Threats by administration complicate work for student employees
As United Student Government and other student organizers collect testimonials concerning issues of censorship, many compelling voices have come forward. This is a letter from a Resident Assistant:
First, I want to make absolutely certain that my testimonial will be anonymous. I believe that this is a very important issue, and I am happy to contribute, but I do not want to jeopardize my job security as a Resident Assistant by publishing a publicly-signed testimonial.
RAs, as students who are employed (and can be fired) by the University, are frequently faced with freedom of speech issues at Fordham. While it is usually not said outright, it is common knowledge that RAs can be, and have been, fired for making statements and taking actions which administrators find objectionable.
For example, while no RAs were officially “fired” following the incidences of bias last year and the End the Silence movement which came out of it, many RAs feel that several individuals were not rehired due to their involvement in the End the Silence campaign. These individuals were otherwise regarded as good employees and were widely considered to be in good standing with the Office of Residential Life–until End the Silence.
This suspicion was confirmed at Fall Training when a high-ranking administrator gave 90 or so RAs for the 2012-2013 academic year a strong warning. He alluded very generally to the “incident” last year (by which he meant the bias incidents and the End the Silence campaign) and then lectured the RAs on what he called “professionalism.” This administrator told the RAs that he felt it was very unprofessional to criticize your boss, and that doing so would, and should, get you fired. His scolding could be taken as nothing less than an unapologetic attempt to intimidate all RAs into keeping their mouths shut.
I understand that slandering the institution for which you work could get you fired. I do not, however, think that challenging your institution to grow and respectfully speaking out against injustice should put your job security in jeopardy. Keeping your mouth shut in the face of injustice is not acting “professionally.” Intimidating your employees into not speaking out against injustice is not acting “professionally.” As members of the Fordham community and as student leaders, RAs should have an obligation to respectfully criticize the university when it is in the wrong. A professional would not stand aside quietly as they witness their institution do something with which they disagree. They should not have to cower quietly in the corner for the sake of keeping their jobs.
This administrator’s act of intimidation is merely the most outward expression of an attitude that is widely held toward RAs by many (though certainly not all) administrators. RAs are repeatedly told that they are professionals and must act as such, but they are not treated as professionals. RAs must feel comfortable in their job security in order to fulfill their role as student leaders. Thoughtful and constructive criticism should not compromise an RA’s employment status. Leaders should be encouraged to critique the University when necessary. RAs, like most other students, love Fordham. Criticism is a way to start discussion and grow, and RAs should be able to participate in this process.
I sincerely hope that you will take the RAs into consideration as you deliberate on the issue of free speech at Fordham. We must shore up the mutual trust between RAs and administrators. If the administration and student leaders can work together to create a policy that protects RAs and ensures their exercise of free speech on campus, everyone will benefit in the long run.