Efficiency Must Precede Pay
A group of passionate RAs and RA supporters petitioned the trustees last night during open forum for an increase in the position’s compensation. Research in hand, they pleaded their monetary neglect compared to their counter parts at peer institutions. While their case may on the surface appear convincing, it shifts the focus to financial imbalance and away from the structural flaws that have long gone unaddressed.
Hypocrisy seems to be built into the RA system itself. RAs are expected to punish residents for activities in which they too might engage, even while on duty or in their hall of residence. To set a precedent of at times punishing for behaviors and at others engaging in them is both confusing to those students they are expected to lead and unacceptable in their official duty to the College.
RAs who conduct inappropriate relationships with residents break the contract of trust and therefore degrade the RA program. RAs are supposed to represent a channel of academic, emotional and social support—intimate relationships both alienate those residents outside the relationship and destroy this resource for those within.
While those truly dedicated to the position may consider their compensation inadequate, it is apparent that many others sign up for the benefits alone. Taking advantage of the large room, bed, prestige and pay without the concordant duties is a flagrant abuse of the system. It seems that there is nothing to prevent this, nor the neglect of residents that can easily follow.
It is clear that these criticisms do not apply to all RAs. There are those who take their role of leader and confidant seriously and with pride. However, these exemplary RAs should not be the exception.
As a result, the argument for greater compensation does not address these existing problems. It seeks to recruit better quality students to the program while establishing higher retention within. The only way that this can happen, however, is to implement internal structural changes to the program itself. Only when the program has proven that it fulfills its fundamental duty to the student body should the board consider raising pay for the position.
The current practice of employing underclassmen contributes to the lack of boundaries and leadership. It is unreasonable to expect those with only a semester or year of experience in college life to be an assured and knowledgeable pillar for their residents. If the positions were limited to upper classmen, RAs would be more likely to possess the necessary skills for the job.
While we understand the desire for a competitive salary, there is little
evidence to conclude that better compensation will result in a better applicant
pool —only a greater likelihood of applicants seeking benefits without
responsibility. There must be a visible effort to address the flaws within the
program and to improve the way that RA-resident relations are conducted before a
justifiable increase in benefits can even be considered.