MSU is known for its sprawling campus, cold winters, and quagmire of transportation. First year students are not allowed to buy a parking pass, and the public bus system (CATA) only runs effectively on weekdays. Students who choose to bike must often navigate through large crowds, sometimes with freezing brakes, or though icy roads and sidewalks. In addition, most students have schedules that are impossible for employers to work around. Students need seasonal, part time jobs with flexible hours- a combination that makes it difficult to find jobs off campus.This leaves two options- walk long distances to work on Grand River, often in the brutal cold, to satisfy distasteful hours, or seek employment on campus.
MSU’s Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) is the largest on campus student employer. In this role, RHS acts as a stepping stone for student employees. Few intend to stay in the business for any significant amount of time- instead they see this employment as a first stop in their professional journey- a way to gain money or work experience before seeking a career that is related to their field of study.
RHS notes this, as they commonly highlight in their advertisements that on-campus employment is often the first official job for many of its employees. As a part of the college experience, RHS claims that its jobs act as a tool for students to learn how to operate within the “real” world. In the employee handbook RHS claims to “believe in a culture of learning and collaboration that empowers staff to achieve collectively far more than is possible for any one individual.” Yet, RHS fails to make efforts to teach students the valuable skills meant to come from a first job experience, such as communication and negotiation, or the formation of meaningful relationships with bosses and coworkers.
Each student employed under RHS is required to follow a set of extremely specific expectations, and failure to do so results in equally specific and systematic punishments. For example, if a new hire were to take a lunch break at the wrong time, or fail to notify a supervisor about any scheduling conflicts, they could receive a warning. If a student accumulates too many warnings, they will be reviewed for firing. These expectations are supposed to be explained during an employee orientation session.
During orientation, supervisors hand out uniforms, give a tour of the job site, and, most importantly, have new hires sign 25 pages of documentation. These documents represent the employee’s adherence to RHS procedures and policies.These sessions last two hours, and supervisors are not required to provide a physical copy of these documents. In this situation, an employee with experience may note that they will not be able to memorize all of the information covered in the 25 pages. They may ask for a copy of the document, or ask for more time to read fine print before signing. Undergraduate students with little employment experience will be much less likely to take action.
These new hires are legally adults, and thus ethically can be treated as such. But RHS, as an entity of the university (a learning institution), is uniquely aware of the vulnerability of students. This position makes them responsible for the education of their student employees. Instead of perpetuating the ignorance of these students, RHS should make efforts to counteract it. While RHS uses a procedure that is standard for many places of employment, normally these businesses employ experienced adults who have already learned how to articulate any concerns as they arise.
Instead, RHS penalizes them for their lack of knowledge. Because the majority of students employed by RHS have little job experience, they have no way to gauge which employment expectations are reasonable, and which are not. Even after determining the existence of a problem, students may not know how to confront their supervisors in order to resolve it. RHS uses this inexperience as a license to act in any manner that suits them. Because student have nowhere else to turn for employment, they can be forced to stay at RHS even if they do not feel they belong there.
RHS has a near monopoly over the MSU student employment market- this combined with their official affiliation with the university puts them in a unique position of power in relation to students employees. From this position, whether doing so knowingly or not, RHS has made student workers the victims of badly thought out policies that stunt their development. RHS should be a place to foster student growth, to do otherwise puts RHS on the verge of student exploitation.