Officials from Michigan State University’s Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) Human Resources issued a letter on Sept. 21 to more than 700 MSU student employees, indicating they would be furloughed until further notice staring Oct. 4. The letter said their services were not needed due to fewer residents living on campus, but they could possibly be rehired later in the school year.
The furlough left many of these MSU students searching for work off-campus at a time when local businesses are struggling to remain afloat due to the pandemic. Almost no in-person courses – which led to fewer students living on campus and the furloughs among RHS student employees – have meant fewer students, staff, and faculty crossing Grand River to patronize shops and restaurants.
The decision to furlough students was made by Senior Vice President for Residential and Hospitality Services and Auxiliary Enterprises Vennie Gore, who oversees RHS.
Gore explained that RHS is a self-sustaining department, so the decision to cancel in-person classes had a domino effect that directly impacted its revenue. Consequently, RHS has issued $75 million in refunds to students, which explains why it has less than 12 percent of its normal annual revenue.
“I could have included student staff in that conversation because the full-time staff also understood that there would be the possibility [of a furlough],” Gore said. “So I own that I could have had that conversation with them.”
Some students anticipated the furlough.
For Jenna Carlisle, an MSU sophomore studying human capital and society, she anticipated a possible furlough for student employees.
Carlisle said that she first considered working the front desk at a residence hall in the summer. However, with the uncertainty of students coming back to MSU at the time, she instead took a job off campus.
When Carlisle was offered a position as a crew member at Cold Stone Creamery in East Lansing, she immediately accepted the offer, working with several students from MSU and Lansing Community College.
“I just was happy to have the security of knowing I have [the job] and not having to worry about finding employment,” Carlisle said.
Carlisle said she was especially glad she did not accept a job in a residence hall at MSU, since many of the furloughed workers were residential hall workers.
But others were left to scramble looking for work.
Andrew Sanford is a junior at MSU studying marketing and has worked as a team sales lead at Rally House, a sports retail store in East Lansing since July, after he realized it would be difficult to acquire a marketing internship.
Sanford said that other than management, Rally House employs mostly MSU students and in the last month Rally House received many student applications, which seemed to correlate with the furlough.
“Especially with Michigan State furloughing a lot of students with on campus jobs, we’ve had a lot of uptake in applications,” Sanford said. “But it is a pretty student heavy job at least for the lower tiers of employment.”
Liliana Chappell is a sophomore at MSU studying business who has worked at TJ Maxx in Frandor after many of her classes became asynchronous, giving her more time to work.
Chappell said that about 20 of her colleagues are student employees, which is about a quarter of the entire staff. She said that several student employees have been recently hired for the holiday season, since TJ Maxx expects to have more customers.
The failure to consult student employees left some feeling trapped.
Arianna Pittenger, an MSU senior studying sociology, women and gender studies and global and international studies, was skeptical to work on campus and return to her job as a front desk worker at the 1855 Place, which is where the RHS main office is located. However, her supervisor assured her that she was needed, as only three of the 10 student employees were returning.
Pittenger said that when she was furloughed, she was very frustrated because she still had a housing contract and would have otherwise stayed at home because she is immunocompromised.
“It really felt that we were told to come back just to help the university with move-in, and the furlough has really affected me financially,” Pittenger said.
Pittenger said she did not pursue a job off campus and recently moved home.
International students face additional restrictions on off-campus employment.
Ela Matsika, a Michigan State University senior studying accounting, remains upset after being furloughed from her position as a Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) supervisor in the South Neighborhood, nestled between Shaw Lane and Trowbridge Road.
Matsika said that it is already a difficult time to look for a job, and she questioned why MSU administration did not communicate the possibility of a furlough earlier.
“The minute they said in-person has been canceled, it should have registered with management strategy in August that less people are going to be coming on campus,” Matsika said. “Now if we are offering a low capacity, what’s the ripple effect in regard to facility occupancy at the front desk.”
As an international student, Matsika said a furlough notice in advance would have allowed her to apply for a job off campus sooner, since international students have to first seek authorization from the MSU Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) to work off campus. But OISS can only grant requests for jobs that relate to a student’s major due to visa restrictions, so it meant she could not immediately apply for any job off campus, which the RHS furlough letter suggested.
Matsika initially took the furlough personally. “When you work for a particular company or organization, you do want to know that you’re valued and so the decision to furlough us on such short notice made it feel that we were easy to let go of and dispose of,” she said.
Matsika did add that she has been hired back for a few hours of work a week in late October.
The Associated Students of Michigan State (ASMSU) recently passed a program to allow furloughed students to apply for a $50 gift card for groceries and other needs, which is a possible temporary solution for students such as Matsika and Pettinger, but it comes a month and a half after they were let go from work with little warning.
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