Too many people have been guaranteed campus housing by the University of Arizona's Department of Residence Life, and we do not have enough room for them. No one is helped by Residence Life Director James Van Arsdel continuing the misguided policy of guaranteeing housing to all who apply before a certain date. Until the new dorms are built and ready for occupancy, he needs to kill the May 1 guarantee.
Of course, there are other contributing factors to the housing problems. However, the guaranteed date is the only one of them that we can change.
One cause of the housing shortage might be too many sophomores continuing to live in the dorms. However, the uproar caused by the lottery system proposed in February should show us that they will not leave easily. Also, under the shadow of continuing concerns over the retention rate, anything that keeps sophomores here should be encouraged.
Perhaps the problem is that too many freshmen are being admitted to the university. But if this is the problem, there isn't anything the university can do about it. The UA is mandated to accept all Arizona high school students that meet minimum requirements, and that's generally a good thing. We can't lose sight of the fact that this is a state university, and our primary responsibility is for the citizens of our state.
Another cause of the situation might be that we simply have too little in the way of residence hall space. But not only have we already started the process of constructing new dorm space, but we have used the most expensive answer to the problem.
Finally, we might blame the whole situation on the UA's limited budget. This is the perpetual scapegoat of the academic world, just because it is so easy to blame any situation on a stingy Legislature. The truth is that limited budgets are a fact of life for all state-supported agencies. Regardless, at this point, all the money UA President Peter Likins could want wouldn't be enough to banish the shortage of housing. We've already seen the administration's inability, for whatever reason, to buy existing structures, so all they can do is build new ones, which they are already doing.
Since we cannot help any of the previous causes of the housing problem, we are left looking at the May 1 housing guarantee. Being rid of it, though, is a more complicated issue than it would seem.
Occasionally, it is necessary to remind government bodies of simple mathematical principles. The federal government doesn't always understand the problem with spending more money than you have, and the university doesn't understand the problem with guaranteeing more housing than you have.
Just to clarify, the point is this: don't tell people you have campus housing for them, when you don't.
The existing policy doesn't help anyone. In fact, it completely defeats the purpose of living in a residence hall. New students live in dorms for a number of reasons. They want to be in the heart of campus. They don't want to have to deal with the worries of living in an apartment. They want to be close to lots of people, so they can build up a social group. But what about those exiled to former offices at the Babcock Inn, or those in temporary housing at the Plaza Hotel? They miss out on all of these benefits.
Additionally, those in temporary housing will have to pick up and move a few weeks into the semester, just as all of their first projects are coming due. The university is certainly not doing these students any favors by guaranteeing them housing. Worse, because they were assured of receiving housing, they didn't even have the summer to look for alternatives.
Now, there are proponents of this policy. They would argue that it is the responsibility of a state university to guarantee housing to incoming students, but this explanation is inconsistent. If it is the responsibility of the university to supply housing, why is there any cut-off?
Is the university absolved of its responsibilities after some date? Of course not. So, it seems the UA feels it has a responsibility to house some students. In that case, there is no reason that we cannot use another system to determine how many students can be let in. The most reasonable policy would be to guarantee as much housing as is currently available, plus a few extra to account for normal attrition before the semester. Applicants who file too late would be put on a waiting list, in the order they applied. As housing opened, they would be contacted. At the very least, everyone would know where they stand.