Spending guidelines tighten for house staff

The Center for Student Engagement is asking its staff to make every penny count and cut unneeded expenses.

Tim Miller, who leads the newly created student life office, told house staff and community directors to ditch informal weekly gatherings that use cookie dough or Domino’s pizza to lure students out of their rooms.

“[A house staff member’s] weekly thing can’t just be making a dozen cookies for their residents,” Miller said. “It’s not a worthwhile expenditure.”

Instead, Miller said he wants to see larger scale, less frequent events that bring together several floors and start conversations about dealing with stress, finding internships or studying abroad, a desire that reflects a University-wide effort to better support students’ transitions in college.

House staff members – CSE’s hands on the ground in residence halls – are required to spend about 10 hours a week in their buildings with students, time that Miller said sometimes includes using baked goods or pizza to create conversations.

Miller said the office will continue the same funding for house staff’s programming budgets – the total of which CSE does not disclose.

One house staff member, speaking under the condition of anonymity because house staffers are not authorized to speak to the media, said students will continue to expect free food from their house staff members, who might in turn feel compelled to buy snacks with their own cash.

The student expressed concern that house staff could not pull off events without being able to attract students with free food.

“Unfortunately, not everyone will go out and buy cookie dough. I know I won’t have pocket money all the time, but I will do what I can,” the staffer said.

The live-in student leaders have full reins on planning events using their annual programming budget, and Miller said his team cannot feasibly check each and every staff purchase.

And Miller said he agreed there are certain times, like during the beginning of the year, when it is more difficult to grab students’ attention, and sometimes offering free food can be a draw-in for cash-strapped students.

“I’m happy to spend money if it’s going to be good for the students,” Miller said. “We will never base a decision solely on money – it will always be about the philosophy of what we’re trying to do and the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Acknowledging that house staff will face a challenge planning events without giving away food, Miller said he is intentionally giving them “a broad directive with no specifics of what to do and what not to do” so they can be more creative and cater to their students’ needs.

He added that CSE would also scrap “event quotas,” which had been in place in some halls requiring house staff to host one or two events each week. Miller said the policy too often led to “three-person events on three different floors at the same time in Thurston that each cost $30 or $40.”

Each month, the center’s staffers, who focus on students according to class years, will cater programming based on specific areas: transitions, personal development, community building, residential experience, co-curricular engagement and leadership development.

Teams for upperclassmen, for example, have planned events that take on personal development through MCAT, LSAT and GRE test prep workshops and a life skills series on buying insurance, taking out and paying off student loans, renting or owning houses and preparing for retirement.

For the remaining 30 percent of programs, the office will rely on house staff as its eyes and ears to identify where students need guidance.

–Kulsoom Jafri contributed to this report.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.