This holiday season, CMC administration reminded building attendants not to accept gifts, and instructed Resident Assistants not to give any. This breaks the tradition of offering dorm presents to the housekeeping staff, but DOS and CMC students are seeking alternative ways to show appreciation.
According to Director of Public Affairs Joann Young, this rule is not new. “Historically, Story House has maintained a departmental policy that prohibits staff from accepting gifts from students, which was derived from the College’s general code of conduct and conflict of interest policies,” Young said.
The Conflict of Interest Policy, according to the Staff Handbook, says:
A conflict of interest exists when an Employee’s actions or activities in the scope of his/her employment by the College result in an improper gain or advantage to a faculty or Staff member, a family member or a personal or business associate.
Article 7 of the policy specifically talks about gifts.
It is sound practice to discourage personal gifts from people with whom the College has a business relationship. Such personal gifts of more than nominal value should be tactfully declined or returned to avoid any appearance or suggestion of improper influence.
Matthew Bibbens, Vice President for Administration and Planning and General Counsel, further explained that giving and receiving gifts could lead to concerns or abuses. “In the context of a standard conflict of interest policy, perhaps the most significant concern is that a gift is not in fact a gift, but is instead a form of bribe or inducement,” he said.
Both Bibbens and Young expressed concern that receiving gifts would disturb the equity the College tries to maintain.
“In particular, we want to avoid the potential unfairness and associated problems than can arise if, for example, staff member ‘A’ receives substantially more or less than staff member ‘B,’ or if certain categories of employees, such as housekeeping, receive substantially more or less than other categories, such as grounds and Collins staff members,” Bibbens said.
Many RAs expressed frustration that their dorm would not be allowed to give a gift to their building attendant before the semester ends. Claremont Hall RA Sonya Jendoubi said that when her dorm gathered money for a gift her first year as a student, she was taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the act, and she wanted to do the same this year as an RA.
“I love [the building attendant]. She works so hard and I was excited that we, the dorm, would get together to get her something,” she said. “She’s always looking out for us, and making sure we’re okay. All I wanted to do was show her, in a concrete way, that my dorm and I appreciate her.”
Bibbens said that the administration understands and appreciates the student’s efforts to show appreciation, and proposed looking into different solutions to do so in a more equitable manner.
“For example, we can coordinate a gift fund through the RAs that would be completely voluntary,” he said. “We could then pool these funds and distribute them equally across all services staff members, including housekeeping, grounds, and Collins.”
Stark’s building attendant Araceli Ayon remarked that she still had a plant her dorm had gifted her two years ago, and was a little saddened that she had to refuse gifts if they were offered now.
“My supervisor told me I cannot receive any more presents from the students,” she said. “I love [receiving gifts] but here I cannot because of my job, and I would not like to lose my job for receiving a gift from my students.” (Translated from Spanish)
Young said that while the building attendants’ concern was understandable, there have not been any consequences of violating this rule in the past. “We are not aware of any housekeeping staff member who has been subjected to any serious disciplinary action in relation to the policy,” she said. “With that being said, we plan to reach out to all of our housekeeping staff to reassure them and clarify our expectations.”
Currently, DOS is working with Story House, RAs, and students to coordinate alternative ways to thank CMC staff.