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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Residence Life considers subsidizing CA meal plans

Published: December 7, 2007
Section: Front Page, News

A Department of Residence Life proposal outlining ideas to further compensate Community Advisors with meal plans was presented last Friday to administrators.

Currently, according to Rich DeCapua, the Director of Residence Life, Brandeis is one of only a few schools in the area that does not offer incentive programs to become a CA beyond free housing, leadership training, and small gifts such as CA sweatshirts.

DeCapua’s proposal suggested perks for CAs such as meal plans, increased rewards for returning CAs, and exemption from the need to purchase a meal plan if an upperclassmen CA lives in a freshman area. If the Board of Trustees approves this change it would go into effect in a year.

While considering what type of compensation to offer Brandeis CAs in the future, the Department of Residence Life surveyed 15 local and University Athletic Association schools with comparable student staff responsibilities. The survey found that Brandeis and one other school were the only two of the 15 universities to not offer compensation to its CAs beyond free housing.

RAs at Tufts University, whose responsibilities are similar to Brandeis CAs, get “free room, paid local phone and voicemail service, 80 meals per semester on the meal plan, and $100 of dining points each semester that they can use at various other places to dine on campus that do not accept the meal plan,” wrote a Tufts’s Department of Residential Life employee to The Hoot.

Other schools offer their RAs perks such as parking passes and direct financial compensation.

At Brandeis not every CA has a car, and “parking is not a premium on this campus as is the case in some city schools” so the parking pass option does not make sense here, explained DeCapua.

The Department of Residence Life does not want to offer any direct finances to its CAs because “we don’t want to have implications for students’ aid packages,” said DeCapua.

Providing direct finances to students could cause their financial aid packages, taxes, and VISA status to be altered, he explained. Providing meal plan benefits, in the form of WHOCash would not affect those elements, DeCapua said.

Existing scholarship programs on campus like the Slifka and Malkin Scholarships which offer full scholarship, including meal plans, have dealt with this issue in the past and have come up with a solution for students who do not chose a meal plan. “Those students in residence halls which do not require a meal plan may receive 75% of the cost of the 21 meal plan for the purchase of food. This adjustment has no bearing on the rest of the student’s scholarship,” explained Peter M. Giumette, the Dean of Student Financial Services in an e-mail.

“The comparative value [of meal plans] is not the same for people living in Charles River and on campus,” said CA Dror Weiss ’09. “I would personally prefer monetary compensation if you’re living in a place where you don’t need a meal plan like Charles River or 567,” he said.

Currently, the Residence Life proposal includes no form of direct monetary compensation option for students.

DeCapua presented his proposal for compensation via meal plans, with potential further rewards for returning CAs, to Rick Sawyer, the Vice-President for Student Affairs and the Dean of Student Life and to Jean Eddy, the Senior Vice-President for Students and Enrollment, in preparation for budget approvals which take place in the spring.

The Board of Trustees approves the budget for the following year, and DeCapua wanted to prepare this semester to “make sure we had answers to any questions that might come up,” said DeCapua.

Although there has been a movement to increase compensation to CAs that pre-dated DeCapua’s appointment as Director of Residence Life two years ago, Residence Life chose not to focus on this issue until now.

Last year the Department of Residence Life re-structured its central staff, and created new positions for an off-campus Assistant Director, an Assistant Director for Programs and Training, and a Coordinator of Residential Operations.

DeCapua explained to The Hoot that this year he wants to continue to strengthen the Department by attracting strong leaders on campus, and providing incentive for CAs to return.

Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer declined to comment on the proposal and its contents. Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment Jean Eddy said “The proposal calls for some enhancement or stipend to what CAs already receive. My only hesitancy is how I fund the proposal. I’m working on that right now and hope to meet with the University’s Budget office about an increase to next year’s budget.”

Still, she added, “I have always been impressed with the work our CAs do, so I’m always receptive to anything that allows us to show how much we appreciate it.”

According to DeCapua, the proposed plan suggests providing increased benefits for returning CAs, but does not offer different compensation for CAs based on area they work, in part because meal plans structures are already complicated, he explained.

“If you’re a CA, you’re a CA, and no one area is more or less difficult than another. It’s students that change the CA experience, not the area. We don’t want to insinuate [by offering less compensation to those CAs] that upperclassmen don’t need as much help and support, they just require different types of support from their CAs,” said DeCapua.

Although event planning requirements differ based on which residential area a CA is placed in, as Community Advisors for first-year areas must have weekly events, whereas the expectation for CAs in upperclassmen areas is smaller, CA Andrew Eilbert ’08 agreed with DeCapua, stating, “I’m in favor of a uniform plan for all CAs.”

Eilbert, who is a third-year CA who independently researched other schools’ compensation policies after his first year as a CA said, “I can’t take credit for the idea, but I was probably the most proactive CA about actually giving [Rich] information about this and doing research on other schools’ policies… For me it wasn’t about getting more [compensation], it was about changing the system.”