Common room conversion averted, but crisis remains

Despite worries in November that it might have to reclaim some common rooms in Mission Park to house students returning for Winter Study and spring semester, the College has exercised alternative options to solve the problem. The College avoided proceeding with the controversial common room repossesion in that dorm due in large part to the higher-than-expected number of students who chose to study abroad for the second part of the year.

Having found beds for all students for this academic year, the College is now considering measures to prevent a potential housing crunch in the future should the number of students studying abroad decrease which would occur in all certainty should the US go to war with Iraq.

In November, the Record reported that 48 students returning from abroad did not have beds for the Winter Study period and 27 students would not have beds come spring semester.

This housing crunch was attributed to the uncertain number of students who planned to study abroad during spring semester. In order to accommodate returning students, the College planned to use 34 common rooms in the Mission Park complex as bed spaces and ordered these rooms to be emptied of all personal possessions. These common rooms are referred to as “swing rooms” because in the past they have been used as bed spaces under similar circumstances when the College faced limited housing options.

The predicted number of students without beds for Winter Study and spring semester was largely based on the number of students planning to study abroad during those periods. This number fluctuated until the end of the fall semester when the study abroad number was finalized, making the housing situation initially appear to be worse than it now seems.

“In the end it was not necessary to house students in Mission common rooms because enough beds were vacated and many returning juniors opted to borrow a room from a friend for Winter Study until their room was vacated in the spring semester,” said Norma Lopez, assistant dean of the College.

Still, the rooms being vacated by students going abroad in the spring were not enough to accommodate all of the students returning, and the College was forced to make innovative housing arrangements.

The Gladden apartment in the basement of the Greylock Quad house is normally designated as faculty housing, but it has been used as student housing in the past when housing has been scarce. Again this year it is being used as such. There are two bedrooms in the apartment, and two students have been assigned to live in each of the bedrooms.

Other juniors have been assigned to co-op housing, which is usually reserved exclusively for seniors.

Furthermore, according to Lopez, “There are no more than a handful of juniors who have petitioned and been allowed to live off campus. All have been approved, as is typical, for special circumstances only.” Finally, returning students have also been assigned to half-occupied rooms seniors had picked in hopes that underclassmen would not also pick into the same rooms.

Since the number of students studying abroad has such a large impact on the availability of student rooms, many believe that the possibility of war between the United States and Iraq may cause a housing crunch in the future as it would cause many students to stay on campus rather than study abroad.

Laura McKeon, assistant dean and coordinator of international education programs, said the Dean’s Office has no way of knowing how the number of students studying away will be affected if the United States goes to war with Iraq, “but I imagine that study away numbers would decrease in a time of war.”

“Study abroad numbers fluctuate every year, but clearly if lots of students choose not to study abroad, we will have a housing crunch, which is why we are doing some advance planning,” Dean Roseman said.

Although no changes have been decided yet, the College is now exploring various steps to prevent a potential housing crunch in the future should the number of students studying abroad decrease.

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) will soon be discussing how students pick into doubles. In the past, students often pick into doubles hoping they will have the room to themselves and are disappointed when this does not occur. The CUL will discuss a new policy for doubles which may alleviate some of the problems that occurred this year. Under this policy, students would be required to pick into doubles in pairs.

The College is also surveying the size of many of the rooms on campus. “There are many rooms on campus that were once doubles and are now singles,” Dean Roseman said. “In case the study away numbers change, we are currently identifying rooms that could become doubles.”

However, some believe that the potential war between the United States and Iraq will have little bearing on the number of students studying abroad and will therefore not affect the availability of student housing.

“The housing situation may be problematic if the number of students studying abroad changes drastically, but there is no way to foresee the effect of a war on students’ decisions to study abroad at this point,” Lopez said. “After all, the numbers did not change after Sept. 11, as one may have thought they might.”