File illustration by Catherine Buchaniec
Over 30 student workers were fired Friday from their positions in the Northwestern University Information Technology department amid a reorganization of the NUIT Service Desk and University budget constraints.
Earlier last week, University President Morton Schapiro detailed the University’s precarious financial situation in an email to members of the NU community, sparking concern among some students participating in the Federal Work-Study Program.
During Spring Quarter, a large number of work-study students were laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. To combat the lack of income, the University paid students their Spring Quarter wages up to their annual maximum allotment under guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. NU work-study awards range from $2,200 to $3,300 for the academic year.
SESP senior Kim Sloan was one of few students who were able to continue their work remotely. As a lead consultant for the NUIT Service Desk, Sloan served as the first line of contact for members of the NU community looking for technology assistance.
Last week, Sloan watched as four full-time staff members, including her direct supervisor, Lynne Jeffers, were let go from the department. That’s when Sloan said she started to grow worried.
“It was interesting because they informed us they had fired (Jeffers) on Wednesday,” Sloan said. “They made a big deal about having a face-to-face meeting to tell us they had fired our boss who we all universally adored.”
At the meeting, Sloan said she asked what the department reshuffling meant for student workers, but Sloan said she did not receive a clear answer.
Despite working for the department for three years, Sloan’s fears were confirmed when she received an email while she was remotely working for the Desk on Friday that the department had made the “difficult decision to transition support from students to full-time employees, effective August 31, 2020.”
“It was just so shocking, frustrating and disillusioning,” Sloan said.
In addition to citing University budget pressures, the email said change is necessary to maintain the Desk’s high level of service to the community and to mitigate challenges that resulted from the shift to remote work.
Although Sloan’s job with NUIT was a normal position over the summer, during the school year, she is a work-study student. Despite the inclusion of work-study in many students’ financial aid packages, some students, including Sloan, have voiced concerns about the lack of remote or socially-distanced work-study opportunities.
“I don’t see huge potential for finding another work-study job amid all of this,” Sloan said. “I’m not sure what else I can do remotely or safely.”
McCormick senior Spencer Colton also received the Friday email from NUIT, alerting him to the change in his work-study employment. Previously, Colton held two positions in the NUIT department, both of which he anticipated to continue in the fall. Now, he only has one source of income for the fall.
“I always felt like I had a home at NUIT and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do,” Colton said. “The email just felt very cold and unfeeling.”
Colton added that he opted to take out more loans as part of his financial aid package to assist with his fall expenses.
While 30 remote work-study positions are listed on the University’s work-study webpage as of Tuesday night, the page stated that “job postings will become available on this site in mid-August and will continue to be added throughout the school year.”
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— Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid to pay Spring Quarter work-study funds
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