By Heather Pearson
Another round of tough budget cuts are currently being felt campus-wide. In the Office of Community Service Learning (CSL), the decision has been made to not hire a director for the upcoming year.
CSL coordinates community service programming for the university, including weekly service opportunities, alternative spring break trips, annual days of service, the new food pantry and more. Last year CSL contributed over 60,000 hours of service to the Salem-Keizer community. To plan and enact such extensive programming, CSL currently employs a total of 50 people working across all branches. These workers are overseen and supported by current interim coordinator Faith Kebekol.
The decision to not rehire for Kebekol’s position next year follows a period of change in the office. In middle of fall semester, previous director Eric Lassahn left his position to become Senior Associate Director of Alumni & Parent Engagement. After two months without a director, Kebekol was hired as an interim for Lassahn’s position starting in January. Students were told a search for a permanent director would occur this spring. Recently, however, they received news that the position will not be filled.
“We were told when Eric left that they would be hiring someone in the spring…But then we didn’t hear anything until that email [to not hire a Director] went out two weeks ago. That was upsetting for students because they went from admin saying ‘yes, there will be a search’ to ‘you’re not getting a director next year because of budget cuts’ with no clear plan going forward,” explained CSL Lead Coordinator Emma Robinson.
The director currently serves as an ongoing point person for community partners, maintaining relationships over the years with local nonprofits.
Without a director, “there will not longer be a face or point person for the Salem Keizer-community,” explained Language in Motion Coordinator Olivia Orosco. “The turnover of students means we would be placing a burden of building trust and rapport onto both outside organization’s and student leaders. We’d be defecting on promises with our partners.”
The director also applies for the grant which funds the office.
“One of our biggest fears is the grant. We really worry that there will be nobody that will do that anymore and then we wouldn’t have funding,” Robinson voiced. The Hull Grant currently allows the CSL to pay its student workers and run its programming. Kebekol and Orosco described how the grant is currently approved in part due to the consistent growth, high service hours and clear organization of CSL. If any of this changes going forward, the fear of not being awarded the grant increases.
Moreover, there is a worry that not having a director will harm CSL student workers. The lack of a director will increase student labor and stress, which is compounded by the decreased pay they will receive as the office moves from hourly pay to leadership awards the upcoming school year. This pay change is also a budgetary move, and Orosco worries that this situation forces students to decide: “Do I take care of myself and choose a job where I get compensated, or do I give free labor to support community partners who rely upon my work?”
Furthermore, she argues that there will be a loss of unity between CSL branches, and the loss of a central hub for CSL events, leading to greater confusion for those new to Willamette or CSL trying to connect with the office. Without a director, she continues, there will be nobody to advocate for students in situations and spaces where the administration privileges staff voices over students’.
“I recognize that the cut had to be made somewhere, and that that’s a really hard decision,” Robinson expressed. “One of the upsetting parts for me was that we weren’t really asked how this would affect us. I think there were decisions that were made without asking students…it feels like we are the ones who put on the the programs so to not ask us and just make decisions to cut away our programs is upsetting.” Orosco and Robinson noted how this lack of transparency and student input parallels other problematic budgetary decisions on campus in recent years.
“We urge you to reconsider the decision to cut funding for the CSL director position, given the message that this move sends students and its impacts on curtailing the civic engagement opportunities that drew and continue to draw so many students to Willamette,” stated Orosco. “This decision sends the message that the motto of “Not Unto Ourselves Alone Are We Born” is an empty phrase.”
“Right now, my job is to figure out how all the programs next year will run. It’s like a puzzle,” Kebekol said. “How do we ensure that there are still opportunities for everyone next year?”