Off-Campus Housing Policy Aggravates Students
While in Oberlin’s past all seniors were guaranteed off-campus housing, this year only 465 students were allowed off-campus. Many students are dissatisfied with ResEd’s decision and some have been in contact with Residential Education, Vice President of Finance Ron Watts and President Nancy Dye detailing their concerns with the policy shift through letters and meetings.
“When you accept admissions to a college, that is a contract,” said junior Joshua Morris. “A part of that is accepting policies and procedures. When we entered Oberlin, part of that was guaranteed senior off-campus housing.” Morris claims that this new system invalidates the “contract” and is therefore void.
ResEd contends that although the housing process may appear different, the actual policy hasn’t changed.
“The number of students we can let off has always been a specific number,” said Associate Dean/Director of ResEd Molly Tyson. “We’ve always had to fill all on-campus beds. The formula for how we let people off hasn’t changed.”
The difference lies in the fact that, prior to this year, the number of eligible of students that wanted off-campus housing did not exceed the number ResEd was allowed to let off. This year there are new on-campus beds to fill and an unusually high number of qualified students.
“Yes, in the past, the policy has stated that all seniors could get off if they wanted, whether that was accurate or not,” Tyson continued. “We’ve been lucky in the past years that it evened out. We were lucky last year.”
The policy has changed in two substantive ways. First, a contingency system, in case the numbers of off-campus requests exceeded the number allowed, was written into policy in the form of a lottery system.
“The lottery system being written into the system is just to be clearer and more transparent with the students,” said Tyson.
“If magically half the senior class wanted to stay on-campus, there would have been no lottery,” said Director of Business Operations Michele Gross.
Also, instead of giving preference to students with more credits, the system now favors those with the most semesters in residence, including any academic leaves of absence approved by Oberlin.
“It treats all entering freshmen in an equal way,” said Gross.
Students are still concerned about the negative effects these sudden limitations could potentially have on the class of 2007. One problem that arose this year was that many groups’ plans for living off-campus together have been disrupted.
“Nobody’s group is going to be whole,” said Morris.
“The only option the administration is leaving us with [to address the problem] is to organize among ourselves,” said junior Mary Notari.
This organization took the form of a mass e-mail asking students whose plans have been disrupted by the limited off-campus housing release to send in their information. The result is a networking system that 214 students have already responded to.
The largest concern for students seems to be financial. Junior Betty Frank estimated that the average rent for off-campus housing is $322 with utilities and $256 without. On campus, it’s $525 for a single and $600 for village housing.
On top of that, many students who did not receive off-campus housing had already signed leases.
“Apparently the college sent out a warning e-mail telling us not to sign a lease but that’s ridiculous,” said junior Jonathan Levin. “It contains no conception of how off-campus housing works in the real world. Most people off-campus now signed leases months in advance.”
“If you want a nice place, you have to sign a lease months before the housing process stands,” said Morris.
The student group recognizes that the new policy is about money.
“And the administration isn’t denying it, so that’s a positive thing,” said Levin.
“It’s true that this really is a matter of filling beds,” said Frank. “We feel that it’s an inherent problem that they need more money to come from housing to cover costs in academic programs and other areas. We’re having trouble understanding why they built so many new beds.”
Watts responded that this is a standard way for college budgets to operate: auxiliary programs helping to pay for academic ones.
“ResEd is part of a much larger operating budget,” said Watts. “For example, when financial aid goes toward residential costs, ResEd doesn’t get charged for it. If the financial aid budget helps pay for ResEd then it makes sense that ResEd’s revenue would help pay for other programs.”
Watts said that part of their budget includes room for improvement.
“Part of the big issue is to build housing that upper-level students will want,” said Watts. “The question is what will that look like. Maybe warehouse or loft-style living is next.” He also mentioned plans to renovate several of the older dorms.
But everyone agrees that this was a transition year with some surprises.
“We didn’t expect there to be a 130 person waiting list,” said Tyson. “We thought we’d have 30 or 40.”
This year, there was an unusually large number of students over age 23 that qualified for off-campus exemptions. There were also over 50 more fifth-years than last year and an unusually large junior class, which accounts for the large number of eligible students who did not get off campus.
For some students, this is only part of a bigger problem. The letter to Dye outlining their concerns yielded a responding letter that some students took offense to as condescending.
“The administration is out of touch with the needs of the students.” said Notari. “They’re taking it to a very patronizing level.”
“When the housing decision came we were all upset,” said Frank. “But the administration’s reaction to us has been even more upsetting. We’re all frustrated with how difficult it is to communicate with them.”
“The members of the administration I’ve spoken to were pretty sympathetic,” she added. “But we think they need to incorporate some of our demands into the policy.”
In response to student complaints that the administration has been unclear in
its communication, Dye said, “I think the college has made its policies
clear. It was very open about how it was building new housing and less people
would be off-campus. But I think the college has been very consistent in saying
we need to fill all the beds. I think people will find that their options in
college housing will be excellent.”