Moldy dorms and off-campus hotels: A look inside the New College housing debacle
Written by WSLR News on Thursday, July 20, 2023
The New College administration reserves the best housing for athletes and incoming students. Returning students are left with some questionable alternatives.
By Sophia Brown
Original Air Date: July 19, 2023
Johannes Werner: The New College administration reserves the best student housing for athletes and incoming students. Current students are left with a mold-infested dorm and an off-campus hotel, and that has pushed one of them to jump ship and switch to a college in Massachusetts. Sophia Brown reports.
Host: On July 11, New College’s Housing and Residential Life office announced that all new incoming students, particularly student athletes, will be housed in the Dort and Goldstein dormitories. These are regarded as the upperclassmen apartment-style dorms and are the only rooms on campus with kitchenettes. Except, many returning students have already been assigned rooms in Dort and Goldstein after signing housing contracts in May. Now, they will be relocated to what are known as Pei dorms, studio dorms which are known for having mold problems.
July is also Disability Pride Month and Dort and Goldstein are home to New College’s accessible dormitories. Disabled students have also been relocated out of their required rooms and left without answers.
Interim President Richard Corcoran first announced his intentions to restructure on-campus housing during a Board of Trustees meeting on July 6, where he revealed that he planned to have all student athletes live together in Dort and Goldstein, which are currently undergoing extensive renovations with the floors, ceilings, appliances, furniture and more being replaced.
On July 17, when a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees met via Zoom, Corcoran ran through some numbers. 427 beds will be available on campus this fall, 102 less than the previous year. The beds that has been taken offline are in the Pei residential buildings, often referred to as Pei 1, Pei 2 and Pei 3.
For several years, the Pei buildings have been infamous for their mold, with the most recent mold report from 2020 recommending that all three buildings not be occupied for the health and safety of students. However, Corcoran estimated that about 30 to 50 beds in Pei 2 and Pei 3 will be given primarily to returning students.
Trustee and student representative Grace Keenan brought these concerns before the committee, but was brushed off.
Grace Keenan: The report says Pei 1, 2 and 3 should not be occupied, like a blanket statement.
Richard Corcoran: That was a recommendation. You’re saying, here’s my recommendation and basically, number one was shut down Pei. I mean, we talked to him verbally. That was a, you got a condensed report. But we’re following their counsel.
Host: On top of this, two Living Learning Communities, or LLCs, were also disbanded this semester. LLCs are communities of students living in the same building under a united theme or area of interest, sponsored by a faculty member. The two communities that were disbanded? The Pride LLC and the Africana Studies LLC.
When Keenan asked for justification for getting rid of the Pride LLC, Corcoran responded this way.
RC: I’ll look into it, Grace. I think, generally, we’re just, basically, during the course of all of the cleanup, tried to establish, basically, where it would be conducive to the entire campus. But I’ll look into it, I’m not familiar with what you’re asking.
Host: With 102 fewer beds available to students, the solution Corcoran presents is perhaps a little unconventional.
RC: We would engage and lock in these 120 rooms with the hotels. There would be an added expense, we’re calculating that right now.
Host: 120 rooms in two hotels located near the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus have been reserved for returning New College students, while on-campus housing will be prioritized for new students.
RC: Basically, you’ve already been a New College student at least a year, you’ve been through the system. They would almost all be returning students. They would have to have been here and demonstrated their ability to be self-sufficient.
Host: Transportation to campus and a free continental breakfast will be made available for students by the hotels. It is unclear how these hotel rooms will be furnished or with what amenities, and while Corcoran confirmed that the college will be compensating for these rooms, it is unclear where specifically the funding will be coming from.
Trustee and Professor of French Language and Literature Amy Reid had some concerns.
Amy Reid: One of the advantages of the Dort and Goldstein buildings is that they have access to cooking facilities, which is really appealing to more advanced students who want to be able to cook on their own schedule and take care of their own health needs. I think we run into some trouble in terms of ethics, if not liability, when we shift students who have requested and who are willing to pay for those dorms out of dorms with kitchens to put other students in them. Okay, because that creates the appearance of a two-track system of who matters and who doesn’t.
Host: Keenan also asked General Counsel Bill Galvano whether there were legal ramifications for the college breaching the housing contracts of the students being displaced.
GK: We had all signed, all the students signed our housing contract back in the spring, which came with this priority list that we were promised. We were, the priority list has changed mid-summer. I don’t think it’s right, but I also want to know, like, is that even legally okay that we had all these students sign contracts and now we’re changing the contract?
Bill Galvano: We can get you answers to both of those things. Suffice it to say, on both things, we’re 100% legally fine.
Host: But this isn’t cutting it for some students. Basil Pursley, a former WSLR intern and New College student in need of accessible housing decided that being removed from his room this summer without notice was the last straw.
Basil had been a New College student for two years, and after the appointment of the conservative majority Board of Trustees, he planned to complete his thesis one year early in order to leave the college as soon as possible. At New College, he lived in one of the accessible dorms in Dort and Goldstein, completing his own renovations and with plans to return to the same room in the fall.
Basil Pursley: You know, we’ve kind of put some investment into this dorm and made it a home for ourselves. It was really the kitchen part was the main thing that made it useful for me in terms of accessibility because I couldn’t have a meal plan at New College for some reason. Just something about the food just always upset my stomach. So I spent my first semester there, like, constantly sick, and so I ended up getting an exemption which meant I needed a place to cook.
Host: However, like many other returning students, Basil found out that he would be losing his living space with no hints on where he was being relocated to.
BP: In a panic, I send a message to the accommodations office and Housing and anyone I know that works in Housing, and I was like, “Please, can you let me know what’s going on? I need this dorm or a dorm like it on the ground floor with the kitchen for my accommodations.” And they did not respond.
It should have never happened in the first place. This shouldn’t be a problem that I’m worrying about in my junior or senior year of college. Like, it’s just, it doesn’t even matter that I have accommodations as much as it’s just, you don’t do this to returning students.
Host: Basil did eventually hear back from a staff member of the campus’ Advocacy and Accessible Learning Center, but with no new information about Basil’s housing status or even a confirmation that his accommodations would be honored by the school. By then, he had already put in a deposit for Hampshire College in Massachusetts, where he will be transferring this fall.
Hampshire College, a private liberal arts school, announced in March that it would be matching tuition costs for New College students looking to transfer in. This has made it an attractive destination for students whose lives on campus have been disrupted over these past few months, particularly those feeling the pressure to graduate early to escape the onslaught of changes.
BP: I have been incredibly stressed about graduating and thesising. Honestly, that has been like weighing on me so heavy, and just like, waking up just miserable every day thinking like, “Oh my god, I have to rush through this massive project.” And I don’t know who’s going to be there to actually help me through this process. I just don’t feel like New College has that resource for me anymore.
Host: Basil said that the transfer coordinator at Hampshire College has guaranteed him an apartment-style dormitory to meet his accommodations where he’ll be able to prepare his own meals. This same transfer coordinator also told him that Hampshire College is receiving a final large influx of transfer applicants from New College, presumably because of these latest housing developments.
BP: Are they going to be refurbishing or re-doing these hotel rooms to be more accessible for, like, student life? Because I feel like most hotels I’ve stayed and only have, like, one desk. I can’t even imagine. That sounds so awful, and I feel so bad for the people who are possibly going to be put in hotels and basically, you know, robbed of their college experience even more. Because I feel like a significant part of college life is living on campus.
Host: This has been Sophia Brown, reporting for WSLR News.