Campus Plan Update: ANC Special Meeting
Ed Solomon chaired the meeting because ANC Chairman Ron Lewis was home sick.
The first, and longest, topic of the night was student housing. Solomon started the discussion off with some background on the issue: the rise in students living off-campus in the past ten years and the University’s response to it, which was called a “second stamp card”. He recited the litany of programs the University has in started then handed the microphone off to Provost Jim O’Donnell.
O’Donnell began the University’s response to the issue of student housing. He acknowledged the neighborhood’s concerns, but said, “We live under the constraint of finances.” Vice President Todd Olson outlined the Campus Plan in how it would strengthen on-campus student life. He argued that projects such as the New South student center and the library extension would make campus a more appealing home. New requirements such as making all transfer students under 21 live on campus and having all off-campus students sign community contracts are other measures the plan includes, according to Olson.
Lenore Rubino, president of the Burleith Citizens Association, stated that 48 percent of houses in Burleith are rentals, most of which are occupied by students. According to her, this number will grow if the Campus Plan passes.
“Band-aid solutions do nothing to mitigate problems,” she said, referring to the measures Solomon outlined. “The issue of students living off-campus needs to be addressed as nothing else will improve our quality of life,” she said to raucous applause from residents.
Following opening statements by both sides the ANC turned to the public for input.
One of the earliest questions of the evening came from Ken Archer, a neighbor that recently referred to the neighborhood as a “student ghetto.” Archer asked the University why they have the second most expensive housing rates in the country and if they had explored his four ideas for more housing on campus.
Olson responded that the high housing rates are due to D.C. generally being expensive, but that the University does provide financial aid for students who demonstrate need. He also countered the idea that the four locations Archer presented would truly be feasible locations for more housing.
In response to the University’s claim that there was no more adequate space for adding on-campus housing, Rubino brought up one of her favorite ideas for alleviating the housing problem—satellite housing.
Later, Solomon asked the University if the policies for parties would remain different for students on- and off-campus.
Olson affirmed that the rules for on and off campus would remain different, as they, by definition, do not own the off-campus housing. However, the University is attempting to control off-campus behavior through work sanctions and prohibition of study abroad. At this point a number of audience members chuckled but Olson explained that a significant number of students come to the University planning to study abroad and that this is a deterrent.
As the University listed their ways of how they are dealing with off-campus students Rubino quipped, “What’s next? The national guard?”
Scott Stirrett (SFS ’13) questioned whether the citizens association’s assessment that students were “taking over” the neighborhood was correct and then presented a petition with 721 signatures, four times that of community’s petition. Commissioner Jeff Jones, who openly admit many times that he does not understand technology well, said that he saw 49 signatures from the same address in Kansas. Stirrett said that he had looked at the same information and that a number of the signatures were from residents and that Jones’ statement was hyperbolic and untrue.
In response to Stirrett, President of the Citizens Association of Georgetown Jennifer Altemus (COL ’88) noted, “We welcome students into the neighborhood if they obey the laws.” She also said that when she was a student that it was a privilege to “live on-campus in Nevils.” This comes as a contradiction to a number of residents’ statements that refer to the same area as being off-campus.
Resident Jacques Arsenault, asked the community groups to demonstrate that graduate students would have an adverse impact of the residents’ quality of life because he has not seen this happen. Arsenault did graduate work at the University and now lives in the neighborhood.
Candith Pallandre, senior instructor in the Center for Language Development and Education at the University and a neighbor, said that she sat down with neighbors and does not see enough solutions in the plan. “The University needs to think outside of the box,” she stated.
After more than an hour-and-a-half discussing student housing, the ANC began discussing the MedStar-owned hospital.
The neighbors raised concerns as to why the hospital could add 600 beds, but the University could not add those beds for students, and why the hospital felt that there was a need for the hospital to add hundreds of parking spaces on the campus.
One neighbor hinted in his question that he believes that this is the University trying to add more parking spaces under the guise of them being for the hospital.
Discussion over the proposed enclosure of Kehoe Field went by quickly, with little discussion about it and only minor concerns from the residents.
The Campus Plan’s proposal for a road on the east side of Yates for GUTS buses to use to loop around the campus and exit via Canal Road became the next topic of discussion.
According to Bob Avery of the Foxhall Citizens Association, the University exchanged property with the National Park in order to build the Canal Road entrance and the road encroaches on that parkland, known as the scenic easement. One resident called the proposed road an “insult to the park.”
However, the University’s Karen Frank refuted these claims, saying, “The road is not in any part on the Scenic Easement.”
After the meeting had already passed the two-hour mark, the topic of enrollment became the last issue of the evening.
The university has opted not to increase undergraduate enrollment in the next ten years.
They are, however, changing the way the number of undergraduates is counted. Instead of averaging fall and spring semesters (spring has less students because of study abroad programs) and excluding some groups of on the outskirts of the definition, the University will apply the enrollment cap to all undergraduates, regardless of averages, excluding only three small subsets.
Like nearly everything the University had presented, this idea also faced some opposition from the residents’, despite this form of counting actually limiting the number by more than the previous method would have.
Altemus then gave the ANC commissioners a fact sheet about enrollment prepared by CAG Vice President Gianluca Pivato. Despite CAG claiming that all of the numbers came from the University, one ANC commissioner noted almost immediately that some of CAG’s numbers were significantly higher than what the University reports as the actual numbers. When asked where he got the numbers from, Pivato said that they came from a previous meeting with the University but could not remember when.
As the room had already significantly emptied out, both sides offered closing statements. Olson thanked everyone for listening and participating, and Rubino—reading from a typed statement—said, “sitting here tonight I was very disappointed in the University’s responses.”
For more on the ANC special meeting, check out our Twitter hashtag #ANCGUPlan.
Additional reporting by Geoffrey Bible.