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Improving off-campus housing policy

September 15, 2017

On Thursday morning, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster announced the recommendations of the committee charged with reviewing the College’s off-campus housing policy. Although the College aims to use these recommendations to “serve as the basis for a clear and transparent off-campus housing policy,” the recommendations themselves are neither clear nor transparent.

First, the College’s decision to extend off-campus housing privileges exclusively to seniors is unwarranted. Although the announcement notes that “compelling reasons for juniors to live off campus were lacking,” we can think of some: first, juniors wishing to block with seniors should be able to do so. If this arrangement is allowed in on-campus housing, why should it be excluded off-campus? Second, until new upperclassmen housing becomes available, juniors face the same shortage of desirable housing as do seniors. Finally, living off campus can save students money, making it an important option for students on financial aid. The more students who can benefit from this opportunity, the better.

Next, the suggestion that the College “have the option to deny anyone for whom living off campus may not be the best option for the student or for the local-area community” creates an opaque review process that introduces the possibility of capricious, or even discriminatory, selections. What criteria would the reviewers apply to determine a student’s fitness? How can two College offices determine what is best for the local community? Would the Office of Residential Life apply blanket disqualifications, or would requests be considered on a case-by-case basis? The announcement supplies no answers to these patently obvious questions.

As it currently stands, off-campus housing creates problems both within the Bowdoin and Brunswick community. In the last few years, the rise in the number of off-campus residences has deprived the College of income and strained the fabric of the campus community. Neighbors’ complaints about the egregious disturbances regularly caused by Bowdoin students are valid, and our neighbors are entitled to consideration by the College. Yet the solution to these clear problems should be articulated in an equally clear policy.

The problems that off-campus housing creates could be solved by incremental rather than drastic steps.  In regards to community relations, implementing community-relations information sessions and compelling students to sign a code of conduct should suffice. For addressing financial concerns, placing a moderate cap on the number of students living off campus, like the current one of 200 juniors and seniors, should suffice. With respect to Bowdoin community cohesion, creating more appealing upper-class housing should suffice. Collectively, these steps would alleviate many of the current pitfalls. Adopting the committee’s additional suggestions such as limiting the number of students who can live off campus to approximately 125 and to only seniors are unnecessary and implementing an opaque review process is unnecessary.

As the College formulates its new policy, it should provide students with greater detail on the particularly murky elements of the committee’s suggestions, in particular the College’s veto power over individual applicants and its plan to make financial aid information more available and transparent. Maybe then the College could produce a policy that Bowdoin students could feel at home with.

This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is comprised of Harry DiPrinzio, Sarah Drumm, Alyce McFadden, Ian Stewart and Ian Ward. 

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