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Res Life sees residents as dollar signs

Illustrated by Jennifer Kearney
By Michael Morefield
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 9, 2005
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Imagine it is your first day on campus again. Remember your parents circling the dorm while you run in and grab your housing assignment from the smiling resident assistant. After you get your room number, you cruise out to grab all your boxes (wow, you packed a lot of stuff!).

You lug your stuff, and parents, up your new hall. Following a confusing conversation with a person wearing a white polo, you realize you just met your new roommate - your RA.

The majority of you probably didn't have quite as confusing of a first day, but a significant portion of freshman moving in this year did. As of the first day of move-in, there were 96 residents assigned to temporary housing, and the blame for this debacle falls on one group - Residence Life.

Residence Life has quite a job as a self-sustaining business throughout the year, having 300 or so employees and 6,000 customers, but that does not legitimize major faults in their operations.

As a business, Residence Life does exactly what they are supposed to do; they oversell the rooms to account for freshmen who do not show up and still have the ability to fill all the rooms at the beginning of the year; it is planned, not just an oversight.

This idea has not been lost on the airline industry, but it is far from an exact science, and Residence Life understands that because of their extensive experience with overbooking.

Residence Life made a choice to be a more business-oriented operation when it concerned itself with the money it needed to make and not with the strain on students forced into temporary housing each year. Although the money does go to support programs and services for residents, the balance has been skewed too far to the side of revenue.

This overselling is absolutely counterproductive to creating a community. By living with an RA for the first couple weeks, a resident does not undergo the beginning of his or her freshman experience and doesn't settle in, because he or she can be moved within the week or month.

What comes to light is that Residence Life has chosen business acumen over building a community; they see more wallet than warm body.

Residence Life has said it before - it chooses business first. Patrick Call, the associate director of Residence Life, stated during resident assistant training, "Bottom line, Residence Life is a business."

People still see it as a business that values the freshman experience over all else, an organization that wishes to see freshmen happy and well adjusted as the first priority.

What is now more prevalent than ever is that money is what feeds this beast, not the smiles of residents. It has become a bloated bureaucracy, incapable of seeing what is truly best for the customer.

Michael Morefield

Competition drives businesses to perform to the best of their abilities. Because Residence Life has a monopoly in the on-campus housing market, it has become a sluggish leviathan, unable to see the problems that plague it.

Communication problems can be seen in Residence Life in just a simple question posed to resident assistants: Can you perform CPR if your resident requires it?

Of the five RAs who answered the question, not one was anywhere near the correct answer, but not because of a blind guess. The RAs were told during training that they were not to perform CPR on their residents, even with the "Good Samaritan Law" in effect. Their superiors advised them that even if trained, they were not to administer this life-saving procedure.

Residence Life director Jim Van Arsdel does not agree with this statement, a foreshadowing of the miscommunications that ensued. When asked, Van Arsdel could not provide an official policy because one did not exist. After contacting university administrators, his answer fell more toward a moral obligation; in other words, CPR can be administered, and the UA will support your actions.

This issue, one that handles a question of life and death of the highest priority, could not even filter down correctly. It became misconstrued through the telephone game called Residence Life bureaucracy and never reached the ears of those who could be placed in the situation.

This is just one of many instances where Residence Life works on the theories of business but becomes a bureaucratic nightmare in the process.

Is that really so bad? You can decide that for yourself when you lean over and ask your RA to stop snoring.

Mike Morefield is a political science senior. He can be reached at

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