The University finally confirmed today that halls wardens (Resident Support Assistants) will be replaced as of next academic year. The decision, first proposed in February, will come as no surprise to many involved in the consultation process who feel that they have been let down by the University.
Wardens will be replaced by a Resident Support Service, non-university based staff who will be in halls nightly and live externally. Issues have been raised with this system throughout the consultation process. Living in halls allows wardens to form friendships and become part of the community. They can consistently follow up problems and have been an essential part of helping many vulnerable, depressed and disabled students through the sometimes daunting experience of starting University. The loss of empathy and community spirit that will come with the new system, more closely modelled on security staff, is undoubtedly going to have a huge knock on effect on the well being of these students.
The announcement was made at a public meeting in the Murray building tonight. The mood among the staff who attended was downbeat, a stark contrast to the fiery, passionate atmosphere that had characterised previous meetings. Many boycotted the meeting in protest against the ineffectiveness of the consultation process to take their concerns into account.
Indeed, much of what was said tonight was a repeat of the arguments made by the University and rejected by staff in previous meetings. However there were some new revelations, as finally, the real motivation behind the decision seemed to be revealed. Lawrence Barber described the change as “a big, big money decision for the University” when talking about the potential to rent out the 90 rooms currently occupied by wardens. The fact that the University has failed to fill all the rooms in halls of residence this year was dismissed.
The issue of potentially contracting support services out to a private company was also mentioned, something which Gail McFarlane of the University College Union immediately flagged up as a potential hidden motivation behind the University’s decision.
It was also accepted by the University representatives that they had been in breach of minimum wage legislation for several months of the consultation process, something which may result in future legal action.
While the representatives of the University assured the Wessex Scene that providing students with the best possible service was their paramount concern, a survey taken by wardens last month indicates that students strongly support the current system.
One member of the wardenal team who wished to remain anonymous made this comment,
“We have felt antagonised since the beginning of the consultation process and a lot of us believe there has been a lack of transparency from their part. They do not seem to realise that this is not just a job for us, this is our home, and for some it’s even their way of life. By sacking us, they are making many of us move, as we cannot afford the rent fees and in some cases even putting in danger the continuation of our studies. Some members of the team have been very distressed about the whole situation, and to make matters worse, those conducting the consultation and taking steps which are emotionally difficult for us, are the same which are supposed to be caring for our wellbeing.
In the end we may be dispensable, but the students coming in next year, and the year after that, are not. We hope they haven’t made a huge mistake, as the freshers are going to be the ones affected by these changes, and the ones who may potentially have to suffer the consequences”
Ultimately tonight’s decision is plain and simple bad news for both staff and students. Comments have consistently demonstrated the tremendous impact wardens have made on the lives of many students. While that is apparently not appreciated by management, it is deeply appreciated within the student body.