On Feb. 7, Vice President for Campus Services Richard Jamieson and Vice President for Student Affairs Lou Stark emailed undergraduates about housing changes for upperclassmen in the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year. There they said they “expect that about 17% of interested upper-class students will not be able to live on campus.” This is unacceptable. Case Western Reserve University administration should be committed to providing for and supporting its current student body, yet the university proves again that they do not care for the well-being of its current students.
These housing changes are due to the larger incoming Class of 2026. The administration even admits that despite the recent classes being larger than expected, the trend will continue since they wanted to expand enrollment anyway. But what about the current student body? Even though CWRU wants to expand its size, it fails to take into consideration—or rather blatantly ignores—the effect the expansion of the university will have on the lives of its current students. The housing changes illustrate exactly how far the university will go in order to receive more funding for its own benefits. All of this is a clear attempt to burnish its own reputation at the expense of their own students. The line of reasoning being made seems to be clear: an increase in students leads to more professors, more professors lead to conducting more research projects, which ultimately leads to securing more grants. One of President Eric Kaler’s main stated goals has been to build a better apparatus to “extract money from the federal government” through research funding. This move is just another step towards transitioning us from an educational institution to just being a purely financial endeavor.
Can CWRU truly say they care about their students with their current actions? They are well aware that they don’t have the infrastructure to support admitting more students, yet they continue down this path anyways, making life more difficult for the current classes, as many will be forced to look for off-campus housing unexpectedly.
These upper-class housing changes obviously affect the student body as a whole. However, it is important that we recognize the students who are the most negatively affected: low-income students who heavily or entirely rely on financial aid to pay for their housing. The university increases or decreases financial aid based on students’ housing situation, with financial aid being reduced for commuter and off-campus students.
CWRU recognizes what they are doing is problematic, yet they “cannot alleviate all of [our] concerns.” The follow-up email they sent on Feb. 8 to address the concerns about the upperclassmen housing changes was a weak attempt to address concerns that ended up being even more insulting.
In this email, Stark and Jamieson state that “Each year, our staff members examine rental costs of apartments around campus—excluding those marketed as “luxury” level or beyond walking distance. These prices—based on a two-bedroom with two roommates—are significantly less than on-campus housing; compared to university board charges, dining expenses are still lower. The university’s policy is to meet the full amount of demonstrated financial need of its students. The smaller financial aid award reflects the decrease in costs for housing and food.” While everyone is affected by this reduction in financial aid if they are forced to live off-campus, low-income students are much less likely to have additional financial resources to support themselves if they were forced to live off-campus due to the impending housing crisis. Not only would these students have to pay additional money to the university in order to cover the reduction in financial aid, but they would also have to pay for rent, food and their usual personal expenses. If a student is already receiving enough aid to mostly or completely cover their on-campus university housing cost, this change in upper-classman housing would create a significant and unprecedented financial burden.
Furthermore, while most off-campus housing is currently cheaper than on-campus options, this will change when more people pursue off-campus housing. Rent prices will go up, making off-campus housing options even more inaccessible for low-income students. Having more students living off-campus will not only increase rent, it will also increase gentrification. CWRU is contained within its own little bubble, and the more that bubble expands into the surrounding communities, the more we displace neighboring populations—which are primarily low-income and BIPOC. These housing changes don’t just affect students, but it affects local communities, creating conditions that will eventually force them out.
In the same email, Jamieson and Stark also mention plans to create a “hardship exception process” for students who do not obtain a room by the end of the housing lottery, although they do not explain this concept any further. Will this process actually address the issues that will arise, particularly for low-income students? We can only hope that this plan will effectively provide assistance to them, but based on the university’s obvious indifference, it’s very unlikely that there will be an actual solution. The incredibly vague terminology used in the email leaves us wondering what will be the criteria for hardship, and how much effort they will put into following through with—and publicly updating—this plan; we are not holding our breath.
Students are angry about these recent developments—rightfully so—and the outrage has quickly led to the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) sharing a petition to the student body that calls “for the University to reconsider their plans for housing moving forward.” While well-intentioned, even if the petition gets a large number of signatures, again, it feels unlikely that CWRU will change its mind. After all, they only appear to really care about publicity, money and their reputation.
They “regret that space constraints require that [they] take this step,” as if they don’t have the ability to simply cap the number of admitted students. By focusing on expanding the university and failing to maintain its policy of guaranteed four years of housing, CWRU is not only publicly declaring that they are apathetic towards their students’ welfare, but also that they have no respect towards its local communities.