Curse the whole damn flawed system (housing at University of Maryland)

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is my 17th published opinion column, Curse the whole system, originally published April 6, 2007.

On Tuesday, 556 rising seniors and 86 current seniors were told that they could not continue living on the campus in any of the dorms next year (only South Campus Commons and The Courtyards are immune). Next year will mark the first in Maryland’s history that no seniors, except resident assistants, will be living on the campus. To what or whom do we owe this massive failure of planning?

The university actually has, in recent years, tried to secure funding to build a new high-rise dorm on North Campus. But the funding request was quickly shot down by the Board of Regents, citing a priority toward academic buildings. But one wonders why the priority is focused so exclusively on academic buildings; surely if the housing crunch had been this bad during all of the university’s previous growth, its academics wouldn’t be near where they are today either. Sorry Board of Regents, but you definitely deserve some of the blame for this, as does the Maryland State Assembly, who has seen fit to not give us the necessary funding.

Maryland has experienced record expansion in recent years. A higher percentage of entering students wants to live on the campus than ever before, a mark of a campus community that is really reaching maturity. But our aging infrastructure simply can’t support it. Ignoring the evicted students, the Resident Life Department is still severely overbooked for next year and will be forced to convert hundreds of doubles into triples and triples and lounges into quads. I lived in a real triple for one semester and didn’t enjoy it. I can’t imagine cramming hundreds of entering students into even tighter living conditions, and I suspect this will have a deleterious effect on the university’s ability to attract new students.

Yesterday’s Diamondback editorial seemed to place all of the blame on Resident Life. Yes, it is terrible that they notified all of these evicted students two weeks after applications for Commons and Courtyards closed, but Commons and Courtyards are already at capacity anyway. Making this announcement earlier would merely have affected which students got into Commons and Courtyards, not how many total. It would have been more fair, but it still would not have helped to fix the overall housing crisis. The ultimate blame lies with those who didn’t provide us with adequate facilities in the first place, not those whose job it is merely to use existing facilities.

All of these evicted students are between a rock and a hard place. Finding off-campus housing even remotely close to the campus isn’t easy. I had a hard time with it last year and finally ended up finding a place two weeks into the start of the semester (thanks to my friends for letting me crash in Courtyards for awhile). I remember seeing a new listing of a room for rent at a decent price; by the time I contacted the landlord in the evening, eight other students had already called him, and he had rented it out.

But this was before this latest housing crunch. I wasn’t competing against two Spartan armies’ worth of students desperate for housing. I cannot even imagine how terrible it will be now, and how many students will be taken advantage of by landlords jacking the rents way up.

The City of College Park also shares some blame for this lamentable situation. They have been, after all, openly hostile against student interests. They tried to pass a bill removing tax relief for new student-oriented apartment complexes close to the campus. And don’t forget their version of “rent control,” which would make renting out houses so unprofitable that many landlords would simply rather sell. So as you are being dragged out of your dorm room at the end of this semester kicking and screaming, don’t just curse Resident Life. Curse the whole damn flawed system.

As should be evident, this column was written towards the end of the period of my time as a Diamondback columnist drawing to a close. Thus, I let my hair down a little bit and decided to be more blunt and less diplomatic. I appreciate my editors not censoring my final sentence. It was always fun knowing we were able to get away with a lot more than the mainstream papers out there, even if we didn’t use that privilege very often.

And yes, I wrote this column at about the same time that the movie 300 came out. How did you ever guess?

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