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University of Chicago reverses course, will keep paying resident assistants

Offer made day after campus newspaper report

Some workers whose jobs are tied to physical places are still getting paid during the coronavirus outbreak, even though they can’t be on site.

The University of Chicago’s resident assistants in campus housing were not among them – until the administration got some bad press.

The Chicago Maroon reported Saturday that the RAs received “no official announcement” that they wouldn’t be paid for spring quarter, but rather they “cobbled together enough information to realize” they had been effectively laid off.

Students were ordered to leave the dorms by March 22 in line with the university’s move to online learning for spring quarter.

Residential Life administrators broke the news to resident deans and resident heads in a Friday videoconference that excluded RAs themselves, according to an RA briefed by some resident heads. Some administrators told RAs “one-on-one” before the videoconference that they wouldn’t get their spring stipend of $3,404, though.

“Any information we had was accumulated by individual RAs texting and emailing directors in Housing and sharing it among us,” said RA Gabbie Griffen. “The only reason we even knew that the Housing Office was meeting with RDs and RHs was a conference call link accidentally sent to us.”

Related to a warning from a law professor on the legal consequences of kicking students out of housing due to coronavirus fears, another RA told the Maroon the university might be in breach of contract:

[Thomas] Noriega, an RA in Dougan-Niklason House in North, noted that unlike many other student jobs, RAs sign a one-year contract at the beginning of the year. He thinks UChicago may be violating this contract, especially since the vast majority of—if not all—third-year RAs are expected to return to their positions in the fall.

“We’re contracted for the year. The only thing that can stop us from getting paid is to get fired, and we haven’t been fired.”

The Maroon posted the contract as well, which confirms Noriega’s claim.

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A petition to pay the RAs had drawn more than 2,300 signatures as of Monday night. It says the RAs “will still be working diligently for their residents” even though they’re off-campus.

The public relations nightmare apparently prompted the university to reverse course.

The Maroon reported that top administrators told RAs in a Sunday email that they could continue getting paid the same stipend while working remotely, following “helpful feedback” about the role they play for their residents “even if they are no longer physically present on campus.”

UChicago was also facing a revolt by faculty and student government:

Associate English professor Chris Taylor, a member of the Committee of the College Council, sent an open letter to the faculty governing body on Saturday night, saying they intended to put RA pay on the committee’s agenda.

“The actual money in aggregate is so small as to be comical,” Taylor wrote, adding, “If the reason for [RAs’] non-payment is simply budgetary unit discipline, we should rethink and suspend the latter.” …

Student Government’s executive slate posted an open letter to administrators on Saturday evening, urging the University to reconsider its decision.

“Many have stated they will not be able to help their families, afford their grad school payments or summer job rents, or afford their tuition because the stipend they have always been able to count on has been denied,” SG president Jahne Brown and vice presidents Kosi Achife and Brittney Dorton wrote in the email.

Though a UChicago spokesperson told The College Fix in a Tuesday email that the university “offered RAs the opportunity to work remotely in the Spring quarter and continue to be compensated with their regular stipends,” Griffen told the Maroon the RAs have still not received any official communication from Housing and Residence Life since Saturday’s Maroon report.

Read the articles.

UPDATE: The headline and body of the post have been changed in light of the university’s reversal of its decision to stop paying resident assistants for spring quarter, when they are physically blocked from campus. A university spokesperson contacted The Fix Tuesday to demand the retraction of this post, saying the university made an offer on Sunday. The Fix refused on the grounds that the university’s action followed the Maroon report Saturday. The Maroon did not update its Saturday report, which The Fix viewed Monday, to note that the university had reversed course on Sunday.

MORE: Class-action lawsuits likely from dorm evictions, law prof says

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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