Student workers fired from the Leonard Center on short notice

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The Leonard Center. Photo by Malcolm Cooke ’21.

Ian Witry, Contributing Writer

On Sept. 16, more than 20 students employed by the athletics department received an email notifying them that they would, until further notice, no longer hold those positions. 

The email, sent by Assistant Director of Athletics Ron Osterman, said that the Leonard Center (LC) will not have in-person work hours available until it is deemed appropriate and safe. In the email, Osterman cited Macalester’s current COVID-19 policy which states that: “the Leonard Center will be available only to student athletes and health and wellness appointments until further notice.”

Student workers who are student-athletes kept their positions, while most others lost their jobs just before their first in-person shifts were set to begin. 

Erik Larson ’21 was preparing to begin another year as a student supervisor at the LC when he received the news that his job was suspended. He was in charge of managing cameras for live broadcasts of Macalester’s athletic events. 

Larson hoped to continue serving as a supervisor in a different capacity this semester, since there will be no in-person athletic competition until at least the spring. He was surprised that supervisors were included in the firings.  

“I figured things would just be a skeleton crew with either just one supervisor, or a supervisor with one or two other workers,” Larson said. 

Eight supervisors, 15 athletic assistants working under the supervisors, and several lifeguards were fired because they were not student-athletes. 

The athletics department did, however, make a few exceptions. George Clare Kennedy ’21, who works as a sports medicine assistant (SMA), was able to keep his job. He and other SMAs attend all games and practices and work directly with athletes and trainers to help provide first aid. Clare Kennedy is not a student-athlete.

“I’m lucky because, being an SMA, we’re a pretty necessary position, and we don’t have a whole lot of student-athletes employed,” Clare Kennedy said. 

Nonetheless, the majority of student workers at the LC who are not student-athletes unexpectedly lost their positions. The email notification barred employees poised to begin their preliminary training from working any hours effective immediately.

Students were responsible for finding another position in order to earn their full work study award. The first pay date for the fall semester was Sept. 18, two days after the firings. 

“I would have liked to have known sooner, but I also think that Ron and the people working [at the LC] only knew as soon as the [Macalester Infectious Disease Task Force] told them,” Larson said.

Although Larson is grateful not to be in significant financial trouble himself, he worries about the potential impact of an abrupt job loss on students who count on work study to pay for their everyday expenses.

“Finding a job and starting it, while starting the school year in this weird way, makes it way harder than just having it set up ahead of time.” 

Alternatively, students can apply for the Macalester Student Unemployment Insurance Program (MSUIP), which reimburses students with work study as a part of their financial aid award who struggle to find a suitable job. Accepted applicants receive up to 50 percent of what they could have made during the fall semester.

When asked for comment about the firings, Jaelynn Blenkush, program manager of Employment Services, deferred to Osterman. Osterman deferred to Paul Overvoorde, Special Assistant to the President and Director of COVID Operations. Overvoorde did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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