Dean Bandas responds to off-campus housing policy petition, concerns


photo by Claire Barnett

Caitlin David

At a VSG Senate meeting on Wednesday night, Dean of Students Mark Bandas addressed concerns about the supposed limitations of the 2018-19 housing accommodations for students who wish to live off campus. The statement came after a petition to allow expanded off-campus housing for seniors circulated campus last week. While the petition, which responded to the university’s announcement that 300 students would be approved to live off campus next year, said the university changed policy and reduced the number of seniors who would be allowed to live off campus, Bandas stated that seniors have never had the right to live off campus.

“If you go to the admissions website, for years, the university’s actual residential living requirements are posted in five or six places,” Bandas said. “Our requirement is that all unmarried undergraduate students are required to live on campus during the entire period of their enrollment, unless there is insufficient space on campus.”

The petition gained over 1,300 signatures and addressed concerns about the high costs of on-campus housing and poor living conditions in older dorms, especially in the wake of construction near Carmichael Towers.

We think that the residential college experience is an integral part of the Vanderbilt undergraduate education.

“I’ve heard countless tales of students feeling dissatisfied by this change in policy, our late notification, and the lack of alternative options offered to our class, which has been a productive contributor to the Vanderbilt community for years,” said the author of the petition in an interview, identified as CB.

Bandas denies that such a policy change occurred. Instead, increased on-campus housing availability for the 2018-19 school year means that the Housing and Residential Education office can offer fewer spots for seniors wishing to live off-campus.

“Basically, what we are doing is looking at projected enrollment, projected housing capacity and subtracting, and the remainder is the number of people we can authorize to live off campus,” Bandas said. “This policy was established by the Board of Trust more than 60 years ago, and it’s still in effect. We think that the residential college experience is an integral part of the Vanderbilt undergraduate education. If anything, we are intensifying that commitment.”

Vanderbilt plans a $600 million investment in a new residential college system that will span West End Avenue by 2023. While many senators and interested students at the VSG meeting agreed with Vanderbilt’s commitment to this model of undergraduate education, some students had concerns about this project’s impact on off-campus housing availability. Many believe that additional off-campus housing should be permitted until the residential education project, part of a larger plan called FutureVU, is complete.

Once I started to research Vanderbilt’s housing and finances, I was appalled at the rates we were being charged compared to off-campus living

“I spent the last three years living in dorm-style housing and was definitely ready for a change,” Charlie Walthew, a student involved in the petition, said. “Although Towers and Highland offer apartment style housing, these buildings are half a century old and need upgrades. The school itself has recognized the need for these upgrades and plans to remodel and rebuild these housing units in Future VU.”

Students at the VSG meeting expressed concerns over the high costs of on-campus housing, compared to cheaper alternatives near the Vanderbilt campus. Calculations by students included in the text of the petition projected that hundreds of dollars could be saved by moving off-campus during senior year.

“Once I started to research Vanderbilt’s housing and finances, I was appalled at the rates we were being charged compared to off-campus living,” CB said. “When doing a side by side comparison of on-and off-campus financials, I realized I could save hundreds of dollars a month living off campus my senior year.”

In response to this concern, Bandas stressed the importance of the residential college undergraduate experience and the availability of financial aid as housing costs increase. In addition, he stated it is becoming increasingly difficult for students to find off-campus housing that is cheaper than on-campus housing when they take utilities into account.

“These costs will be factored into the costs of education at Vanderbilt,” Bandas said. “We will factor it into financial aid. We treat Opportunity Vanderbilt students in similar ways. Some people will have more income than others. As the cost of attendance goes up, financial aid will account for that.”

When further pressed by a student about higher costs for living on-campus, Bandas again stressed the importance of Vanderbilt’s residential vision for the future.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re not as concerned about those costs,” Bandas said. “We’re concerned about the quality of the education on our campus, and we want our students to be on our campus, not scattered.”

According to Bandas, Vanderbilt’s quality of education will be improved by new residential colleges, which provide students with a medium to interact with and learn from other students, which positively impacts their undergraduate experience. Bandas said that studies have shown that students living in LLCs are more likely to earn higher GPAs, persist to graduation and report higher satisfaction with their college experience. While these programs will benefit undergraduates in the future, many students at the VSG meeting were concerned about the costs on current students, who will never reap the benefits of the new housing but still must deal with the consequences of construction, especially as construction begins near Carmichael Towers.

Many seniors who live off campus are still productive members of the Vanderbilt community, as they have been for four years, despite the location of their housing

“I would find it reasonable to request that seniors are guaranteed spots in the new LLC, E. Bronson Ingram, and any available Warren and Moore rooms that would not disrupt Warren and Moore’s current residents,” CB said. “Since Vanderbilt is undergoing a serious construction effort to create LLCs, it would seem plausible to permit any non-LLC senior the opportunity to live off-campus rather than living in an old dorm while new LLCs that they will never live in are being built.”

Students also brought up concerns about the effects of construction beginning in the West End area. According to Bandas, while Vanderbilt administration is concerned over the disruption that construction may cause to students living near the West End area, it does not currently plan to increase off-campus quotas in response to this. Instead, it aims to limit the hours of construction to reasonable times, and encourages students to send feedback about the effects of construction to the housing office.

“No matter where you are in this area, you will be affected by construction,” Bandas said. “Some of the construction is on-campus, but much of it is off. I can’t remove that problem for the Vanderbilt community.”

Other students at the VSG meeting addressed requests for students with mental health concerns to live off-campus. Bandas suggested that students with disabilities that could be benefitted by off-campus housing send requests to the Student Access Center before the off-campus authorization process in order to be appropriately accommodated.

Still, many students remained concerned about their inability to enjoy off-campus housing their senior year.

“I do agree with Vanderbilt that the on-campus environment for sophomores and juniors should be updated to promote greater cohesion and unity,” CB said. “However, I think the focus on seniors living on-campus to influence campus culture is misplaced. Many seniors who live off campus are still productive members of the Vanderbilt community, as they have been for four years, despite the location of their housing.”

Despite these concerns, the housing policy mandating all undergraduates to live on-campus unless there is insufficient space was created by the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, and therefore cannot be changed by the Housing and Residential Education Office.