University News

Mail Services outsourcing criticized at UCS meeting

Administration defends move to private contractor, SLA members question decision

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 25, 2014

Undergraduate Council of Students President Maahika Srinivasan ’15 listens to a discussion about the University’s outsourced mail services.

Following the outsourcing of the University’s mail services to a private contractor this summer, administrators are working to streamline the transition to new workers, said Assistant Vice President of Financial and Administrative Services Elizabeth Gentry at the Undergraduate Council of Students general body meeting Wednesday night.

Gentry began her presentation to the council by explaining the timing of the outsourcing, noting that the office technology company Ricoh USA took over Aug. 1 as the result of a project that had been underway for several years.

The staffing change came after a student survey last year, in which respondents cited issues such as “the array of the services that we offer and the quality of services.”

Gentry acknowledged that there have been bumps along the way, adding that between 900 and 1,800 boxes arrive at the mail facilities in J. Walter Wilson and Alumnae Hall each day. “This is a new group of people, with a new system, trying to learn a whole university in the matter of a couple of weeks,” she said. “We’re human, we make mistakes. Occasionally we misdeliver a piece of mail. It’s always happened.”

UCS Media Director Alana Bhatla ’16 said students offered both praise and criticism in the inaugural weekly feedback form that UCS sent to the student body before the meeting. “People really like the extended hours, and people definitely like Alumnae (Hall) instead of Power Street” as the overflow package pickup area, she said. “Some of the major complaints that came up again and again were that people lost packages,” she added, noting that with the new swipe check-in system, “after people swipe, they don’t know what to do or if they should wait in line.”

Several undergraduates who attended the meeting, including members of the Student Labor Alliance, expressed frustration with both the quality of services and the decision to outsource. “A lot of the reasons that we were offered were ‘We need the program and the technology; we need the expertise,’” said UCS general body member Justice Gaines ’16. “Quite honestly, everything you have offered has not come through.”

“We stand in solidarity with workers on our campus — they have a right to a living wage,” said SLA member Stoni Tomson ’15, referring to the nine employees who worked for Mail Services prior to the outsourcing. Tomson called the issue one of “transparency and accountability” for the University.

Mary Grace Almandrez, director of the Brown Center for Students of Color, and Shane Lloyd MPH’11, assistant director for first-year and sophomore programs at the BCSC, also presented an overview of the center’s role and initiatives following its Sept. 10 decision to change its name from the Third World Center.

“We pride ourselves on having a long history of student of color activism and being a very special gathering place for our students of color,” Almandrez said.

Gaines, a member of the center’s student board, said the center will pursue two new main programs in its strategic plan. The Social Justice Peer Education Program will build on past Minority Peer Counselor programs and ideally launch next year, while the Activism Series will be developed over the next few years, Gaines added.

The center may erect a “legacy room” commemorating student of color activism and may also digitize its archives, Almandrez said.

Following the name change, Almandrez said she has received “overwhelming support” from many different parts of the Brown community, including alums of color, especially “once people understood what happened and what the plan is.”

“What makes this important is that communities of color are claiming this as an important space,” she added. “We wanted to make sure that the doors were open as widely as possible. … I hope that even in the disagreement of the name, people are excited about where the center is going.”

Several council members expressed support for changing the center’s name but voiced concern over keeping the name of the Third World Transition Program.

Bhatla said she supported the center’s name change and noted her mother’s disapproval of the phrase “Third World” when Bhatla tried to sign up for the Third World Transition Program as a first-year.

Minoshka Narayan ’18 said she wished TWTP had been renamed along with the center, saying “you don’t want people to miss out on it because they don’t understand what the program is about.”

The council concluded its meeting by passing three motions from student groups. Student Volunteers for Samaritans of Rhode Island was approved to change its name to Students for Samaritans, Wednesday Night Jazz Jam Club was approved to be renamed The Jazz Sessions and the literary magazine Issues became Synecdoche.

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  • lol

    The new mail services is infinitely better than the outdated and slow one we used to have. I no longer dread picking up packages because I don’t have to wait 30 minutes to pick them up anymore.

  • TheRationale

    I hope the system gets up to speed very quickly. I also hope the University saved money on this and got a more efficient system. That being said, losing packages is completely unacceptable. If they can’t do the one job they have, they should be fired promptly.

    And “living wage” rhetoric is just that – rhetoric. Lrn2economics.

  • There is no need for all this criticism !