Residence assistants (RAs) at Mount Allison deal with various responsibilities to ensure the safety and well-being of students. They can be seen studying with an open door, consoling a fellow student, or cleaning vomit from a bathroom stall. They are also paid far less than comparable Atlantic universities.
An ongoing Mount Allison Students’ Union committee, which started two years ago, has raised questions as to the fairness of current RA compensation rates. Heather Webster, vice-president, campus life for the students’ union, was a part of the committee.
This year, after concentrating her work on the executive positions during the first semester, she has shifted her focus to the RAs, and is currently working on a new report, which is scheduled for release in the coming weeks. The report compiles quotes from current and former RAs, and includes external data regarding the RA situation at other universities, such as what their duties include and their compensation rates.
The report highlights the job description of the RAs in various schools. The report aims to shed light on this issue for the university, which has justified its RA compensation by pointing to workload.
“We could cut the number in half and pay the remaining few a higher stipend like other universities do, but our philosophy has always been to have more students trained and have them work fewer hours,” said Michelle Strain, Mt. A’s director of administrative services.
The higher compensation of other schools correlates with the RA to student ratio. Strain pointed to the ratio as evidence of a lighter workload.
“We have a very student-centred focus at Mount Allison,” Strain said. “The ratio of residence staff to students living in residence is one of the lowest in Canada at 1:15. Other universities are more than double at 1:35, 1:40, and as high as 1:50. So ours is very, very good.”
The compensation rate for RAs at Mt. A is $2,400, and $2,500 for senior RAs. While the RAs at Mt. A receive forty per cent of their pay at the start of each term and the remaining twenty per cent at the end of the year in cash, some universities, like St. Francis Xavier, give their RAs biweekly and vacation pay. St. FX has an RA to student ratio of 1:28.
New RAs at St. FX are given $5,200, while second-year RAs receive $5,800, and third-year RAs receive $6,300. Acadia University has an RA to student ratio of 1:19. RAs at Acadia are compensated with a free, private room and $1,500 toward their meal plans. Hall directors at Acadia are given $7,700. Bishop’s University has an RA to student ratio of 1:27. RAs at Bishop’s receive a salary of $5,100.
The apparent salary gap between Mt. A RAs and those of other Atlantic universities has encouraged the university to take some measures to improve RA compensation.
Next year, returning RAs will receive an $800 pay increase. According to the university, this change will entice more returning RAs, thus making a stronger team and a more welcoming residence experience.
“It means that more of our students have the opportunity for leadership training as all residence staff have great training and skill building,” Strain said. “Many more of our students have the opportunity to contribute as leaders in their residences and be role models for new students.”
Strain notes that they seek to recognize the returning students for their ability to “hit the ground running,” and hopes that in doing so they will have a more central role as a leader to those who are new to the role of RA.
Mt. A requires that all RAs have a single room, which can cost up to $800 more than a standard double room. This means that the wage increase, which will only affect returning RAs, will only cover the additional cost of their required room.
One of the main obstacles in changing RA compensation lies in the willingness of students to fill the position.
“The dilemma,” Webster notes, “Is that why would the university increase what they pay RAs when they still have people applying? Except for the fact that it’s wrong.”
RAs have pointed to reasons other than pay for their pursuit of the position.
Hunton RA Brandon Williams said that he would have considered an RA position regardless of pay.
“There are so many intangibles that come with it that you can’t put money on,” Williams said.
Harper RA D’Arcy Blunston said that Mt. A encourages the pursuit of such positions for their intrinsic values.
“I think that’s one of the big things at Mt. A,” Blunston said. “The students doing volunteer positions, RA jobs, and exec jobs, they don’t do it because they get a stipend at the end of the year, they do it because they really have a desire to be involved in the community.”
This year, the university has focused on alternative issues that could impact student life on campus.
The university is considering compensating the position of eco rep, as well as hiring a second academic mentor for each residence as a way of improving life on campus and enticing more students to return to residence, rather than seek out off-campus housing.
“The people in Student Life who are responsible for residence life are very supportive of this initiative as they can expand programming and services to students in residence,” Strain said.
According to the university, budgetary concerns prevent larger changes to the residence system.
The money necessary to fund RA compensation comes from accommodation fees paid by on-campus students. The same fees also serve to cover the expenses for other staff members, utilities, maintenance, renovations, and equipment. Each year the residence budget is examined as part of the university’s renewal process.
“When costs go up, then the accommodation fees have to increase to cover the additional costs,” Strain said.
Some RAs insist that their compensation should be fair, regardless of the cost to the university.
“It’s a twenty-four hour job, and I think the pay should reflect that,” Williams said.
Webster said she hopes that the report’s findings will encourage the university to get on board, something that she notes students on campus already seem to favour.