From time-to-time I like to exercise my own freedom of the press by offering counterpoints to the editorials in the campus paper, the Trinitonian. I will invoke that privilege this week to respond to the editorial about the housing situation. Note that I have a great relationship with the paper and respect its usual excellence. The issue -- releasing students from the residency requirement to accommodate all of our students -- was nicely covered by Trinitonian reporter Kristina Meyer.
The accompanying editorial, however, somewhat unfairly characterizes the work of the Residential Life staff, particularly, that of Associate Director Wanda Olson as "obviously flawed." In addition the piece claims that the Residential Life Office failed to "properly plan." The editorial presents the office as one that has to base projections on guesswork. That part is true. Mrs. Olson looks at occupancy figures and wait list information from previous years and projects the number of students who can be released in advance in order to ensure that we have room for all of our students under the University's three-year requirement.
This is not an exact science. The previous year, when nearly everyone was released on the first pass, the Residential Life Office began the year with 50 vacancies. Predicting "student melt" is extremely difficult. This year we opened with a full house and are still moving people out of triples and upper-class students out of the first year area.
The second issue, articulated in the column, was that the staff is doing nothing but hoping for a new facility to resolve the issue. That isn't entirely true either. In fact, just this week, in conjunction with the Business Office, the staff has worked out a plan to refund room deposits based on cancellation dates. One of the issues Residential Life struggles with is learning of cancellations in a timely manner. The new system will provide incentive for students to notify the University quickly of their plans not to return. A full refund will be issued for notifications by June 1 and a partial refund by July 1. Previously deposits were completely non-refundable. This is a win for students who cancel, and for those waiting for the subsequent vacancies that are created. The plan was proposed by Mrs. Olson last spring, based on research she had done with peer institutions.
My greatest issue with the editorial is that it presents the staff as unsophisticated and uncaring buffoons. In fact, Mrs. Olson, specifically, gives incredible individual attention to students and the room assignment process. She really should be applauded rather than belittled. The assignment process is a complex one, condemning it without thought, though, is simple.