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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis proposes new volunteer tour guide program

Published: September 13, 2013
Section: Front Page, News

A new program has been proposed through the Office of Admissions to create a volunteer tour guide position. The university will no longer be paying tour guides after this semester, but will instead create additional volunteer opportunities to assist with the Admissions Office.

The proposal was discussed by Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment, Andrew Flagel. It was said that current tour guides will continue to be paid through the end of this semester, but next semester it will become a volunteer-only position.

“The model of tour guides as employees with payments per tour has not yet been abolished, but it is prudent that we explore and question whether this is the right model for Brandeis,” Flagel wrote in an email to The Hoot.

Flagel wrote that with increased applications and a higher volume of students going on tours, there is a need for more tour guides. He explained that one option would be to increase the budget, but that his preferred option would be to cut costs and expand the program by making it entirely volunteer-staffed.

“We have begun exploring how we best do that without significantly expanding your costs, while still honoring any commitments to our current tour guides,” Flagel wrote.

A Brandeis alumna who previously worked in Admissions, Savannah Pearlman ’12, responded that she disagreed with the premise of the new program. As for the cost of the program, each tour guide is paid approximately $10 for each tour. On off-season months, the cost is about $30 a day, while on peak season months, near application deadlines and acceptance notifications, the cost may be around $80 per day, at the maximum.

Pearlman wrote that it “seems to be a very small fee on the part of the tour guide for the years of volunteer work and grooming they go through.”

When asked how many tours were given per year and how large the current budget is, the Office of Admissions did not provide a numerical response. Director of Admissions Jennifer Walker wrote, “The number of tours we give each year varies depending on the number of visitors and the number of tour guides, but we host thousands of guests on campus every year. The cost of expanding tours will depend on how many are added and at what size and structure.”

Students have differing opinions on the proposal. Benjamin Hill ’14 expressed that he understood the need for more students, but felt that choosing to discontinue payment was the wrong approach. “Expansion can’t be done for free. More workers cost more money. That’s a simple fact of running an organization. It is unfair to new recruits to the tour guide program to ask them to work for free while others around them collect a paycheck,” he wrote in an email.

“It is against the ‘rock’ of social justice that President Lawrence articulated [in his inaugural address] for salaried management to tell wage workers that there is no more money to pay them, even if there is still money to pay the management,” Hill wrote.

Fallon Bushee ’16, a current student ambassador, was unconcerned with the change. “For me the satisfaction of the job comes from showing people a place I’m really proud of and really passionate about. And if I can make a family’s college search even a little bit easier or more pleasant, that’s all that really matters to me. Being paid was just an added bonus,” she wrote.

Although the pay is unnecessary for some, others are incentivized to give tours because of the monetary benefit. “I know that I probably wouldn’t have gotten up at 8am on a Saturday or led that tour through the rain or snow if not for that extra motivation,” Pearlman wrote.

The new programs intend to increase the number of student volunteers. Flagel explained that incoming first-year students, chosen based on their high school activities and transcripts, had been contacted and asked to participate in the new program. “A starting point in that process has been nominating some of our best first year and transfer students to help us explore a new model of student ambassador/guide,” he wrote.

Since students were required to volunteer first as a chatter or host, before submitting an application and having an interview, Pearlman indicated that the program was strong. “We had the ability to only choose those who would represent Brandeis best because they needed to be “hired,”” she wrote.

Discussions of the change began last May, but current tour guides were not notified of the proposal until the beginning of this semester.

In the past, first-year students have not been easily able to be hired as tour guides because they lack the experience of older students, and do not have the same stories to share with prospective students. Bushee wrote in defense of younger guides, however. “Brandeis students obviously have a wide range of different interests, so it’s good to have ambassadors who represent the wide range of ways people can get involved here,” she wrote.

There is no set date for when the changes will officially take place. “We will continue to explore the best possible model for our students and visitors and the timeline for any changes will depend on how we decide to implement them,” Walker said.

Flagel also mentioned a potential change in the way tours are run, or how tour guides may be evaluated. “It is possible, however, that we’re not entirely consistent in tour quality, and in that case we should unpack how we’re doing them and how we can work together to make them everything that Brandeis deserves,” Flagel wrote.