Housing administrators touched a nerve in February when they altered the University's traditionally seniority-based housing lottery by closing off Furnald Hall to seniors and turning Hartley and Wallach Halls into a Living and Learning Center (LLC), a multi-class residential community with residents responsible for organizing and participating in programming.
Administrators reopened Furnald to the lottery a week after the plan's announcement and maintained the creation of the LLC, which would draw a large number of applicants.
The initial proposal, brought on by the closing of River Hall, the increased size of entering classes, and the desire to establish both class and multi-class based communities, would have put seniors in the newly constructed Broadway Residence Hall as well as in Hogan, East Campus, and to a small extent Schapiro Hall.
The plan intended that juniors live predominately in East Campus, Furnald, and Schapiro, with approximately 150 juniors living in Wien. Sophomores were expected to flock to the LLC, with the rest of the class living in Wien, Furnald, and McBain Halls.
Housing juniors in Furnald was meant to be a one-year situation, with the building being occupied entirely by first-years and sophomores for the 2001-2002 academic year. The closing-off of Furnald and Hartley-Wallach means that in the future, juniors and seniors will be effectively cut off from living on South Field.
The loss of South Field, combined with the prospect of rising seniors living in Schapiro and rising juniors living in Wien, had members of the two classes up in arms, while Student Councils were angered by the fact that administrators had not spoken with them when contemplating the changes.
Junior Class President Seth Morris led the opposition to the plan, rallying his class together to protest the changes. "This is a big mistake on the part of [the] Administration, and students will not stand for it," he wrote in an e-mail. "The principle of limiting choice must be justified by an overwhelmingly strong need that has simply not been demonstrated by the Administration."
According to Dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley, the housing changes had been in the works for five years and were a part of a larger plan created by Quigley and Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo geared at creating a sense of class identity among outgoing students by creating a "senior strip" centered on the corner of 114th Street and Broadway. The senior strip is meant to mirror the similar first-year community centered around South Field, consisting of Carman, John Jay, and large portions of Furnald and the Hartley-Wallach LLC. Quigley's vision of a senior community would have the majority of seniors living in Watt, Hogan, Broadway, and, several years from now, a renovated Ruggles Hall.
Quigley and Colombo said the plan was meant to emphasize mobility over community during students' sophomore and junior years, giving students in their middle years the ability to pick housing by lottery and live with friends, with social communities taking precedence over class-based living.
The plan is meant to balance "coherence, which creates community, and variety, which creates mobility," Quigley said in February.
The desire to create a sense of class identity can be seen in many recent administrative initiatives, from class-based advising centers to a proposed class-by-class system of alumni networking. Quigley cited the LLC as a similar attempt to create a sense of community, based on proximity and programming rather than on class. He also emphasized the idea of the LLC as an experiment that would be reevaluated depending on student reaction. If students respond favorably to the community, the LLC program may be expanded to other residence halls.
Although student opinion is an important part of the process, Quigley said, it is necessary that the overall plan go forward.
"Obviously, we can't be constrained by the pessimists who might argue, 'Community is not all that students would wish, but don't change anything because it would make it worse,"' he said.
Quigley solicited student opinion in 1997 and 1998 by hiring a private consultant to conduct a series of focus groups. Current student leaders, however, were angered that the Administration did not consult them. Student leaders like Morris viewed the situation as symptomatic of a larger pattern of administrative disdain for student representatives, leading Morris to make plans towards organizing a boycott of the lottery process.
According to members of the CCSC and the Undergraduate Housing Council, the Student Councils were not contacted about the changes at any point and were coldly rebuffed when they inquired about this year's housing situation during the weeks before the decision was announced.
"There's this pattern of the Administration not consulting students or consulting us afterward," said then-CCSC Communications Representative Ariel Neuman. "There needs to be a fundamental change in how they view us and how they interact with us."
According to Director of Residential Life Brian Paquette, however, getting student input at every step of the process would be inefficient. "If you change the plan every time the student body changes, Lerner would still be closed," he said.
During the week after the announcement, housing administrators went to meetings of the Engineering, Columbia College, and Undergraduate Housing Student Councils and encountered hostile audiences at each one. Faced with overwhelming student criticism, administrators decided to reopen 70 percent of Furnald to the lottery, reserving 30 percent for members of the Class of 2003.
The LLC program went ahead and has proven extremely successful so far, having received 282 applications for 155 upperclass slots.
A record number of seniors entered into suite selection this year, even with the opening of the new corridor-style Broadway Residence Hall, which, combined with the reopening of Furnald to the lottery, meant that approximately 40 percent of Broadway will be occupied by juniors next year.
The University plans on making several renovations to Wien, including installing new roofing and furniture. The Sophomore Class Center will be moved from Wien to Furnald, freeing up space that will be used to house a TV lounge and possibly a communal kitchen.
Wien, along with Carman, Hogan, and Woodbridge, will have sprinkler systems installed in response to concerns raised by the deaths of several Seton Hall students in a dorm fire.
Due to budget considerations, however, URH was forced to pick and choose which renovations to make this summer. Wien's old and unreliable electrical system will remain as is, and Wien's bathrooms will be untouched by renovating hands.
The other highlight of URH's renovations will be River Hall. The prewar structure will be offline next year while URH completely revamps the interior. Knowing that their home would be completely revamped next year, River's residents decided to take advantage of the situation, drawing on the walls and generally abusing the doomed interior of the building.
River's coming back online in 2001 is expected to relieve the housing crunch and solve many of the issues in this year's housing process.
According to Quigley, a complete renovation of Wien is next on the University's agenda, but is unlikely to happen for several years, with an overhaul of Ruggles Hall thereafter.