Residence Don raises concerns about new contract

Draft document seeks to implement weekend office hours

Residence dons are concerned about draft contract.
Journal File Photo

After being presented with a revised contract for the 2020-21 year, residence dons have raised concerns about new revisions and the drafting process.

The Journal spoke with Aaron—a don whose name has been changed to protect his identity—about the new contract.

“I have been talking to the majority of my friends who are dons,” he said. “The changes [ResLife] is implementing make the don role significantly worse.”

A new provision introduced in the 2020-21 contract is the expectation that dons maintain regular weekly office hours for students from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. on either Friday or Saturday nights. While Aaron acknowledges the purpose of provision is to give students an opportunity to reach out to their dons, he sees a complication with it.

“Dons are usually involved in different facets of the University,” Aaron said, adding many dons are concerned with how this will affect their other commitments and the time they plan to devote to those activities.

“Dons have a life,” Aaron pointed out. “There seems to be a misconception with students that dons are always there, present, around and working. Dons are students, too.”

In a written statement to The Journal, Residence Life Manager (operations) Becky Shillington said updates were made to the don job description and contract this year in response to changing student and departmental needs.

“We employed a consultative process, where multiple stakeholders had the chance to offer input.  We believe that the updates to the job description increase the structure and transparency of the role, allowing for applicants to have a clear sense of the requirements, those hired into the role to better manage their time, and for an overall more consistent student experience in residence,” she said.

Aaron also thinks the timing of these office hours is flawed. “It’s a Friday or Saturday night, students don’t want to talk to their don. They want to talk during the school week,” Aaron said. “Having two dons on call is more than enough.”

At a ResLife town hall on Nov. 21, the weekend office hours were explained. “The explanation alluded to the fact that even if we’re not on call on a Friday or Saturday night, these office hours mean we’re still on call,” Aaron said.

At the town hall, Aaron said dons were told having all the dons in the building during high conduct times will decrease the chance of damage to University property.

Aaron sees this as a flawed solution. “There’s campus security for a reason,” he points out. “If broken ceiling tiles are such an issue, they need better prevention and security cameras. The hallways are a public space. Why does it have to be dons?”

Shillington confirmed an increased don presence in residence buildings is designed to decrease damage to University property.

“These are our peak nights for student activity in residence, where increased noise and damage is reported by students to be detrimental to their overall experience in residence,” she wrote. “An increased don presence in buildings and communities during these times will help to better manage building norms and behaviour, create more opportunities to informally resolve behaviour issues, and will help to improve the student experience.”

Aaron also raised concerns about how dons are now required to conduct room checks in December and April before students leave residence. April room checks were introduced late in the winter term last year, and “caused a lot of strife,” according to Aaron. “Now they want us to do December as well.”

Aaron sees multiple problems with the proposed December room checks. “It’s exam season, the most stressful time of year for every single student, and everybody’s ending schedule is different.”

Another clause Aaron highlighted as problematic was that dons must perform any additional duties as directed by Residence Life staff. This clause was in the 2019-20 contract as well.

“I understand why this is in the contract,” Aaron said. “But how does anybody feel confident that, with all these changes, there won’t be more duties put on us at the last minute, especially during pivotal times?”

In her statement to The Journal, Shillington wrote that clause is standard employment contract language that allows for duties to be changed or added based on urgent/emergent issues. 

“The don contract also states that hours of work will be 25 to 30 hours on average, which gives employees an idea of the time commitment of the role,” she said.

He saw the disconnect between current dons and ResLife as problematic. “A lot of students need and love this job. No matter what happens, they’re going to reapply. The negatives are there, but when you need housing and are passionate about the job, you can overlook it,” Aaron said. “But that’s the problem: how much can [ResLife] push?”

Aaron said the dons he has spoken with are equally frustrated with the draft contract. “The general feeling right now is that this contract has a lot of ability to be exploited,” he said. “We’re all just waiting to see what happens next.”

“A lot of dons are tired and completely done with this situation. It’s been ongoing for two years now.”


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