Student Employment Doesn't Pay
Bankrupted by Bureaucracy's Blunders
Monday, September 13th, 2010
Klein spent some of July and most of August without receiving a single paycheck. Klein, like all university student workers, turns in his timesheet to the student employment office at the end of every two-week pay cycle.
In late July, he discovered that he never received his bi-weekly direct deposit. Normally, SEO notifies students when they’re missing paperwork so they can resubmit and still get paid on time. Klein received no notice.
Klein’s supervisor turned his sheets in along with the departments other student workers, but SEO claimed they never received it.
Klein felt lost in the bureaucratic maze. “The process was so Kafka-esque,” Klein said. “It’s impossible to access.”
Klein lived off tips he earned working at Pies ‘n’ Thighs, a southern cooking restaurant in Williamsburg. It was enough to live on, but not much else. For the first time, Klein paid his phone and credit card bills late.
“I also could not pay my roommate back for our electrical bill for several weeks,” Klein said.
If one timesheet is misplaced, a student goes for an entire month without pay. Checks are delivered every two weeks at the end of each pay cycle. Students don’t find out they’ve missed a pay check until the end of the next pay cycle if SEO doesn’t tell them to resubmit it. It then takes another two weeks for the initial check to arrive.
Over the summer, Klein, along with many other work study students in at least three different departments across The New School, reported that they had been missing pay with increasing frequency. Students interviewed for this article said SEO had never before given them problems until now.
A rigid adherence to rules, poor communication and understaffing have made it so that the work study program is unable to operate effectively.
The work study program is overseen by three different departments at the university--the financial aid office, payroll and human resources, each managing a different part of the process.
Students and supervisors say the problems stem from SEO, a department within the financial aid office. Students and supervisors both say that after they submit documents SEO misplaces them.
Eileen Doyle, the university’s assistant vice president for student financial services, acknowledged that problems in payment exist. Doyle said, however, that the delays stem from two issues.
A new fiscal year began July 1, so work study students had to resubmit all their documents to re-qualify. “Updated paperwork is required, which can affect processing time,” she said.
Doyle also acknowledged that the university could improve coordination between the three departments that oversee the work study program.
During the summer, three administrators quit their positions in the financial services department. Some staff speculate that these departures may have contributed to the problems.
The New School maintains that the two issues aren’t related. “Staff turnover varies from year to year,” Doyle said. “The number was greater than usual this year.” Doyle the added that the two issues are distinct.
Because work study is a form of need-based financial aid, the students who can least afford to be are often the most effected when checks are delayed. While many are still partially assisted by their parents, others, like Klein, are entirely independent and live off what they earn or can borrow.
Like Klein, Maryam Hosseini, a Parsons senior, only discovered her missing pay after checking her account balance online. When she visited SEO, a staff member told her that Hosseini hadn’t turned in another document, but did have her timesheet. Hosseini tried to explain how that couldn’t be the case because both were submitted together.
Again, as with Klein, Hosseini wasn’t able to resubmit the documents in time to get paid. “They don’t tell you you’re not getting paid, missing a form,” Hosseini said. “Nothing. No explanation.”
Students who have visited SEO to fix pay problems say the staff is reluctant to deviate from rules. They won’t write students off-cycle checks. Klein only received an off-cycle check after emailing both Faridah Jivani, assistant director of financial services, and Eileen Doyle, work study point person and her supervisor.
Doyle said the university recognizes the problem. “The three departments involved have been in conversation regarding improving the way the process works with an eye toward reducing the burden of paperwork for students and administrators,” she said.
Although only in the initial stages, she said that efforts to fix the problems have begun. “We have just started conversations about these challenges and possible changes to the process,” she said. “It is premature to articulate a list of possible improvements.”
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