Council drafts Bill of Rights
At a University that espouses a policy of transparency, it might come as a surprise to students still housed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Franklin, N.J, that their night lives may no longer be hindered by the confines of a bus schedule.
During a College Avenue Council meeting last night, representatives addressed issues and concerns of Crowne Plaza residents to Executive Director of Residence Life Joan Carbone, presenting a proposed Bill of Rights that would address such issues as there being no Knight Mover Bus Service for the hotel residents.
"When you're right on campus, you can have a night life," said University Sen. Chrissy Schramke, a Rutgers College senior. "We're college students. We want to be out."
But unknown to the representatives and residents of Crowne Plaza, Carbone said Residence Life contracted a cab company for students stranded after Campus Buses' normal running hours to provide transportation at no immediate cost to students.
Carbone said a student stranded on campus after 3 a.m. may call their resident assistant, who would contact the contracted cab company, the name of which Carbone could not recall at the time, and the University would pick up the bill.
"The Knight Mover is not willing to do it without us paying for it," Carbone said. "If we're going to pay for it, we might as well get them a cab … The contract is simply that they do it for nothing, knowing the University will back them up later."
But Carbone said Residence Life didn't want to advertise this for fear that students might abuse the option.
"It's sort of a balancing act," she said. "How much money can we spend on those students without taking away from the rest of the students?"
Carbone said the biggest complaint Residence Life receives concerns transportation to and from the hotel. Two buses run on a continuous loop — one bus running seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. and a second bus added later that runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. She said before the Department of Transportation Services added an additional bus, students almost revolted.
According to the proposed Bill of Rights, 340 students were placed in hotel accommodations off the University campus instead of receiving the on-campus housing they requested this year. The bill said some University students were given no more than one week's notice for this situation for the upcoming semester, and these students have been excluded from the amenities enjoyed by students living on campus, such as having a dining hall within walking distance of their residence.
The bill would propose that the College Avenue Council accept a Bill of Rights for students who request on-campus housing and ask Housing and Residence Life to ensure that these rights are protected. It suggests that all students who wish to live on campus at the University be provided with the Bill of Rights to protect them from facing a similar situation in the future, and the College Avenue Council encourages Housing and Residence Life to create a long-term plan to avoid a similar situation in the future.
Other issues hotel residents expressed to the council provided during the meeting included feelings of seclusion from the rest of the University and other students, no social life, hotel staff showing up unexpectedly at random hours and late notification of these students' living situation — for some, a week before the beginning of classes.
Carbone said these problems stem from the complexity of the admission process and a very sharp decrease in cancellations, which made the housing crisis difficult to predict.
"Admission is an art rather than a science," Carbone said. "Clearly, there was a sharp increase in people wanting to live on campus."
By August, there were still 700 continuing students on the waiting list, Carbone said.
"We made a decision that it was wrong to turn away students without giving them another option," she said,
That's when Carbon said Housing turned to hotels. After approaching several hotels about housing students, Carbons said the Crowne Plaza was the only hotel able to give up 200 rooms to students.
Students in the Crowne Plaza were clustered into wings, receiving many amenities such as weekly maid service, a 24-hour fitness center, an indoor pool and a television in each room. Carbone said the rooms also boasted two double beds, two telephones and cable Internet access.
To date, Carbone said around 90 students still reside in the hotel, on top of another estimated 90 first-year students remaining in student lounges.
Students in the hotel pay what Carbone calls a "Stonier Fee." While a hotel stay would cost two residents $70 a night, Carbone said students pay less than $30 a night.
"We're subsidizing the price of what [students] didn't pay the hotel," Carbone said.
She said with the strain of budget cuts and a faltering economy, the University cannot afford to lower admission to the University, which in return would lower tuition prices.
One proactive approach Carbone said she hopes to see in coming years is more on-campus housing being built. She said she does not see the housing crisis resolving itself in the near future.
"We do have to build more housing, no doubt about it," Carbone said, "And I do expect we are going to be in this situation again, but we have more time to prepare for it."
She said next year she expects there to be shortage of around 1,500 beds. She also projects the student lounges will not be emptied by the end of the semester.
"There are no good answers to this than to build," she said.
She said new housing would be available the earliest by 2010.
Carbone said she does not anticipate employing one approach Housing took this year: filling student lounges with un-accommodated students. She said she also hopes to reduce the number of lounges used next year.
In regards to who receives housing priority, Carbone said first-year students are always promised housing. But transfer students, who are also new to the University, are not given priority, an issue raised at the council meeting because many transfer students are from out of state and may find it hard to find off-campus housing.
Carbone said she hopes to bring in off-campus housing officials to aid students in the process of getting off-campus housing if the situation does repeat itself.
"It was very lonely for the students," Carbone said. "Although they had each other, they felt disconnected."
Anthony Picarelli, a chairman for the University Affairs Committee, said he hopes students put in this situation again next year will have a smoother transition.
"Clearly, [Housing] was taken by surprise this year," said Picarelli, a Rutgers College senior. "If it can't be avoided next year, we want to make it as close to on-campus students as possible."