Town Meeting

Natalia Cooper

In a “town meeting” in the Ryan Lounge, the Internal Housing Committee, a group which met with representatives from Sasaki Associates and the Massachusetts Building Authority to compile plans for the housing initiative, presented the preliminary findings of Sasaki Associates’ “Programming and Feasability Study for New Residence Housing.” Although the topic of the meeting was student housing, there were virtually no students present.

The panel consisted of Director of Athletics Charlie Titus; former Interim Provost Arthur MacEwan, Assistant Chancellor for University Communications Anne Marie Lewis-Kearwin; Dean of Student Affairs Stephanie Janey; Associate Chancellor for Enrollment Services and University Communications Kathleen Teehan; Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance David MacKenzie; Assistant Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Stephan Chait who, as the chancellor put it, was “acting as Sasaki”; and Chair of the Faculty Council Celia Moore. Those present are part of the chancellor’s Internal Housing Committee,

Chancellor Jo Ann Gora began the September 9 meeting by delineating the reasons and rationale for the implementation of student housing on Harbor Point. She spoke about how student housing could improve retention rates at the university.

Gora assured that the push toward housing is a result of the university’s lagging retention rates and is not an attempt to change the character of the campus. Another reason for this initiative: to “enhance the sense of campus community.”

The Sasaki study arrived at UMass Boston on July 24, nearly two months later than the June 1 date printed on its pages … and it is only a draft. The university must now complete a Community Impact Study, the next in a series of steps the university must take to involve the Dorchester community, Lewis-Kearwin said the Community Impact Study will take 4-6 months. The university hopes to begin that study within the next few weeks, and it will be coordinated by a “third party.” That outside agent will meet with community representatives to discuss the timetables for implementation of housing and the effects it could have on their neighborhoods. Then the university has to take the results of that study and revise the feasibility study accordingly.

Each member of the panel, excluding Moore, spoke for a few minutes about their particular areas of information regarding the possibilities and benefits of student housing addressing similar issues to those the chancellor mentioned at the start of the meeting: retention rates and campus life and community.

David MacKenzie explained the budget complexities which are at play in the discussion of housing. “There’s a difference between an operating budget and a capital budget,” MacKenzie said, “The pay rises are ongoing operating costs that build into your budget …” The money for dorms would come from specific revenue bonds which can only be used to pay for the purpose or project agreed upon at the outset.

One concern raised later on, by Woody Smith, a professor from the History department, spoke directly to the distinction made by MacEwan. The professor mentioned that while the cost of building would be covered by revenue bonds borrowed from the state, operating costs are sure to rise. Several departments including Public Safety and Health Services would need to increase their services, and hours of operation to accommodate a 24-hour on-campus student population. A discussion of possible fee and service adjustments followed that faculty member’s comment.

Stephan Chait, acting as Sasaki, clarified the process of building site evaluations and presented charts detailing the some of the environmental and socializing factors which were considered in Sasaki’s report. Chait also said that he wanted to move away from the term dorms because they present a negative association for many people, he much prefers the nomenclature “student housing.”

Anthropology professor Timothy Sieber expressed his disappointment that the administration sought support before the Community Impact Study has been completed. He was also disappointed that the only member of the panel who did not present information was the faculty representative, Celia Moore.

Moore insisted that she was not overlooked in the panel presentation. Lewis-Kearwin admitted that many people in the Dorchester community are skeptical, but many are excited. She said that the Harbor Point Task Force supports this initiative, while the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association needs more information before they will support it.