Lizette Colón, a faculty counselor at Hostos Community College, knows what it means to be flexible. The educator is accustomed to working inside and outside the classroom, but last spring found her meeting with students in the hallway after she was shut out of her faculty office.
At issue was Colón’s refusal to pay a fee she found exorbitant for the replacement of her keys, which were stolen out of the door lock during a moment when her back was turned.
“I went [into the office] for less than two minutes to give a T-shirt and an appointment to a student,” Colón told Clarion. “When my student and I came out from the office to the hall, the the keys were no longer there.”
Insult to Injury
The administration refused to accept her report of the keys as stolen, Colón said, and when she asked administrators to review footage from the security camera in the corridor, she was told that the camera was not functioning. She was asked to pay $100 to replace the “lost” key.
Adding insult to injury, when she was first assigned the office, Colón was given a choice between having a key lock or a key pad for access to her office. She requested the key pad, which was installed, only to be removed a week later and replaced with the lock.
To Colón, the high replacement fee seemed a bit unusual. Colón noted that she wasn’t the only Hostos employee she knew of dealing with this issue. An employee on the support staff, whom Colón did not wish to name, was socked with $200 in fees for two lost keys, one of which was a key to a restroom.
Colón did some checking around and found that Hostos was the only college in the CUNY system that charges such high fees for replacement keys: many, in fact, imposed no fee at all. The highest fee found by Colón for a replacement key at a CUNY college other than Hostos was at John Jay College, where an employee was required to cough up $10 for a key.
When Colón asked administrators why the key replacement fees at Hostos were so high, she said they told her the fees were set as incentives for key-holders to treat their keys responsibly. “But the truth is that people [only] find out about the cost when they lose them,” she told Clarion. “The majority of us are not cognizant of the cost.”
Colón refused to pay the fee, prevailing instead on colleagues or staff with master keys, or calling the security office to request that they send someone to let her in. At first, she said, security personnel were cooperative in opening her office to her when she needed access, but then, she said, as the weeks went by, the office began delaying sending an officer to help her. So, she began meeting with students in the hallway outside her locked office door.
Then, mysteriously, after her weeks of hallway sessions, Colón received word to come pick up her new key. No fee required.
“I never learned who paid for it,” Colón told Clarion.
Today, the Hostos key policy, with its high fees, remains in place. But it gave Colón the opportunity to demonstrate the tactics and results of passive resistance to the students who met with her in the hallway.