Student workers are not pennies to be pinched

By Zoë Eitel, Editor-In-Chief

Several students are out of jobs they thought they had lined up for the Fall 2017 Semester. As reported on the Front Page, three of Columbia’s Open Labs have closed unexpectedly, leaving some student workers unable to make ends meet.

The official reason for closing the labs—33 E. Congress Parkway, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. and 618 S. Michigan Ave.—was revealed in two Sept. 5 emails, one to faculty and staff and another to students. The emails, sent by Chief Information Officer Byron Nash and Dean of the Library Jan Chindlund, cited “the effort to reimagine student spaces” and centralize labs to explain why directing students to the spaces in the Library and closing the labs will be beneficial. 

However, the students who were counting on employment with the labs—including an international student who, with her visa, can only work for the college—feel differently. These students were told they were out of work just a couple days before the closures officially happened and had no idea the change was coming. Some had already received their work schedule for the semester.

One student worker has not been told by the college that he won’t have a job this semester, as of press time. He only knew about the labs’ closures from a tweet from a coworker, as reported on the Front Page.

These closures sound less like a planned consolidation of resources and more like a last ditch effort to save some money before the school year starts, especially because of the lateness of the announcement. The fact that the emails were sent on the same day as the closures and the signs on the formerly Open Labs’ closed doors only said the labs were closed “today” is emblematic of that. 

It’s no secret that Columbia is not in the best place financially; the steadily increasing tuition and decreasing student resources illustrate that. But eliminating student jobs is an extreme measure and should be a last resort. Closing these spaces affects the lives of student workers who have tuition, rent and living expenses to cover. They thought they wouldn’t have to worry about finding a new source of income this semester—including some who didn’t bother to work this summer because they thought they would have steady employment in the fall.

Director of the Career Center Eric Wordlow said he has reached out to the students who were let go from the Open Labs to attempt to place them in other on-campus jobs—except for the student who has yet to hear from the college about his lost job—but the damage is done, and the trust is long gone. How long will it be before those students have to find other employment again when their new jobs are eliminated? Columbia is eventually going to run out of jobs for students who have been displaced.

This isn’t the first time students have been let go unexpectedly from on-campus jobs they thought they had. In August and September 2015, about six students who had been hired in Columbia’s Film Cage—and had begun the necessary employment processing paperwork—were emailed and told their positions were no longer available to them for the semester, as reported Sept. 21, 2015, by The Chronicle. Budget cuts to the former Cinema Art and Science Department were cited as the reason behind the un-hirings.

Columbia cannot balance its budget on the backs of student workers. Their livelihood cannot be seen as less important than having a centralized lab or cutting costs. Though it may seem like just closing a couple doors and consolidating space, these changes affect real people who need to be considered and consulted in these decisions Columbia continues to make.