Res Life loses director, two staffers

After a difficult year for the Portland State Residence Life program that nearly saw the program lose over a third of its funding, Director Donald Yackley announced last week that he will be leaving his position this month.

In addition to Yackley, over 50 percent of the professional staff will also be leaving the Residence Life program this month. Yackley said the budget situation has caused the professional staff difficulties in managing Residence Life effectively. He said that issues with the budget over the last few months were related to his departure.

“I wouldn’t be leaving if it wasn’t for the last few months and the budget problems,” he said. “Right now we are operating at the bare minimum [personnel] structure for a functional Res Life program.”

Assistant Director Amy Juve and graduate assistant Angela McKinney will also be leaving within the month, following the previous departure of numerous resident assistants. Assistant Director Scott Nine and Area Coordinator Ashley Tendick left their positions earlier this year. Nine’s and Tendick’s positions will not be replaced as a money-saving procedure.

Dean of Students Wendy Endress said the loss of Yackley and Juve is forcing “serious decisions” to be made about the Residence Life program. She said Yackley and Juve both left after finding opportunities in other schools’ programs and she knew that they were searching for other jobs. Endress declined to comment on whether she knew if Yackley’s decision had to do with Residence Life budget issues.

Dan Fortmiller, interim vice provost of Student Affairs, said the departure of the staff members is a loss to the university. He said the Residence Life staffers, Yackley and Juve, received better offers from other universities.

“There’s no way we could possibly match the offers they received from other universities,” Fortmiller said.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Lindsay Desrochers said she was not aware of any dissatisfaction in the staff of Residence Life as a result of the budget. Desrochers said all parties involved, including Residence Life staff, student representatives and the administration, agreed on the final Residence Life budget in May and at the time she heard no discussion of people wanting to leave the program because of the budget.

Associate Director of Auxiliary Services John Eckman also said he was not aware that discontent with the budget process led many of the staff members of Residence Life to vacate their positions.

“I do know this was a highly stressful budget cycle,” Eckman said, “but I can’t speak to motivations about people leaving.”

Eckman, who said he was involved in the budget process from start to finish, said he does not know the specifics of how exactly Student Affairs managed to increase the contribution from last year.

Residence Life is losing over 50 percent of its professional staff and nearly faced having over a third of its budget cut, but Eckman says Residence Life is not alone in the stressful time and many departments are feeling the burden of the budget.

“It’s just a tight year and that causes stress across the board, not just for Residence Life,” he said.

Eckman said it is an “exciting time” for the university and that he believes, while initially there was an “intensive period” of conversations, things now seem to be working out. “We have to wait and see,” he said.

After the university revealed the proposal for budget cuts of approximately $300,000 in early March, students expressed dissatisfaction in multiple meetings with university officials. The Auxiliary Services proposal originally called for an increase for on-campus housing by as much as 9 percent for the new fiscal year, which is now in effect.

Student concern culminated in protest in mid-April when a group of anonymous students plastered the outside of the Auxiliary Services office with signed pink slips from hundreds of disgruntled students. The sign read, “Let knowledge serve the greedy,” and featured caricatures of Desrochers, Eckman, and Director of Auxiliary Services Julie North as monkeys stooping on a large pile of money.

Yackley, who will fill the position of director of Residence Life for California State University, Monterey Bay, said that as far as he knows the search to fill the open positions has not yet begun.

Desrochers said Student Affairs will begin searching to fill the open Residence Life positions immediately, whether with interim or permanent positions. Endress said a “number of people” will be involved in the search to fill the open positions.

The administration announced in April that it had managed to find a solution for Residence Life by a creative shuffling of funds. Although the program finally received greater overall funding, the Residence Life budget was funded less from Auxiliary Services.

Auxiliary Services is the primary source of funds for Residence Life and will contribute around $700,000 for this fiscal year, down from $822,500 last year, while Student Affairs will contribute close to $80,000, according to Desrochers, up from last year’s contribution of $70,000.

Desrochers said that PSU Provost Roy Koch found nearly $100,000 to contribute to the program to complete the current $880,000 budget for Residence Life. Endress said the $100,000 came from a student fee that was previously used to fund the PSU Writing Center. The Writing Center will be funded under general university funds for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

Yackley said almost all of the extra money received from Student Affairs will pay the salaries of the professional staff in Residence Life.

Yackley said the three to nine percent increase in rent has made it more difficult to fund all the positions. He said each of the Residence Life staff live on campus, with the exception of the director.

The Residence Life program created the position of Student Hall director and will have six students take on the responsibilities of the lost area coordinator. Four Learning Community assistants, who will work in conjunction with the University Studies program to help first-year students adapt to college life, will also be added.

Yackley said the new model for Residence Life has “lots of possibilities,” but has raised some concerns about whether the Student Conduct Systems will be affected. “Our ability to address issues and concerns quickly is a concern,” he said.

Each resident assistant will now manage two floors instead of one resident assistant managing each floor like the previous year.

Student Hall Director Sasha Masoomi said the increased workload and a drop in pay of close to $50 per month may have been a contributing factor in the departure of over half of the previous year’s resident assistants, but thinks other factors are involved. She said she has heard most resident assistants who left were frustrated with the university’s conduct during the budget crisis.

“Some RAs left over sour feelings that the university may not respect Res Life enough,” she said.

Yackley said normal resident assistant turnaround is between 30 and 60 percent. The base pay for a resident assistant is now $100 per month, including rent. Previously the cost of rent was taken out of a $750 stipend, leaving the remainder as pay for the resident assistant’s work.

Resident assistants could have previously earned as much as $300 per month, depending on which building they were assigned to work.

Recreational programming has been affected because of the budget changes. Often RAs plan trips and events for the students in their halls funded through the university.

Masoomi said that resident assistants have now been instructed to “tap into free resources.” Instead of going bowling, for instance, a resident assistant must now find more cost-effective recreations like potlucks and visits to the park, Masoomi said.

“We’ll still have events, but now it’s chips and dip instead of pizza,” she said. “It’s just being thrifty.”

Masoomi said that while initially there were many concerns from students and staff, things seem to be improving. “I haven’t heard much complaining,” she said.

Masoomi said she believes the Residence Life found a leader in Yackley and the other professional staff members during the crisis.

“Every day he was answering questions, writing proposals and working directly with the RAs,” she said. “Especially during this crisis, people like Don and Amy were doing a good job. Don stood up for us in these debates.”

Masoomi thinks that the reason for many of the departures is that the Residence Life staff was not sure that their positions would be around in the near future, so most started applying for new jobs. “By the time it was resolved they might have gotten a better position,” she said.

Both Masoomi and Yackley said they are optimistic that the changes to the program will work for Residence Life, and Yackley said that even though more responsibility rests on student employees’ shoulders, he believes things will work out fine. “They are more than capable and competent to do great,” he said.