Grads Decry Policy at Housing Forum

    Over 150 graduate students attended a forum Monday to express discontent with the newly implemented changes to the graduate housing contract, a policy which over 600 students learned in October would require them to vacate their affiliated residences over the next several months. Dean of Graduate Studies Kim Barrett and Director of Housing and Dining Mark Cunningham addressed the crowd.

    The meeting, which was organized by Graduate Student Association President Nick Saenz, Vice President of Internal Affairs Melanie Zauscher along with Barrett and Cunningham, served as both an informative session on the new graduate housing changes and an open forum for students to voice opinions on the new policy.

    “The primary function [of the meeting] was information,” Saenz said. “There was a lot of confusion over exactly what was happening, and that wasn’t very well communicated with the students. We really wanted an opportunity to see each other face to face. It was an opportunity for students to express their views.”

    Barrett began the meeting by offering an explanation for the change, informing attendees that the new policy was enacted to enhance community and to ease the transition for incoming students. The policy, which will eventually provide a two-year housing contract for all first-year graduate students, was implemented to ease the pressure of finding housing in a potentially unfamiliar city and to foster community between disciplines.
    “[The changes] will build a graduate community by better integrating new students to the campus,” Barrett said.

    The contractual reform was heavily influenced by a GSA survey completed three years ago, which reported that a majority of graduate students did not feel they were part of a community. In response, the Graduate and Professional Student Experience and Satisfaction Committee released a report finding that “early placement [in housing would] enhance student recruitment and maximize the educational and social benefit.”

    ­­­However, structural engineering graduate student Anna Lang said that the new changes will have an adverse effect on recruitment. The previous plan guaranteed housing for the extent of a graduate student’s studies, providing that academic standards were met, and she said the new one-year housing offer will likely discourage prospective students from choosing UCSD due to the uncertainty of stable housing, especially for those pursuing doctoral degrees.

    “With regards to recruitment, I just don’t buy it,” Lang said. “I was recruited to come here and there’s no way a 12-month guarantee will bring new people. A lot of department recruiters agree. It’s just not a positive tool.”

    According to a petition presented to Barrett and Cunningham that was drafted in opposition to the policy change, the new housing policy “inhibits efforts to build graduate student community, undermines retention of our current colleagues, and threatens the recruitment of future graduate students.”

    The petition, which contains over 1,000 graduate student signatures, addresses the changes that affect all students who moved in after Oct. 1. The new policy implements a transition stage within the housing process, an effort to accommodate current contracted and waitlisted students while adapting to the new system as quickly as possible.

    Under the changes, students who entered the housing contract after Sept. 30 will be given primary residency status and allotted a nonrenewable one-year rental agreement. After one year, students may not reapply for housing.

    Secondary tenants — those not listed as the primary contact on a lease — will be evicted upon the departure of the primary tenant. However, if the primary tenant vacates before Dec. 1 and the secondary tenant has resided in the apartment for at least a year, the secondary tenant may take over the lease for the remaining duration of the rental agreement.

    Bob Haushalter, a biochemistry graduate student, had been on the waitlist since February 2006 and found housing through a friend, who was a primary tenant. Haushalter signed his lease as a secondary tenant in January 2008. Under the new policy, he will be forced to leave at the beginning of next year when the primary tenant moves out, something he did not expect upon signing the contract.

    “I would not have moved if I knew I was going to get kicked out,” he said. “I moved into the Mesas under the assumption that when my roommate got his Ph.D. that I would take over the primary position. I don’t see the problem with the [previous] system where I take over the primary after a year. Grad students are moving in with grad students they know as opposed to strangers.”

    Saenz agreed that the administration is moving in the right direction with the new policy, but said the changes in their current form serve to harm the graduate student community.

    “Ultimately, I think it will be an admirable long-term goal,” Saenz said. “It’s sort of how we get there in the short term that is difficult. Based on comments last night, there was a general understanding that prioritization would be a good thing, but people are hurt by the unforeseen nature [of the policy change]. It’s very disruptive and chaotic to the community.”

    There is currently an appeal process for individual situations with “extenuating circumstances.” The Affiliated Housing Advisory Committee, a predominantly student-run committee, will consider all such appeals.

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