MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENT EMPLOYEES RESPOND TO THE RHS FURLOUGHING DECISION.

Throughout the semester, Michigan State University students have faced a variety of changes and challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Most recently, over 700 students employed under the Residential and Hospitality Services received a twelve day notice that they were being furloughed and their positions would no longer be available. Naturally, this left many students feeling confused, betrayed, and angered at their situation. I had the opportunity to interview a few of the students impacted by this decision. Below, you will find their responses. 

 

How has this decision to furlough MSU student employees impacted you?

Jason Jeyakumar: “Currently, I am looking for a job but because I am an international student, I can only work on campus so my options are very limited. The options provided in the email were helpful, but truly only useful for domestic students. These past weeks have been extra stressful because of the lifestyle changes I’ve been forced to make. Since I no longer have a form of income, I have become extra frugal. I am fortunate enough to be able to pay rent for the next couple of months but many other students are not.”

 

Bryan Vi: “I was a student night receptionist for Rivertrail Neighborhood and was working around 30-35 hours a week with a 10.50/hr pay. I am also a ULA for CSE 102, but I only have about ten hours a week from that job, so the night receptionist job was my main source of income. When I got furloughed, I was pretty short on options for paying rent. Thankfully, I had savings from this summer, as well as unemployment aid and my TA job, but at the end of the day, I’m still losing a lot of money. I also have to pay tuition, so digging into my savings is making that more difficult as well.” 

 

Jordan Kovach: “On August 21, 2020, my supervisor sent an email that said, “the plan is to continue to move forward as there will still be a need for employees to run operations.” With this reassurance, I procured myself a lease in East Lansing and moved within the week. I felt I had no choice, I needed employment and I had already quit my job near my home. On September 1, 2020 my supervisor had emailed the new hires again, this time saying, “It is safe to say training will not start before Labor Day weekend, but hopefully you will get scheduled next week for your training shifts to begin.” Although he was unsure when training would start, it still seemed as though it was not going to be very long. I waited for an email from my supervisor after Labor Day. On September 9, he sent an email that basically said he did not have any additional information, but that the demand for “our divisions services” had decreased, and “staffing models are being reviewed to determine what our needs will be for the upcoming semester.” He ended this particular email by stating he understood If we needed to seek other employment for the time being. Finally, on September 21, we were sent the email that said all staff were to be furloughed within the next two weeks and so generously attached a document of some jobs hiring near East Lansing.

 

I am lucky enough to have a scholarship that is helping me pay for the lease I signed when I thought I would have a job to help me pay for it, however many of the other students who were laid off don’t have that safety net. I came up to East Lansing, moved into an apartment with girls I had never met before, moved to a city where only one of my friends were within a 100-mile-radius, and left my loved ones behind, all because I was promised employment when I got here. Now, my days are spent in my room alone staring at a computer screen for most of the day, quarantining in a city with an abundance of COVID-19 cases, and feeling increasingly isolated.”

 

How has this decision made you feel as a student as MSU?

Jason: “When RHS sent us an email providing options for jobs it felt like a slap in the face. I feel betrayed because I came back being told that I would have a job for the semester.”

 

Bryan: “From a business perspective, it makes sense that MSU would stop paying workers if they weren’t totally essential. Nevertheless, I think it shows how the administration cares about money a lot more than their students. They’re fully aware that their student employees, like me, depend on campus jobs to pay for their living expenses. What’s more, the students in the dorms, albeit a limited number of them, are paying full price for room and board but are not even getting half the amenities that they’re paying for. I don’t even know how students are supposed to get their packages, or what they’re going to do if they lose their key or student ID. Bottom line, MSU’s decision to furlough their student employees displays their lack of regard for their students’ needs.”

 

Jordan: “I was beyond excited for this position, it’s one of the best positions on campus because you get to not only help and interact with your fellow Spartans, but can also work on your studies when you have the time. I had put in my two-week the day after my offer of employment, so the decision MSU made to close campus completely blindsided me and I felt so disappointed. Although I completely understand the need to shut down campus, making a decision of that caliber cannot happen when we are that close to the beginning of the semester.” 

 

If you had the opportunity to speak directly to the administration, what would you say?

Jason: “If I could speak with administration I would simply ask for our jobs back so we may be able to support ourselves. I understand the move they made, it is sad that college has turned into a business.  I believe they can still make money without impacting our lives so drastically. In this conversation with them I would try and come up with a plan that benefits MSU as well as the students. MSU must find a way to provide for their students because many of us have travelled across countries to attend this institution in the belief that they would keep us secure. We are not asking MSU to give a handout we are simply asking to work so we may support ourselves.” 

 

Bryan: “I would ask them to at least cut me a stimulus check. I think it’s pretty apparent that they know they’re holding all the cards in this situation, because I still have to pay them for my degree, so the fact that they can just cut the pay for their students without there being much consequence is pretty telling of their administration’s ethical standards.”

 

Jordan: “Basically, I came here with the promise that I would have a job to fill my time and generate income, now my mental health has greatly suffered from sitting in the bedroom of my apartment for days on end just staring at my computer screen and my bank account has suffered from paying for living expenses that I am not generating the money to replace. I have been waiting for a month to hear about the fate of my job, MSU could have been up front about it in the first place. I do not know why MSU continues to blindside us with these decisions last minute. I hope if the administration can learn anything from this year, it is that they cannot continuously choose money over students.”

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Soon after the announcement of the furlough, the Spartan Solidarity Network began organizing students to actively advocate for the better treatment of student employees. After hosting a listening session, the group developed a list of demands on how MSU administration should proceed and have been in communication with administrators in an attempt to further their cause. Furloughed student employees looking to connect with the Spartan Solidarity Network, as well as others interested in helping those impacted, are encouraged to follow the following link: https://linktr.ee/SpartanSolidarityNetwork

 

    On a personal note, I am standing in solidarity with the student employees impacted by this decision and will be an active advocate for better treatment and more empathy from those at the university’s administration level. With what has already been a difficult year, this decision has greatly impacted the mental health, financial security, and overall well being of many students, international students more so than most. We deserve so much more.