Kim’s response to Cloyne’s Memorandum

Background:

On the Saturday before UC Berkeley’s final exams week, the Cloyne House Manager, on behalf of the members of Cloyne Court Hotel, sent an email to [*Facilities manager], our then Facilities Manager (FM). The email included the Spring 2019 Cloyne Memorandum on Staff Cooperation, which laid out the house’s grievances against uncooperative behavior made by both the FM as well as several executive and supervising level staff members of the BSC central offices. It also listed many demands that called for greater cooperativity in decision making about our house. The memorandum can be found here.

The email included several executive and supervising level staff members, including Kim Benson, Executive Director; Marie Lucero, Operations Manager; and Victor Saldivar, Cooperative Experience Manager, as well as all of the house members of Cloyne Court Hotel via the announce@cloyne.org listserv.

We finally received a response from Kim Benson on June 1, 2019, 17 days after the original email and 15 days after the deadline to accept our demands. While she did not refute any of our grievances, Kim Benson flat out rejected our demands on the grounds that her definition of cooperativity is different from ours.

This post includes the original email sent, as well as Kim Benson’s response, in order to provide future Cloyne Members and other members of the BSC more history and context on the matter.

On June 2nd, 2019 during the first council of Cloyne’s summer session, it was decided that new members would be given a week to become familiar with the pertinent context revolving the Spring 2019 Cloyne Memorandum, and that a more thorough discussion would be held at the following council. This post was intended to facilitate this effort.

Original Email:

Original memorandum was attached.

Dear [*Facilities manager] and supervising staff,

Cloyne members have drafted a memorandum enumerating our grievances with staff’s uncooperative behaviour and stating our demands to address these issues. We are taking this step because past attempts to communicate our concerns have proven ineffective.

The motion to send this memorandum was passed through council by an absolute majority of the house. This memorandum was made with the intention of fostering cooperativity and repairing our relationships with staff.

As this issue concerns the entire house, I have cc’ed all Cloyne members, and I request that you ‘reply all’ with your responses.

Best regards,

Cloyne House Manager on behalf of Cloyne Court Hotel

Kim’s Response (emphasis added):

Dear Cloyne Members,

I hope that you all are doing well and that your Summer is off to a good start. I also want to thank you for your patience for a response to your memo — the semester transitions are very busy times for everyone in the BSC community and we wanted to make sure that we were fully considering your feedback/requests, incorporating evolving circumstances, and determining the best way to move forward.  And to be honest, crafting an appropriate response to a five page memo is challenging and time consuming and this was difficult to do while balancing all of our other responsibilities. So we’ll have to figure out more efficient ways to communicate with each other moving forward. I apologize in advance for the length of this email — I had hoped to provide a more succinct response, but ultimately decided that it was better to share more of our thoughts and feelings in hopes that we can find a way to humanize everyone involved a bit more and come together to work toward a common cause.  I do not believe I am able to copy the Cloyne announce list, as was requested, (as I am not a member of the list/group), however, in the interest of transparency, I have bcc’d all current members of Cloyne to make sure everyone has the same information.

First off, I want to assure you that we have heard and understand your concerns.  I want to acknowledge the frustration you have experienced, your desire for a different dynamic with staff, and your desire to create a habitable, cooperative, and supportive community at Cloyne.  As a former co-op member and student house-level manager, I can appreciate your desire to feel empowered as members and student leaders in effectively governing and managing your housing community.  I and all other staff members share those goals and want to do our best to support you in collaborating to achieve them. Our goal as staff in this student-run organization is to try to work with you to figure out how best to support your leadership development and work with you to create systems that will help you and your fellow house members live cooperatively and be as self-reliant as possible while also meeting baseline standards for both Cloyne and the BSC as a whole.  If there are better ways for us to train, provide resources, or otherwise support you and your members in making that a reality, we want to find them and will put forth every effort to make it happen.

With regard to the summary of events you have shared, I will forgo providing a point-by-point response or debating details, as I don’t feel I have sufficient information to do so.  I have not been able to speak directly with many of the Cloyne managers and members involved and do not want to make assumptions about what occurred or anyone else’s actions or intentions without the benefit of their perspective.  I would encourage everyone else to do the same. I will say that, from those I have spoken to, there are definitely divergent opinions and experiences others have shared about some aspects of the narrative that has been put forth. There were a number of other things that reportedly occurred that were omitted, but likely played a significant role in affecting how these situations unfolded and the effectiveness of our working relationships.  The memo also contains some charged language and insinuations about [*Facilities manager] and other staff that seems to be based on misinformation, rumors, and assumptions.

For a variety of reasons, however, I do not believe that written memos/emails, social media, or similar forums is a productive space to unpack such things.  In the memo, restorative justice was referenced, and if there is a desire to engage in that type of process and discuss different decisions that were made and actions taken and to share how that impacted individuals and what we would like see in the future, I and others would definitely be open to that.  I think that would provide a safe and productive space for all parties to share their individual experiences, empathize, and make commitments to engaging more effectively with one another. I do not believe, however, that restorative justice can be replicated via written/electronic communications, so I will not try to do so here.

As some of you may know, I spoke with your House President over the phone on the weekend prior to your last Spring Council meeting and the memo being authored and offered to meet with members of your management team to better understand your concerns and come up with an action plan.  I shared that I believed that approach would be a more appropriate and effective way to provide feedback and for us to develop solutions. However, nobody reached out to meet or to let me know that the house was not interested or willing to do so. Your House President came by at the end of the week, after the memo had been circulated, to check in and indicated that managers did not want to meet due to a lack of trust.  The staff liaison team also attempted to arrange a meeting with your management team earlier in the Spring semester so they could work with you to improve habitability in the house and so that staff could better support your managers, however, from what I understand only two members of your management team attended. While I understand the potential hesitation to meet, that there may have been challenges to people attending these meetings that I am unaware of, and that trust must be developed between folks and earned, I have to be honest that I and other staff have found it challenging and have felt pretty disheartened when we have attempted to reach out, meet up, provide more support, and develop action plans together and these offers have been rebuffed.  These feelings are compounded when coupled with a public approach to providing feedback about our performance and being put on blast.

One of the BSC’s organizational priorities in our current strategic plan is to build more effective, healthy, and constructive feedback mechanisms for professional staff, student staff, and unit-level managers.  Almost all of you have held a job and/or are graduating and will soon transition to the professional arena. I would like you to ask yourself how you would you feel having a five page memo “criticizing” and “condemning” your behavior, sent to the all the members of your housing community, all of your supervisors, and potentially many additional members of the broader community?  How would that impact you? Would it make you feel safe and supported in your working environment and provide you with the best opportunity to consider the feedback and come up with strategies to improve?

It can be tempting at times to publicly criticize unit-level managers, professional staff, or other student leaders via email listservs and/or social media — and we all recognize that such communications have become increasingly common in our broader society.  In my experience, however, this type of feedback usually only leads to folks feeling defensive, shutting down, and feeling humiliated and/or that they are not valued by those they work with. It makes them think about whether or not that is the best place for them.  As a cooperative that strives to be both a progressive housing community and employer, I think that we can and should hold ourselves to a higher standard and treat all members of our community better than this. And if we can’t, I believe this is a major risk factor for our organization as it will jeopardize our ability to recruit and retain the best employees to support our membership over the long-term.  It’s hard to imagine many self-respecting people, especially in a highly competitive and evolving job market, accepting being treated that way, even if they truly love the BSC, our mission, the cooperative movement, and working with students.

This does not mean that you should not hold your staff and student leaders accountable — in order to be an effective student-run organization, you must be able to provide regular, constructive feedback so your leaders and staff understand your needs and can do their best to meet them.  However, in the future I would ask that this feedback be provided in a more professional manner by providing it privately, directly to the employee or to the employee’s supervisor, consistent with our agreed upon procedures and employment policies. If you’re not sure whom to speak to, or feel like you need more support, you’re always welcome to reach out to the appropriate senior manager, me, or you can reach out the BSC President (if you have feedback for me).  I think all staff members recognize that there are areas in which we can improve and opportunities for us to learn from both our successes and failures. We all genuinely want to do our jobs as well as we can — but we need partnership and support in providing an environment that makes it most likely for us to be able to contribute our best and succeed.

With regard to the unconditional demands and affirmations that you have requested we agree to, we are unable to do so.  This does not mean that I and others believe that the concerns or requests that underlie the demands are not important or valid — we certainly do.  However, there are various aspects of the demands/affirmations and/or the manner in which they have been presented that would be inconsistent with BSC policy, our housing contract, contractual agreements we have with outside entities, responsibilities we have as a student housing provider, and/or with what we sincerely believe, based on our previous cooperative and professional experience, would be effective.  I and other relevant staff are more than willing, however, to sit down with members of your management team and work collaboratively to develop agreements, based on input from all parties, that are feasible and responsive to the concerns and needs you have shared. And I am confident that this is achievable.

I understand that some folks feel that not agreeing to these unconditional, one-sided demands is “uncooperative”, however, that may just be due to us having different views, at present, of what it means to be cooperative.  And that’s okay. I actually don’t believe any one person has the perfect definition of what being cooperative means, nor that it’s universal for different individuals or groups of people. I think what cooperation looks like can and should constantly evolve based on the collective energy of the community, which inherently will change as the make-up of the constituents within the community changes and as the individuals that comprise the community change and hopefully grow within it.  What exactly cooperation means and should look like for our particular group, as we work together, will need to be co-created amongst us.

In your memo, you indicated that cooperation requires collaboration and shared values.  I think there is universal agreement around this. However, in order to collaborate, create shared values, and develop trust and more effective working relationships, I think that we need to be willing to meet and actively work, in person, with one another.  We will not be able to achieve those things if we work in isolation, make unilateral decisions without others’ input, impose unconditional demands on each other, or try to marginalize the contribution any individual or group is able to make in helping shape the cooperative community.  I don’t think that we will we ever achieve a truly cooperative housing community and working environment unless we humanize everyone involved, strive to empathize with each other, share ideas and perspectives, problem-solve, and come to collective agreements about how we would like to move forward as a community.  That’s going to take working alongside each other and learning as we go. In order to actually co-create our vision and plans, we’ll need to do it together.

The need for Cloyne management, members, and staff to work more closely and effectively with each other always exists, but will be even more necessary this Summer.  After considering her future plans, [*Facilities manager], your Facilities Manager, has notified us that she has decided to move on and pursue other educational and professional opportunities.  She will be wrapping up her work and will be moving out next week. For those of you who had the opportunity to live and work with [*Facilities manager] and are interested in staying in touch or learning more about her new adventures, I encourage you to reach out to her directly before she leaves.  

We will begin the recruitment and hiring process for a new Facilities Manager and will work to fill the position as soon as we are able.  In the meantime, Cloyne managers, members, and staff will need rally, come together, and support each other to develop and implement a transition plan so that we can ensure Cloyne operates smoothly over the Summer and that members’ needs are met.  We’ll also need to work together to try to learn from the challenges we’ve experienced and provide a training and support plan for the new Facilities Manager that will bring them up to speed as quickly as possible and help them be able to carry out their duties in alignment with your needs as members, cooperative values, the BSC’s expectations and goals, and the agreements we’ve made with the University regarding the position and the role it is expected to play in supporting Cloyne’s operations.  We’ll be reaching out to your management team to begin creating this early next week.

Though all of this may seem challenging, I also want to assure you there is reason to be hopeful.  Over the course of Cloyne’s history and the BSC’s 85-year history we have experienced far greater challenges than this.  In every instance we’ve been able to come together and find a way to overcome those challenges in order to ensure that Cloyne and the BSC can continue to thrive and provide an affordable, quality, cooperative community to students who need it.  And I’m confident that we can and will do it again and that we’ll be able to continue to make improvements and leave both Cloyne and the BSC better than we found it. We look forward to rolling up our sleeves, sharing ideas, problem-solving, and working with you all this accomplish this.

Sincerely,

Kim

Editor note: Facilities manager’s name redacted for privacy.

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