On Campus, UMass Dorm Idea Gets Mixed Reaction

UMass Boston's emerging plans to build its first-ever student dormitories have sparked intense debate in adjacent neighborhoods. The reaction has been similar on campus, where student and faculty opinions are mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism

Through the use of $91.5 million in bonds, UMass hopes to start the first phase of the construction on dorms for up to 2,000 undergraduates. The revenues gained from on-campus housing will be put towards paying off the debts incurred against building the dorms. The result would bring a more traditional element into what has long been a commuter population.

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea.

Joe White, a theater arts major at UMass Boston, says the dorms would mark a major departure from the school's original mission.

"They just approved $91.5 million for a frivolous thing," White says. "This was built to be a commuter school. They just raised the parking fees. They're really showing that they're run by the state of Massachusetts."

White and others say that spending millions on new campus buildings is wrong-headed because existing facilities on the campus, particularly the school's parking garage, are in need of repair.

It costs $4 per day to park at UMass Boston and is slated to go to $7. Students also complain that Governor Jane Swift reneged on a promise to raise salaries for teachers who have endured a pay freeze for two years already. There is a freeze on hiring any new teachers and the Theater Arts Department has only two full-time professors to run it.

However, some on campus reluctantly acknowledge that the mission change is a sign of the times.

"(The dorms) are being done to attract younger students instead of older. I don't like it, but it's inevitable," said Bob Lingley, a student currently going for his masters' degree in critical and creative thinking.

"I'm positive about it, but not at the need for other expenditures," says Tom Walsh, sail master at the UMB Sailing Program and a UMass Boston alumnus. "I don't mind the dorms because it's a student-focused expenditure. Regardless of the latest administration incarnation, it's about the students."

Not everyone has an opinion. Some are just apathetic.

Ian Boyd, director of the Harbor Art Gallery and a theater arts major, says he "doesn't care.

"I will have graduated already," Boyd said.

Whether it is with anger or disinterest, one of the main concerns besides the building of the dorms themselves is, who will be getting the beds. It is still uncertain as yet as to who will be occupying them. International students, graduate students, and undergraduate students have all heard vague promises that they will each have a certain quota, according to some critics.

"It will be useful to the grad students who practically live on campus anyway, but it's a commuter school and that's part of its charm," stated Sabrina Hawthorne, a graduate student of the biology program.

Donna Neal, associate director of student life at UMass, hopes "that they will be used for international and graduate students in this tight and expensive housing market."

Without rent controls in Greater Boston, Neal says, housing is so costly that often, few can afford to live and go to school full-time.

"We have so many well-known graduate programs," said Neal.

Michael Mahan, head of the international student office and a part-time professor at UMass Boston, feels comforted by the fact that the housing needs of the international students are being acknowledged.

"Many come from their home countries directly to UMass," he says.

On the dorms, he concedes, "It's hard to get one clear consensus. Any process has to be an open process. We want a good quality institution but we're not willing to pay for it. We need a stronger sense of support from our governor and our legislature."