An effort by the Southern Oregon University housing office to lower living costs for students left the residents of one hall feeling forced out of their dorm rooms.
"It's a huge burden weighing on me," first-year student Melody Condon said Thursday, standing in the middle of her room in Glacier Hall surrounded by all the furniture and items she has yet to move. "I'm frustrated but resigned. It's a major inconvenience that was explained to us very poorly."
Housing services officials plan to rent out rooms in Glacier Hall for conference attendees. The income generated will enable the university to trim housing costs for students by 15 percent.
Most of the students are in various stages of moving from their Glacier Hall rooms to other rooms on campus, having been given — they firmly believe — a Feb. 15 deadline to be out.
"They told us we had to. If it wasn't mandatory, I wouldn't have moved," sophomore Rachel Nixon said before returning to her old room for a load of rolled-up posters.
Freshman Gabrielle Smith said she shared Nixon's and others' perception.
"Everyone in this hall was in a huge uproar about it," Smith said.
Jason Ebbeling, housing services director for SOU, has a different perspective. He said he believed it was made clear to students that it was not mandatory that they move.
"It seems so surprising that they are saying that," Ebbeling said Thursday. "Not only did we have the meeting (on Jan. 27, where the move was announced to students), but we've been talking to them individually over the past week. If they have that impression I have no idea how they came to that conclusion."
The communication from housing staff to students on the move came only verbally during the Jan. 27 meeting, and then between housing staff and individual students as the need came up, Ebbeling said.
"We purposefully didn't want to send any official memo," said Ebbeling, who was not present at the Jan. 27 meeting. "We wanted to work with students individually on any issues they may have."
Liz Green, assistant director of housing services, was at the meeting. She backed Ebbeling's version of events, and said she did not know how students could come to such a different understanding of their housing options.
"We were very clear with what we were asking," Green said. "The word 'mandatory' was never used."
Ebbeling said all but about 10 students have come to the housing office to go through the process to get a new room, and he said he assumes those 10 students will take advantage of their right to stay in their Glacier Hall rooms.
Reason for the move
The SOU housing office plans to use the vacated rooms at Glacier Hall as temporary housing for visiting school groups, Elderhostel and other groups who come to Ashland for conferences or events.
The income generated by these visitors will go to the housing office, which can use it to reduce the housing cost of students by 15 percent, Ebbeling said.
Lowering the cost of on-campus housing will help keep students — and the income they bring in — on campus, Ebbeling said. With rents in Ashland stable or even dropping, SOU is having a harder time keeping students housed in the dorms, the cost of which continues to rise, he said.
The average cost for a student to live on campus is now between $4,500 and $6,000 for three terms, Ebbeling estimated. The result is fewer students living on campus this quarter, even though enrollment at SOU is at an almost all-time high, he said.
Three other halls are already used exclusively for conferences.
"Early January we saw even more requests for space for conference guests," Ebbeling said.
Glacier Hall was picked as the best choice to add for out-of-town guest use because it was the most vacant already, according to Ebbeling, who estimated the hall was operating at about 50 percent capacity with 35-40 students in the entire building.
The promise of lower housing costs does little to cheer many of the students. The timing of the move — just weeks before midterms — was unnecessarily disruptive, some said. Gabrielle Smith lost work on her computer during her rush to move out and senior Laura Mathias said she was set back in her progress on her senior project.
"I got no work done this weekend because of it," Mathias said. "It's not like moving in at the beginning of the year — we have homework now."
All of those interviewed lamented the separation from neighbors as, one by one, they move to other dorms.
"We had a really close-knit community," Mathias said, noting the difficulty of fitting in with a new group of neighbors in the middle of the term.
That's a frustration Smith shared.
"It feels like we're moving to a new college all over again," she said.
Even angry and frustrated as they are, the students said they still believed SOU to be a good school. But they said they cannot shake the feeling that they were forced out of their dorm.
"Academically it's a good place, but I don't feel very respected by the school," Mathias said.
The students did sign contracts when entering into campus housing which gives Ebbeling's office the right to reassign housing at any time for any purpose, he said.
"Our approach is very different from what's in the contract," Ebbeling said. "It's always a tough decision when we're making any kind of move that affects students."
If there are students who choose to remain at Glacier Hall, that's fine, too, Ebbeling said.
"We'll just house the conference groups around them," he said. "It's not a problem if we have students decide to stay where they are."
Housing officials planned to meet with Glacier Hall students again Friday night to discuss the process further.
Contact Myles Murphy at 541-488-6246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.