McGill Residences’ hall director restructuring draws criticism

Fall 2014 will see the implementation of a new hall director structure in the McGill Residences system.

The changes to residence operation mark a shift from the current format, where one part-time director oversees each residence, to a system where full-time administrators each will serve groups of multiple residences. Hall directors currently serve as both  faculty or staff at the university, as well as disciplinary officers and supervisors for floor fellows within residences.

According to Managing Director of Residences Life and Customer Relations Janice Johnson, the change, announced first in November 2013, comes as a result of students’ increasing needs and a difficulty retaining directors.

“One of the really great advances of our age is that there’s been so much improvement in mental health support for people,” Johnson said. “So students are coming to McGill—and not just residences—with greater needs around support than they have in the past.”

Since current hall director positions are part-time, switching to full-time directors would help adapt to increasing needs, according to Johnson.

“We have more behavioral issues in residences, we have more discipline cases in residences,” Johnson said. “There is more intervention required in residences [….] That sucks up a lot of hall directors’ time.”

The new model is currently being piloted in a group of three residences—one director is responsible for Royal Victoria College (RVC), Carrefour Sherbrooke, and Varcity515. Next year, the model will be expanded to all residences.

Sean Reginio, a floor fellow at RVC since Fall 2011, said he has experienced both the old and new models.

“When a director is responsible for three buildings, the chance that an emergency is going to occur on a Saturday night in more than one building is quite high,” Reginio said. “So it leaves floor fellows in a really vulnerable position where they won’t have that base support.”

Reginio also reported that the relationship between floor fellows and hall directors has become less personal since the transition.

“Under the current model, one director has to bond with upwards of 20 floor fellows instead of five, six, or seven,” he said. “So it makes it really difficult to bond within your own team and with the director, and that sets the precedent for the entire year, making it harder for the floor fellow to reach out to that director.”

The new model was developed by Johnson in consultation with current Hall Director and Senior Advisor on Residence Life Programs Ria Rombough, and other colleagues at conferences on student housing. Although it has been approved by both Deputy Provost (Student Living and Learning) Ollivier Dyens and Provost Anthony Masi, members of the McGill residences community have expressed concern regarding a lack of consultation in making the change.

“[We were notified] the week before finals started,” said  one floor fellow, who asked to remain anonymous. “It was a deliberate decision to exclude floor fellows from consultation until a decision was made [….] The only reasonable way to justify why they wouldn’t want our feedback is either because they legitimately think it’s not valuable [… or] that they wanted to ignore the information that we were going to bring to the table in their decision.”

According to Reginio, consultation with floor fellows could have led to the consideration of other options that would not have resulted in removal of the hall director position.

“If we’re having issues recruiting directors, instead of proposing that we change the director model, maybe we should improve on recruitment tactics,” Reginio said. “Many floor fellows have gotten the impression that our recruitment tactics for directors are really, really lacking, and not very effective.”

In the reorganized model, McGill faculty would no longer have the opportunity to serve as

hall directors, but would have the option of applying to become a Faculty-Mentor-in-Rez. According to the McGill student housing website, faculty in the new position would commit to engaging with the student community a certain number of times during their stay in residence.

Brenda Shanahan, former hall director of New Residence Hall and staff member of the university, acknowledged a growing demand for such services but argued in favour of alternative ways to address it.

“At my time in the residence hall, I recognized that there was a need for increasing professional resources,” Shanahan said. “It was unrealistic to expect part-time hall directors to deal with the full range of problems that were occurring. That being said, it seemed to me that the answer was not to eliminate those who were hall directors […] but to increase professional resources available in the residence life office, in the counselling office.”

Despite criticism, Johnson said that the new model would be moving forward. She encouraged members of the McGill community to join an implementation workgroup, which will decide on specific details of the new model.

“What halls do we group together? What does a Faculty-Mentor-in-Rez do versus what does a hall director do?” she said. “These are the kinds of things we want to think about; that’s the kind of stuff that the stakeholders need to help figure out in this.”

Still, floor fellows expressed concern with the precedent that such a lack of consultation would set. Reginio spoke on possible discussions that floor fellows intended to have in the future.

“We must sacrifice our time to discuss ways in which we can protect the residence system that we believe in,” Reginio said. “This time has proven to be quite taxing, but floor fellows are still eager to push for what is best for our students.”

 

Full disclosure: Carolina Millán Ronchetti, Editor-in-Chief, is a floor fellow at New Residence Hall. 

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