Pampering or Priority?

July 2, 2010

This fall, freshmen at George Washington University will have a little work to do that their predecessors did not: cleaning their own bathrooms. The university announced last month that it will eliminate its maid-like housekeeping services (which included vacuuming the rooms and cleaning private bathrooms) in freshman residence halls.

As a result of the change, housing rates will not increase in many of the freshman residence halls for the 2010-11 academic year.

“The impetus of this is that the housekeeping staff was often not able to do their duties,” Director of Media Relations Michelle Sherrard said, adding that the rooms were frequently too messy for the housekeepers to vacuum properly. “This decision to no longer provide housekeeping services in first-year rooms was not primarily based on the economy, although it is always the University's goal to help families meet the cost of a GW education,” she added in an e-mail.

Student response to the decision has varied, but some students are not pleased. The GW Hatchet reported that more than 80 incoming students have signed a Facebook petition decrying the decision, and that they will plead with the university to restore the perk. "I'm very disappointed in that decision," one incoming student, Danielle Graddick, said via Facebook. "It was one of the main perks of GWU that impressed me and semi-convinced me to come here. Our tuition is seriously $54,000. You would think they'd be able to sustain that program -- I'm not sure what the issue is."

Other students, however, have not been too fazed by the change.

“Naturally I am disappointed in GW’s decision to get rid of the maid service, but it was really nothing more than a sidenote when I was choosing to apply there,” Andy Whitley, a rising freshman, said in a Facebook message. “It is not a big deal; I am able to clean up after myself.”

“Now we get a cable box in every room,” wrote Steven Sussman, another incoming freshman, referring to an unrelated IT upgrade. “It’s a worthy trade.”

Although maid service may seem like a luxury, many other colleges and universities allocate part of their university’s budget to this style of housekeeping as well. And though GW is using its policy change as an opportunity to keep costs down, some schools choose to cut from elsewhere in their budgets when money gets tight.

At the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the housekeepers change school-provided linens, vacuum floors, clean bathrooms and take out bedroom trash -- and the administration intends to keep it that way.

“From my perspective it’s an imperative part of residence life,” said Pete Gustafson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “It’s probably one of the top selling points among students living on campus here.” The housekeepers are also encouraged to become friends with the students, and relationships are often strong.

Gustafson said that if Rose-Hulman needed to cut its budget, it wouldn’t eliminate the maid service, but could potentially cut down on its 25-person staff. “That would be lower down on my list than cutting some other things,” he said, but added that eliminating the program would save the institution only about half of its total budget for housekeeping.

At Xavier University, in Ohio, three of the four dorms provide suite-style accommodations, and housekeepers regularly clean each bathroom. “It makes parents feel better that they know it’s going to be cleaned once a week,” said Lori Lambert, director of residence life there. Despite having “budget-cutting exercises,” Lambert said Xavier had not looked at cutting the housekeeping services.

GW is not the first to cut funds from dorm-room maid service, though. A few years ago at the California Institute of Technology, private bathrooms were cleaned weekly, but now are cleaned only once a term due to budgetary constraints, said Michael Raven, assistant director of operations and maintenance. In recent years, the College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced maid service from twice to once a week. Holy Cross saved about $100,000 when several of its housekeepers accepted an early retirement package and the college did not seek replacements, said Scott Merrill, director of physical plants at Holy Cross. He added that the program benefits the college because it allows a staff member to keep an eye on each room, “making sure it doesn’t get out of control, with trash overflowing, things like that.”

In a time of economic difficulty, and ever-rising tuitions, are luxuries like maid service necessary?

“Necessary? No. But it is a great service,” said Marsha Tudor, assistant director of facilities and campus services at Claremont McKenna. “It’s a valuable service not just for student convenience, but it helps us maintain nicer rooms. Our housekeeping staff has good relationships with the students, and it provides an extra ear.”

But cutting maid service by half wasn’t enough to forestall other cuts necessitated by a large budget deficit, which forced the college to eliminate several open staff positions, freeze pay, and cut administrative staff, according to an e-mail that President Pamela Gann sent to employees and students in May 2009.

Some students aren't sure the service should have been a priority. “Every day the maids come and clean our rooms,” Adam Morris, a rising senior at Claremont McKenna, said via Facebook. “I mean, how much more spoiled can we get? We are already a bunch of spoiled rich kids. Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old."

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