Student-centered. It’s the mantra the University prides itself on. Besides being written on almost every promotional brochure for the University, those two words are spoken by administrators at every possible opportunity. But, the looming changes to campus housing have undercut this principle.
It is clear from the presentation that Residence Life gave at the Lawrenceville Student Government Association (SGA) Senate meeting this week that the plan has not been fully thought out. Quite honestly, it seems to be a haphazard arrangement in a decision process reminiscent of power players meeting in a smoke-filled room. Even though campus rooms are smoke-free today, the plans being laid are just as murky. Although the Lawrenceville SGA formed a housing committee composed of several students to work with the administration to develop the policy, it seems as if we got the short end of the stick.
No matter how the administration or others try to spin this as “a good problem for Rider to have” — a sign of how popular the University has become — it is an issue starting to create an uproar. As much as the administration may want to deny it or begin damage control, the admissions booklet for Fall 2007 stated, “Housing is guaranteed throughout your four years at Rider.” Now current sophomores and juniors who deposit on time are gambling, hoping that they will be among the lucky students to receive housing in the lottery.
But, there will be winners and losers. Early projections from the administration suggest that 150 students will be waitlisted, waiting in limbo for space to open up before Sept. 1. How long are these students expected to wait before making alternative plans? More importantly, how are students on the waiting list going to be prioritized? That is where things start to go awry.
One of the first components of the policy that will probably have many students doing a double take is the housing deposit that has risen from $100 to $200. One has to wonder whether the increase is a strategy to deter some students from pursuing on-campus housing. Individuals forced off campus are going to have to hunt in townships and apartment complexes that are not eager to rent to college students. If students do find somewhere to live, it is going to be hard balancing a full-time course load and having a job that pays the rent.
The new policy is also going to create an influx of commuter students, and we all know how bad parking can be on the Lawrenceville campus. Many of us have driven up and down aisle after aisle looking for a spot. Meanwhile, students living on campus who lose housing but do not have cars will now require transportation to and from campus. These are all problems the University is going to have to contend with under its plan.
So far, this new plan may not sound so bad to some. After all, we have some 3,500 undergraduates and if a small fraction of them wind up without a roof over their head on campus, it’s not so bad. Most colleges and universities do not guarantee housing anymore, and those that do, do it for first-year students only. Rider is simply following a trend — accelerated here by a growing number of students who want to live on campus.
Leaders of the Lawrenceville SGA need to take a careful look in the mirror. While they don’t have the authority to override this new policy, they do have the power to challenge it and not be rubber stamps for the administration. While forming a housing committee was a good first step, the SGA must do more. The SGA should consider hosting a town hall meeting where students can get answers about the policy.
While administrators present at the Senate meeting tried to calm the fears, their reassurances are likely to fall on deaf ears. It’s a little late. The planning for housing should have begun long ago, and information about this policy should have been available the day students returned from winter break. Any change in the four-year guarantee should have been communicated clearly and consistently. Giving students a few weeks’ notice after they have invested two or three years here is less than respectful. To fulfill the “student-centered” promises and not just protect the bottom line, the University must take in the number of students it can reasonably handle.
Written By Opinion Editor, Jamie Papapetros