Sunday, December 5, 2021

RHS team reveals struggles and offers solutions to furloughed students at town hall meeting

October 2, 2020

Members of the leadership team for Residential and Hospitality Services, or RHS, met with MSU students Thursday in a Zoom town hall to answer questions about the recent decision to furlough over 700 student employees. 

Senior Vice President for Auxiliary Enterprises Vennie Gore led the town hall in talking about the hardships that caused RHS to make this decision. 

“We’re really in a business of community … we bring people together,” Gore said. “This pandemic, however, is just the opposite of that.”

For the next 12 months, Gore said to expect a hiring freeze for empty full-time positions and a decrease in use for on-call, temporary and student employees. RHS will also try to, “protect the core of full-time employees, as much as possible,” according to Gore's PowerPoint.

Gore said keeping this staff, many of whom have been furloughed since May and June, is critical for MSU’s success now and in the future.

“When we made a decision to bring people back — even some of our staff who were furloughed — back in August, the world was in one different place with the pandemic,” Gore said. “It shifted in three weeks. It wasn’t anything that anyone of us wanted to happen.”

COVID-19 has brought financial hardship to RHS. According to RHS Chief Financial Officer Bob Patterson, RHS expects an 88% decrease in revenue for the fall semester, a drop from $135 million to $15 million. It has already lost $20 million during the first 3 months of this fiscal year.

After learning MSU would be going remote, leadership team members had to make decisions on how to appropriate RHS’s money. As a self-sustaining auxiliary of MSU, RHS does not receive any state or university funds. Many programs supported by RHS have been cut or diminished this year due to the curtailed amount of students living on campus. Of the list, neighborhood engagement centers and CAPS counselors within those centers won’t be funded this school year.

Additionally, Gore said RHS is dedicated to keeping up in its mortgage. With construction and renovation projects across campus, RHS’s debt service for this fiscal year is $23.5 million. It’s total current debt is $357 million.

“Like anywhere else, the baker always gets paid first,” Gore said. “So we pay our mortgage first because actually when it’s time for us to pay the bill, this sort of comes out of our account.”

The latter half of the town hall was devoted to answering students’ questions. Two recurring questions involved the displacement of international students from on-campus work and the continued desire for the university to further financially support its furloughed students. 

Krista Beatty, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, or OISS, said she has been advocating for other on-campus employers to open up jobs for international students to apply for.

Assistant Director of OISS Ismail Adawe said F-1 international students, who are restricted from working off-campus, can apply for Curricular Practical Training, or CPT, through OISS. CPT allows international students to work off-campus in jobs directly related to their major. International students can also apply for Economic Hardship Work Authorization, but that process, Adawe said, is more difficult and expensive.

In helping students financially, Gore said that would be difficult for RHS itself to do. Keith Williams, senior associate director for the Office of Financial Aid, said students with a federal work-study can request that study be turned into an extra student loan, depending on if their existing financial aid package would support that.

Looking toward the future, Gore said he’s unsure of what will entail. 

“I don’t have the crystal ball,” he said.

The unpleasant resolutions this uncertainty has caused have not been made comfortably. Impacting colleagues', friends’ and families’ lives with these choices has generated an uneasiness among the entire body of decision-makers, according to Gore. 

“This is entirely personal for me and for many of the people on the leadership team, so we don’t take any of these decisions lightly,” Gore said. “We don’t believe that our staff are expendable. But in the end, if I’m not collecting enough money I can’t pay you.”

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