By Clare Myers
Faced with a volunteer shortage, Student Programming at the University of Dallas (SPUD) has created a new category of volunteers to give underclassmen the experience to build competitive applications for paid SPUD Board positions.
“We thought it would make things easier and make things more streamlined next year if there was a pool of people with previous SPUD experience,” academics coordinator Phil Wozniak said.
Affectionately referred to as “Spuddies,” Student Programming Assistants are volunteers who commit to 20 to 25 hours of work for the semester. They directly assist Spud board members, who coordinate different SPUD committees. According to Rachel Luquette, the director of SPUD, after working specifically with the head of one of the committees, a Spuddy would be well prepared to become a board member if he applied.
“If they’re interested in being a coordinator, it would definitely help to say ‘Wow, I have these skills,’” she said.
Luquette was quick to emphasize that becoming a Spuddy does not necessarily mean that the volunteer will be hired as a coordinator.
“I think they have as good a shot as anyone with similar qualifications,” Luquette said.
The process by which the Spuddies are selected, however, lacks clarity and consistency.
According to Wozniak, the coordinators were given options: They could choose from a pool of students who had applied for board positions last semester and not been hired; they could choose someone who they knew wanted to become a more involved volunteer; or they could opt for an open application process.
“It was really up to the individual directors,” Wozniak said.
The process raises concerns about ensuring paid SPUD positions that are open to all students. Some students argue that allowing coordinators to handpick their Spuddies could effectively exclude certain students from SPUD jobs.
“I know that I would most probably not have been [a Spuddy] for socials last year because Pat [Archer, last semester’s socials coordinator] had no idea who I was,” said current socials coordinator Maria Jose Herrera in an email. “He was not aware that I was interested in the program. Who knows if I would have the position now if I didn’t have the [Spuddy] background?”
Herrera also pointed out the trouble of finding volunteers to commit to the program. According to Herrera, choosing a Spuddy was challenging in part because it was difficult to get the word out about what exactly the program was.
Junior Emily Lataif, who is currently Luquette’s Spuddy, was selected by the director based on a number of recommendations. Although her Spuddy position was not open to applications, Lataif noted that many coordinators tried hard to make the opportunity available to all students.
“I don’t think it’s a perfect system, but if you want the best-qualified people, then this is the best system,” Lataif said.
“I definitely get why people think it’s a ‘hire your friends’ kind of thing though,” Lataif said.
She pointed out, however, that it is no different from other organizations, such as the newspaper and yearbook, where students frequently interview or photograph their own friends.
Lataif and Wozniak both said that some coordinators made efforts to advertise the positions to the student body, including sending email blasts and handing out cards.
“I would challenge the notion that there is some sort of nepotistic desire to build a clique,” Wozniak said. “I don’t see that at all.”
The process is still being ironed out, Luquette said. Currently, not all Spuddy positions for the fall semester are filled. Almost all of the volunteer spots for the spring are available.
“We will probably have some type of more formal application process next semester,” she said. “We want SPUD to be for everyone to participate in, if they’re qualified.”