The University: A Bad Employer?

I work multiple jobs during the school year. Although it is a real juggling act, I consider it to be a part of studenthood – it is simply what we must put up with to fund our education. Honestly, I like my jobs – and when I go to work, I put my full effort in.

But when your job takes over your education, is that where the job goes too far?

I went out with a few girlfriends for “drinks” (yup, that was a Sprite for me!) and we starting talking about jobs and working. Two of my good friends are employed part-time by their university. They have very different jobs, but there are similarities: they both have worked jobs in the summer unrelated to the university, they both need the money from their job for their education, they both enjoy working for their university and best of all they both love their jobs.

To be honest, I was a bit jealous – it seems like a campus job is a cushy job and something any student would lucky to have. It is convenient, located on campus, good pay and fair work. It seems perfect! I was just telling them how lucky when both of them emphatically told me that I had a very idealistic and unrealistic of the perception of working for a university.

An interesting discussion that ensued led to my realization that student employed by a university are surprisingly abused. From talking to a number of students, it seems as though most students are finding it easier in the “real world job” rather than working in the supposed protected bubble of the university. Although the university is involved with students on a day-to-day basis, it shows surprising lack of understanding for their needs.

I decided to do some digging around and talk to different students from different campuses. My research revealed that a number of students* were able to make direct comparisons between their past summer job and their current job at the university – and the research shows that the university is surprisingly a very poor employer.

Take a look:

Issue Summer Job University Job
Timing of Shift

  • Employer allowed student to leave early or come in late on two days of the week for a summer course he was taking, and make up the hours on another day.
  • Permission received after one week of working at this summer job
  • Employer refused to let the student leave 10 min early to get to class, or to allow student to come (max) 5 min late due to unavoidable transportation issues to get to campus at 8AM. Employer threatened to lock the student out at 8AM sharp if he was not on time.
  • Flexibility for shift during final exams last year was denied.

  • Permission to leave for class early denied after working at the same job for 2+ years
Contract Issues

  • Student says she was able to convince her boss for a potential bonus upon monthly review of her work.
  • Student says boss attempted threatened her with action that was against their agreed contact regulations. The contract says the student is paid hourly, and that pay is docked hourly, not daily, and that if a student comes in late, they will be docked half a day’s pay.
  • Despite asking her employer in advance to attend a shift for only a half-day, the employer threatened to take away the student’s full day pay, and would not allow her to come in for a half-day shift, although a half-day shift was agreed upon in the contract.
Accessibility to Employer
  • Student says the managers were constantly in touch with employers – all problems could be dealt with via an open door policy, emails, phone tc. The managers were constantly visiting the main floor where the employees worked in order to keep an open communication. Managers took initiative when employees had a concern – if the employee voiced concerns, via phone, or email, the employer make time in his schedule to meet with the employee and encourage the employee to come into the office during work hours to discuss their concern.
  • In a scary contrast, the student feels the employer is completely unapproachable. The employer is not in the office during the shift of the employee and in fact, is not involved at all when the student is working. As a result, when the student has concerns, he is required to come to speak to the employer on his own time, outside of work hours. The employer refuses to use email as a method of communication, and expects the employee to chase after the employer outside of work hours to meet at his office which is located on the other side of campus.
  • When the employee voices a concern, or when several employees voice a concern, the employer refuses to listen and argues that the students are acting in a way that would not be tolerated in “the real world”.
  • The communication is completely restricted – and the student is not allowed to access the employee during work hours, but rather, is required to make an appointment on their own time.

The above examples are only a few of the many stories I heard from university students. Many of the students were able to back up their claims with proofs of emails from their employers.

I was appalled at what I read and heard.

What really stood out to me was the way the students felt about their job. Student working as part of the university felt completely ‘un-valued’ (if I may make up a word) – they felt the employer made it clear that they were easily replaceable, were inaccessible during work hours, refused to listen to their concerns or provide flexibility during strenuous times, and that there were no avenues for students to fight for their rights when the employers made changes to the contract without their consent.

In contrast, the real-life job which really have no reason to treat students more special from other working individuals, showed flexibility for classes, maintained a realistic open-door policy (notably during work hours), made a promise in the contract and stuck by it, and overall, treated their employees – even the novice student employees – as valued, trusted employees.

One student told me that her two jobs were a world of a difference – in working for a summer employer, she felt so much more valued and respected – despite being a rookie in an all-adult field. In contrast, when employed by the university with other students in which she was an equal, she felt diminished, unimportant, and without a voice. She was appalled by the treatment and inflexibility of her university employer, but kept the job because she needed the money.

I’m confused now – is working for a university a bad thing? Of course, there are many students who have a great experience…but we hear about them all the time. Here is a new perspective – one I am having trouble getting my head around …

Anyone have an experience working for their university? How is it working out for you?

Surviving Studenthood

*Lack of names or identification is used for the protection of the students. Each student experience is slightly altered to protect the students from being identified. The views presented here are not a reflection of the personal views of the owners of this blog, and the students are unknown to the owners of this blog – the submission of this article was anonymous and is protected so that the students may speak freely about their work experience.


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