eventually rejected as part of an effort to maintain flexible spending options for RAs.
“It’s really not enough money for me to be very upset about being paid in Podium,” said Neil Basu, sophomore RA at Colonial Quad. “It’s fine for me and obviously I would prefer cash, but it’s working out so far.”
Although sentiment over Podium has been divided among RAs, some Residential Life student workers opposed to the change are looking to go further by challenging the university policy as the semester progresses.
Across campus, RAs have expressed discontent with the new system at staff meetings and through petitions. Along with opposing the policy change, another senior RA on Dutch Quad who is organizing efforts against the policy, said that the movement also strives to push greater RA input in Residential Life affairs.
Student Affairs said that the policy change last year was based off of feedback from the RA Advisory Board feedback along with professional staff input and discussions with Human Resources.
Bobby West, senior RA on State Quad, is against the current movement. He believes that efforts to oppose the new policy will unlikely result in a positive change for RAs.
“Residential Life told us multiple times that it’s a temporary thing until they figure out a better system,” West said. “And getting upset about it isn’t going to do anything besides just rile everyone up.”
With the new system currently in place, Steve Pearse, director of University Auxiliary Services, mentioned that UAS would look into expanding Podium services based on student concerns.
“I haven’t heard anything specific as to what [RAs] can use the card for,” Pearse said. “But I can understand a sense of frustration because it’s a lot different to get something put $200 on a card that you’re using at one of these venues as opposed to $200 cash… because there are some places that accept Podium, but there are a lot more that don’t even know what Podium is.”