Dorm desks staffed by outside workers

During IAP, professionals hired to fill student vacancies at desk

Students on campus during IAP might have noticed some unfamiliar faces working at dormitory desks across campus.

Aside from East Campus and Random Hall, all other undergraduate dorms hired outside desk workers to cover shifts during the holidays and through IAP. For years, MIT has had trouble staffing desk shifts during these times. In the past, according to Director of Housing Dennis Collins, if shifts were not covered, desk would simply be closed.

“We were not going to let that happen this IAP,” said Collins. “A lot of it has to do with the Baker robbery, and the concern of students, the concern of housemasters, to make sure the buildings are secure.”

On October 27, a robber stole a laptop from a student on the fifth floor of Baker House, approaching him from behind. The student felt something stuck in his back, and the assailant demanded the victim’s laptop, acquired it, and fled.

During IAP, fewer people are living in the dorms, and Housing wanted to ensure student safety.

According to Collins, most of those outside workers were hired through the Professional Staffing Agency (PSG), which is an external temporary staffing agency based in Boston that places adults over the age of 21 in short-term positions.

Hiring outside desk workers through PSG was “just a mechanism to get people fast,” said Collins. In Baker and Bexley, House Manager Jonathan Nolan had already reached out to students from other colleges who had worked desk at those dorms over the summer and had planned IAP shifts before the decision was made to hire PSG staff.

“When students are not around to cover shifts, such as during the holidays, our house manager hires outside workers,” said Kathleen R. Geyer ’12, Baker desk captain, in an email to The Tech.

Most dorm desks function in both service and security capacities, but East Campus, Bexley, and Random desks are largely considered service desks, not security desks, said Collins. This is due to the location of the desks and the number of separate entrances into the building. In East Campus, for example, there are six separate entrances into the building, but they are all card access and “prison-grade doors,” said East Campus House Manager Joseph F. Graham, in an interview with The Tech in November. “Even if you get in [one of the doors], you are stuck in the stairwell.”

Housing managers meet with Collins about once a month to discuss general issues and address any concerns with dorm desks and security. Concerns regarding IAP 2012 were raised in last November’s meeting, and the decision to hire workers from PSG to work desk during IAP was made in December.

“In past years, we couldn’t fill all the shifts, especially on the last day of finals and through the holidays,” said Collins. “Desk was empty, desk was shut and closed. It was our goal this year — because of all the security issues and concerns people had on campus — to not have desk closed.”

Essentially, outside desk workers were hired this IAP to fill uncovered desk shifts, and the impetus to do so this year — as opposed to in an earlier year — was in part due to concerns raised by the Baker robbery.

However, desk captains and house managers “wanted to be mindful of students who were planning on working at desk during IAP,” said Collins. Thus, if student desk workers started coming back on campus, beginning Monday, Jan. 9, desk captains allowed students to work alongside the PSG workers. PSG staff handled the security aspects of desk, while MIT students functioned as service desk workers. MIT continued to use PSG workers throughout IAP because those workers had already committed to the job.

In Senior House, the two-worker system was particularly noticeable, as the PSG worker sat at the front of desk, and the student desk worker sat behind the PSG worker. Housing allowed different dorms to arrange the two workers at their discretion, as MIT committed to giving both sets of workers the shifts.

PSG Desk Workers During Term

Most dorms returned to all student desk workers for the Spring semester, with the exceptions of Next House, Simmons, and Maseeh Hall.

Next and Simmons have historically had difficulty filling day shifts during the week with MIT students. Therefore, Next House, according to Collins, has hired PSG workers for full shifts from Monday to Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for the past year and a half, and will continue to do so for the Spring semester.

Although she doesn’t think difficulty filling shifts with students is the reason a PSG worker covers desk, Next House desk worker Ashley M. Smith ’15 is grateful for the PSG presence.

“I appreciate that we have that because it allows us to focus on our work. She’s very efficient,” says Smith. “We can go to office hours during the day and not worry about running back to work at desk.”

Simmons is following suit. Starting this semester, Simmons is filling the 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. weekday shifts with PSG workers as well. Outside of those times, MIT students will continue to work desk.

“I think with Simmons being so far away, if people suddenly remember that they have a desk shift, they can’t come back from campus to work the shift on time,” said Simmons desk worker LuRae M. Dycus ’14. According to Collins, hiring PSG workers to work during those times eliminates that problem.

Additionally, Maseeh will also continue to have exclusively PSG workers at desk. They staff both shifts — 7:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. — and as with all other undergraduate dorms, night security is covered by Nightwatch.

“Maseeh opened that way [with exclusively PSG desk workers] because we had no students, because we never had students before,” said Collins. “And because everyone seemed fine with it being that way, we’ve left it that way.”

The priority for Housing is to keep desks open at all times, said Collins, and whatever accomplishes that goal is better for dorm security.

Security Committee formed

In mid-December, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo charged a Security Committee to look over security issues, of which the open IAP desk shifts were a part. The committee will give a report with recommendations to the Division of Student Life (DSL).

Dean of Residential Life and Dining Henry J. Humphreys is part of the Security Committee, which is chaired by Chief of Police John DiFava and Professor Charles Stewart, Housemaster of McCormick.

According to Humphreys, the committee is looking into “everything ever to do with security of both undergraduates and graduates,” addressing “campus security in general.” The group has conducted interviews with GRTs, students, desk workers, Collins, and various other people who have a perspective on campus security. The committee itself also consists of Dormitory Council President Ellen McIsaac ’12 and a Next House GRT, as well as an outside expert on security, several faculty members, and a member of the Office for Emergency Management.

The Security Committee will report their recommendations to Dean Colombo and DSL sometime next week.

Derek Chang contributed reporting.