By COLIN SHEELEY
On April 19, 2017, the executive board members of last year’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) met with RHA adviser Frank McAlpin to discuss several matters long-overdue: Mismanagement amongst student leadership, dysfunctional executive board (E-Board) meetings and a hole in the budget linked to a string of thefts and “misplaced” funds. According to the Office of Residential Life, things had become so bad that McAlpin and Jenifer Campbell, the Director of Residential Life, “were considering whether or not RHA should continue to be an organization on campus.” RHA was spared that sentence, barely, but as a part of the deal, serious changes had to be made.
What followed was a summer of restructuring. The RHA constitution was scrapped, and McAlpin resigned, replaced mid-break by Resident Director (RD) Joseph Corcoran, who drafted new regulations and selected this year’s E-Board from a pool of applicants.
Several members of the former E-Board were keen to hear about and contribute to the restructuring process. In a May 25 email sent to former President pro tempore, Mara Haeger, Campbell assured her that she, former Treasurer Alex DiMisa, who is a current member of The Observer’s editorial board, and former Director of Public Relations Tylar Havens would likely be included “collectively in the conversation” that was to take place by the end of June. Later, it was admitted that the discussion, delayed by the extended process of finding a new RHA adviser, did not happen until late July. Furthermore, it did not include Haeger, DiMisa or Havens. According to DiMisa, he only learned of Corcoran’s appointment after a chance run-in with Campbell over the summer in the Ram Café.
The returning E-Board members sent an Aug. 31 email to Corcoran introducing themselves to the new adviser as a three-year member of RHA and the current President. Several hours later, Corcoran responded, “I think you are a little confused. There is currently no RHA executive board as we are restructuring how RHA works this year.”
“During the April 19 meeting, the 2016-17 executive board decided not to hold elections for the 2017-18 executive board,” the Office of Residential Life wrote in a statement. “Despite this, Mr. DiMisa decided that he would be the incoming RHA president.” According to DiMisa, he was unaware of the restructure, just as he had been unaware of Corcoran’s appointment. Haeger said she was also left in the dark. “By the end of the summer,” she said, “we had no idea what was going on.”
DiMisa did not know that the rules of candidacy had changed. Under the old constitution, a member of RHA was only eligible to run for President if they had held an E-Board position for two or more semesters. By that mark, only he and Haeger were eligible. The new constitution notes an amendment to that rule, lowering the requisite length of time to one semester.
The change goes into effect spring semester, but in the meantime, any resident is eligible for an E-Board position. The current RHA President, Eunice Jung and Vice President, Gurkaran Bhatti are emblematic of this policy. Neither have served on the E-Board prior to their appointment.
It also states that for this fall, RHA will not hold elections for E-Board, rather applicants will be selected by Corcoran after an interview process. Haeger applied for Vice President but was offered President, which she would turn down several days later. DiMisa went in for President but was offered nothing on E-Board. Applicants met with Campbell on Sept. 21, two days after, to discuss the decision.
During the meetings, Campbell explained that one of her primary concerns with the former RHA E-Board, specifically DiMisa, was the occurrence of two thefts during the previous year, the first for $250 and the second for $600. Returning and former members did not recall a theft of $600, to which Campbell explained that it came from the Theatre Thursday program collections, and that she considered it a much more serious oversight than the $250.
The Office of Residential Life refused to confirm or deny this charge in an attempt to preserve the applicant’s privacy.
After their meeting, however, Haeger contacted former RHA Vice President Katie Ott, FCLC ’17, about the alleged $600 theft. Ott, who ran Theatre Thursdays at the time, said she had no account of any such event, calling the accusation “complete bullshit.”
When asked for evidence, the Office of Residential Life admitted that the indictment was “a miscommunication” and had actually been an approximation of the total amount of funds stolen in the past few years. The statement said that the mistake was explained to one of the applicants recently, but they denied this, stating that Ms. Campbell only told them that she would “have to look into it more.”
Instead of an E-Board position, DiMisa was offered Senior Class Representative, a role created out of the new general body initiative that dissolved the former RHA Senate and established a “default” council of all on-campus students. DiMisa countered that his “skills, experience and passion” were better suited for the executive board. On Sept. 23 Corcoran offered DiMisa the position of Advocacy Coordinator, however, rescinded the offer in an email statement two days later under the assumption that if the applicant had wanted the position by now, he would have accepted it. Corcoran said alternatively he would offer it to another candidate.
As of Oct. 10, the position remains unoccupied. Haeger and DiMisa do not hold any E-Board positions, though Havens now sits as Treasurer.
Havens was not contacted as, currently, members of the RHA E-Board are not permitted to speak with the press without permission from the RHA adviser.
Former E-Board members expressed concern about larger sections of the new constitution and the extended powers it granted to the RHA adviser. In addition to appointing this semester’s E-Board positions and granting press approval, the adviser is responsible for setting office hour shifts for E-Board members and times for Theatre Thursday, managing the RHA budget in cooperation with the Treasurer and the Office of Residential Life, approving E-Board member absences, and, in the event of absence, policy violation, or failure by programming coordinators or committee members to submit change and receipts from an RHA event within 48 hours, enforcing probationary or expulsive measures. The RHA adviser also approves all amendments to the new constitution prior to April 1, 2018.
“It’s concerning that this is supposed to be an organization for students,” Haeger said, “but it’s being run by administrators.”
Additionally, Haeger pointed to the new RHA logo as a simulacrum of the entire power shift within the organization. The previous logo, which was designed by Ott, “was taken with a vote of all the students,” according to the former Treasurer. “And they just completely changed it without asking any students. That’s just a lesser aspect of showing how they really did just take full control.”
The Office of Residential Life in fact exercises full control over almost every aspect of RHA. Unlike other clubs that can report grievances with their faculty advisers to the Office for Student Involvement, RHA reports directly the Office of Residential Life. Any dispute with an adviser would then be settled by the organization that employs them, creating a natural conflict of interest.
These anxieties come as a culmination of detachment between some E-Board members and the Office of Residential Life, according to Haeger (there have been four RHA advisors in the past five years). For her, it is a matter of underrepresentation.
“As it’s stated by Dean Eldredge in all of the presentations he gives, RHA is on par with USG [United Student Government] and CSA [Commuting Students’ Association]; they’re the three branches of student government, but right now,” Haeger said, “it’s being completely taken over by Fordham administrators. When students give their feedback and are basically ignored, I think that then it’s just an extension of the Office of Residential Life, instead of a club run by and for students. If I’m just basically going to be an unpaid RA at the will of Jenifer Campbell, then that’s not something I want to dedicate a lot of my time to.”