Prior to Christmas Break third-year student Helen Allen arrived at a weekly Students’ Representative Council (SRC) meeting with a story of her personal experiences with Acadia University withholding her Teaching Assistant (TA) payments. Allen shared how her TA payments were applied to her student account rather than given to her with no notice or warning. Acadia Students’ Union (ASU) President Kyle Vandertoorn got Allen in touch with the ASU lawyer for her to explore her case further.
While Allen came to the meeting originally in fear that her TA payment for the fall 2019 semester would be withheld once again, her story generated intrigue. On December 3rd, 2019, The Athenaeum sat down with Allen to listen and share her story with the community.
To start the interview Allen gave a timeline of events. Allen was awarded a TA position with the Biology Department in September 2018. Along with this position came a contract that Allen signs stating she will receive a lump sum of around $540 at the end of each term worked.
“I have gone back through everything and nowhere is it mentioned, including Acadia Central, pages on on-campus work, bi-weekly payroll or the registrar’s offices, penalties for how you get paid if you haven’t paid your tuition” Allen stated.
Based on the contract she signed, Allen had no reason to believe her payment would be withheld if she had outstanding fees, due to student loans, on her student account. Moving to November 2018, Allen is hired at the Acadia Box Office where she works three six-hour shifts by November 29th, seven days after the November 22nd payroll date when Allen was also expecting to receive her TA payment. Expecting a larger sum, she is surprised to receive $38.34 and emails her manager Brenda Bigelow to inquire about the mysterious payroll deposit.
Bigelow replies promptly to Allen explaining that the $38.34 was from the November 4-17 pay period. She does not know why it is half of the amount nor does she know why Allen received the payments late. Bigelow goes on in the email to say, “the next pay period will be from November 18-December 1 2018 and pay date will be December 13th”.
As of December 3rd, 2019, Allen has yet to receive money from her other shifts worked.
While dealing with her part-time job, Allen does not receive her TA payment when many of her fellow TA’s have. Annoyed and frustrated, she goes to Matthew Buston in bi-weekly payroll who informs Allen that he has been told not to release her payments as her student account has not been cleared yet. Coming from that conversation, Allen realizes she will not receive her money until her student loans come in and clear the amount owed. Allen decides she will pay the money owed out of pocket and expects to $540 to show after clearing her account.
A week later, the money appears in her account and after another week on December 14th 2018, Allen receives a cheque; however, she is still quite confused about why the money is being sent to her account when she signed a contract stating she will receive a lump-sum direct deposit.
In January the same contract is signed for Allen’s TA position and she quits the Box Office. Flash forward to April 3rd, 2019 and Allen receives an email confirming her student loans would be coming through shortly. As her loans are on her way, Allen fully expects that her TA payment would arrive on time, but again it does not seem to appear. Allen’s student account is now cleared, and she wants the money that she is expecting.
On April 5th Allen, in search of her cheque, is directed towards the Biology department, Business Department, upstairs University Hall, Student Accounts and Bi-weekly payroll. By the time Allen gets to Bi-weekly payroll she is frustrated and said she caused “quite the scene”.
Finally, Allen is told she can pick up a cheque next week. Although this was good to hear Allen stated: “what did I do wrong? Why am I being denied my money? Why can’t I have it right now?”.
Allen returns to Student Accounts and waits for Moira Crowell, the manager, to see her. Crowell tells Allen she was warned that Allen was coming. Upon Allen complaining that this money would be going towards her rent and food for the week, Crowell offers an expedited cheque to be picked up on Monday instead of Friday.
At 4:30pm the same day, Allen gets an email from Crowell apologizing for not being able to get the cheque to Allen sooner. In the email, Crowell stated, “If you are in need of funds for food this weekend, I can arrange to put some money on your axe cash account that you can then use at the meal hall. The charge for the axe cash would be placed against your account and you can make payment for it at a later date. Would this help?”.
In Allen’s mind, this offer was not her money, it was another debt she would have to pay off in the future. Allen responds to Crowell with a scolding email which opened as such:
“I am an independent student, I don’t have a VISA with my mother’s name on it, and my family doesn’t send me a weekly allowance; But, I am not starving, Moira. I was merely frustrated with the sheer incompetency I was forced to deal with today.
I have monthly rent, life insurance payments, a phone bill, vet expenses (for my service dog), and credit card payments to make. All of which I am in charge of. This doesn’t include groceries, tuition, or books, or expenses which may come up throughout the month.
Not a single person today was understanding of the fact that I would have perhaps relied on this payment, which I signed a contract for, where I would work a full semester in return for an in-full deposit at the end of term”.
Allen expressed in our interview that she was merely confused about how responsible adults can be present in their offices and yet everyone she talked to that handled the money could do nothing. Someone somewhere decided what would happen to Allen’s paycheck and nobody thought it was a reasonable idea to give Allen notice. Even the professor who Allen TA’s for insisted she reached out to Student Accounts as it was unfair she had not received payments when her peers had.
In response to Allen’s email, Crowell attempted to minimize the damage and placed $100 to Allen’s axe cash account that the university will cover the cost of.
It was a nice gesture, Allen explained but she believes that the University was attempting to minimize the issue at hand instead of realizing that they had a clear systematic issue.
“I guess I should be happy, but I don’t know, there is still a bigger issue here” Helen stated.
On April 9th, Allen went to James Sanford, Executive Director at Student Services. She updated Sanford on the events of the past year and reports that Sanford appeared to want to help her. After the meeting, Allen never heard from Sanford again.
Allen explained that it was as if nobody cared. The University acted as a business instead of an institution in the situation ignoring Allen and whether she paid her living expenses. As long as her student account was paid off, the people Allen visited did not seem to care how long it took until she received her cheque.
“Make sure that you pay the students that you employ, based on the method we agreed on”, Allen said bringing the conversation back to her contract.
A student who signs a document saying this is how you will get paid and when with no fine print should be honoured Allen believes. If the University is planning on applying the payment to your student account based on what that student owes the school, then Allen says the University should give notice to their students that this may occur.
“The information should be easy to find and given to all students” Allen noted.
Allen emphasized how the whole inconvenience would not matter as much if the University had treated her kindly and given her proper notice of what could happen to her payment ahead of time.
Helen Allen’s story is not one looking for sympathy but instead looking to provide awareness to the student community at Acadia. Her case is not an exclusive one, Allen shared other cases in our interview. Sharing a story can only help students and the University of Acadia in the future, and that is what Allen and The Athenaeum hope to accomplish.