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Editorial Board: Three proposals in staff selection, row staffing and resident fellow feedback

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SELECTION 101:

The selection process, that is, the process by which residences select their staff members for the next academic year, is notoriously rigorous. The process begins in early January and extends into March, when offers are made. The weeks in between are packed with interviews and ambiguities, as houses “drop” some applicants — without their knowledge — and continue to pursue others. In Residential Education’s eyes, this system is, in large part, effective. For students, however, selection is stressful, opaque and, in some cases, unfair. What follows are the Editorial Board’s recommendations for selection reform.

Selection begins with an event dubbed Selection 101, during which applicants have the chance to meet current staff and resident fellows from a large sampling of houses. The event is marketed as optional (informational, in fact), but it’s unclear what impact conversations held at Selection 101 have on staffing decisions. Some dorms, for instance, ask staff members to provide formal comments on applicants before the interview process begins, and interactions at Selection 101, good or bad, factor into and can even define these remarks. Of course, this is open to debate. Yet, as a student it’s hard to avoid the thought that, if you make an impression at Selection 101, you’re bound to be better off in the remainder of the selection process. Our recommendation: Eliminate Selection 101, and create a more neutral program (a panel, for instance) or a program that recognizes Selection 101 for what it is, a schmooze-fest (resident fellow open houses, perhaps).

After Selection 101 concludes, students must fill out and submit their written applications. These applications include general prompts (for all dorms) and more specific prompts (for dorms that choose to ask additional questions). These “supplements” are arduous and could easily be eliminated, but they provide an early glimpse into RF mindsets. We recognize that RF autonomy is to an extent something to be respected, however. So, for the time being, we’ll leave this stone unturned.

After applications, the interview process commences. This, dear reader, is where selection gets confusing. There are, as a rule of thumb, two rounds of interviews for a large percentage of dorms. The first interview is conducted in a group setting with other applicants present (approximately an hour), and the second is a one-on-one interaction (approximately 10-15 minutes, depending on the RF). There is, however, a ridiculous amount of variation between dorms. Some only have one round of interviews. Some flip the group/individual model, conducting group interviews second. Some invite a select few applicants to first-round interviews. Some indiscriminately invite all applicants to first rounds. Some send out interview invitations in waves over the course of a few weeks. And some send them out all at once, on the first night that they can.

The common thread: None send out rejections when they no longer wish to pursue you.

The unfortunate result is that most applicants have no idea where they stand in the selection process at any given time. They ask their friends about the houses from which they’ve heard back. They compulsively check the selection website. They ask other applicants in interviews. It’s a puzzle, figuring out whether or not you still stand a chance of getting a job. And there is simply no closure until staffing decisions are finalized (a week or so after initial offers are made).

Of course, there are reasons for the smoke and mirrors: Dorms don’t send out rejections because, oftentimes, during matching (at the end of the selection process), RFs don’t fill all of their open positions. So, not having rejected anyone formally, RFs have the ability to reach out to anyone applicant with whom they had contact (even an applicant they never interviewed). As for the confusion that defines the interview process, resident fellows are busy, and refusing to standardize interviews allows them to mold the selection process to their demanding schedules. It makes sense, yes. But it is, by no means, the best model.

In order to serve applicants better (while preserving RF self-governance), the Editorial Board suggests the production of a Res-Ed fact sheet that contains information on every house’s hiring practices. These fact sheets would include information regarding the numbers of interviews offered by a house, the nature of these interviews and most importantly, the timing of these interviews (first and second round). In other words, the fact sheet might state that, on Feb. 2, Roble sends out first-round invitations. In this respect, RFs would not be forced to reject applicants before all positions have been filled, but students would at least have some idea of whether or not a given house plans to reach out to them before they rank their choices.

ROW STAFFING

The other prominent issue with the selection system is how row staff are hired (row staffing is an entirely different animal, we assure you). If you’ve been at Stanford for some time, you’ve likely heard about the gross nepotism that this system belies. Boyfriends offer girlfriends jobs. Qualified applicants are ignored for friends of the house. This happens year after year.

And it’s a difficult issue to tackle. Without the resources or the resident fellows to conduct hiring interviews in row houses, students are trusted to make the necessary decisions. And, lacking any real accountability or supervision, staff members are permitted to choose staff however they see fit. Last year, ResEd tried to get houses to agree to adhere to the match system (the system used for RF house hiring), but that, of course, did not happen, and the nepotism remained strong as ever. This issue is made worse by the fact that, if one house doesn’t follow the matching process, it impacts every house (Synergy may have ranked you first, but Casa offered you a job during interviews, so you rank Casa first. and Synergy, of course, never stands a chance).

There’s no great solution to the clusterfuck that is row staffing. Any proposal is going to devolve into “he said, she said” at some point or another. But what’s not acceptable is ResEd’s lack of public condemnation of this system and its lack of interest in developing any legitimate punishment mechanism. ResEd, we argue, must create an effective reporting structure for unjust hiring practices and must firmly and assuredly speak out against these practices. ResEd must demonstrate, in words and in actions, that any violation of the match will result in considerable disciplinary action (violations, for instance, could be treated as violations of The Fundamental Standard, or ResEd could threaten the rescinding of any mal-obtained job offer).

RF FEEDBACK

Elsewhere in this editorial, we’ve described a need to preserve RF authority and self-determination. Resident fellows are critical members of the Residential Education system, and often, RFs have families, jobs and routines that make their jobs as RFs exceedingly difficult (like their RAs, their lives are inseparable from their positions). For this reason and others, it’s critical to understand and value their perspectives.

Yet, the current system disproportionately values RF perspectives. During the alcohol policy decision-making process, RFs were consulted, and it was assumed that RA voices would be represented through them. In addition, as mentioned above, during selection, RFs are allowed to mold the system to their needs, sometimes to the detriment of applicants. And, when a conflict arises between a staff member and an RF. it is the staff member’s job that is most readily called into question. But, all of these are minor quibbles and are, perhaps, necessary evils. This Editorial Board is more concerned with ResEd’s lack of interest in collecting feedback on resident fellows.

At the present moment, students are asked to evaluate RAs once, at the end of autumn term. These surveys ask students to rate their staff on things like approachability and accessibility. These surveys, however, do not collect data on resident fellows. Moreover, at the end of the year, no additional data collection is conducted. This might make sense for RAs who are not, except for a few notable exceptions, occupying their positions again, but it makes no sense for RFs, some of whom stick around for years. The assumption on ResEd’s part is that bad seeds among the RF pool will rear their ugly heads at some point or another. But that, quite frankly, is ridiculous. There is absolutely no reason to consciously avoid feedback unless you’re afraid of what that feedback might say.

On the Editorial Board we have students who have staffed and occupied houses with resident fellows. And our experiences range from overwhelmingly positive to, in some cases, downright nightmarish. For this reason: The Editorial Board encourages not only the collection of mid-year feedback on resident fellows, but also the collection of year-end feedback. We, of course, suggest ResEd treat the results of these surveys with due regard, as these individuals, RFs, have the potential to shape the Stanford experience of many students over the course of many years.

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Editorials represent the views of The Stanford Daily, an independent newspaper serving Stanford and the surrounding community. The Daily's Editorial Board consists of President and Editor-in-Chief Victor Xu '17, Executive Editor Will Ferrer '18, Managing Editor of Opinions Michael Gioia '17, Desk Editor of Opinions Jimmy Stephens '17, Senior Staff Writer Kylie Jue '17, Senior Staff Writer Olivia Hummer '17 and Senior Staff Writer Andrew Vogeley '17. To contact the Editorial Board chair, submit an op-ed (limited to 700 words) or submit a letter to the editor (limited to 500 words) at [email protected]