Two central issues important to Cornell students, off-campus housing and a proposed change in meal plan options, were discussed at the Student Assembly (S.A.) meeting yesterday.
At the meeting, a representative from Cornell Dining, Colleen Wright-Riva, spoke to members about proposed changes to dining plan options for the next academic year.
The S.A. also heard a presentation from Don King, director of Community Development, and Pam Zinder, manager of housing alternatives, about a Collegetown Bill of Rights, which informs students living off-campus about their rights in regards to leases and landlord relations. Members passed a resolution supporting the document.
“Students need to be more educated” about the various aspects of off-campus housing, Zinder said.
The document lets students know about what services landlords are required to provide, such as adequate heat and housing which meets specific fire and building code requirements. It gives suggestions about signing a lease and states several lease provisions, like giving up the right to sue, which are illegal in New York.
According to King, there are problems in the current system because there is a limited amount of housing available to students.
“Students need to voice their opinion about what is adequate housing and what isn’t,” King said.
The Bill of Rights also has a provision providing students with the location of the Off-Campus Life Office which is situated in 201 Robert Purcell Community Center.
The Office reviews leases for students, offers advice on issues, answers questions about landlord/tenant problems, and suggests changes in a lease agreement.
It also provides a listing of complaints filed against tenants, including the nature of the complaint and the time frame in which incidents occurred. The Office does not investigate any complaints.
“I just take the information. And, to be fair to the landlord, there are two sides of the story,” Zinder said.
King and Zinder suggested that students talk with current tenants to receive an accurate view of living conditions.
They also asked that students inform their landlords immediately if they have a problem and put any complaints in writing.
“I think it’s the students who have to take the actions themselves,” Zinder said.
Brandon Ashley ’06, freshman representative, asked how the Office of Off-Campus Life could become more “user-friendly” and suggested having a system by which that Office could provide a stamp of approval on certain landlords who they have not received complaints about.
“I’m not really sure we can do that because there might be students with complaints out there who have not brought them to our attention,” Zinder said.
According to Jackie Koppell ’05, undesignated representative and chair of the Committee on Residence and Community Life, a copy of the Bill of Rights will be sent to all students living on campus. The S.A. will investigate a means by which to send the information to those living off campus.
“This has to be done periodically,” King said, citing the fact that students begin researching housing options at various points throughout the year.
The Off-Campus Life Office will hold a housing fair in Jan. and there will be an information session this weekend to coincide with First-Year Family Weekend.
In addition to an analysis of housing, the S.A. also discussed another issue pertinent to student life, dining plan options.
“The feedback we get from students and parents is that our meal plan program is confusing,” said Wright-Riva, director of Cornell Dining.
She cited the confusion involved with meal equivalencies as a major motivation to change the current program.
“No one really understands the process until late in the game,” Koppell said about the confusion facing freshman concerning their dining options.
Also, according to Wright-Riva, the model in place now will not work well with the proposed plans for West Campus and the dining facilities there.
The new program will offer four plans for students living in residence halls. These plans will provide seven, ten, fourteen, and unlimited meals a week and increased Big Red Bucks for each.
Meal equivalencies will be eliminated, and they will be offset by the increase in Big Red Bucks.
The program similarly proposes a different plan for students living off-campus, including a plan with only Big Red Bucks and City Bucks.
“All the plans will have the opportunity to add City Bucks,” Wright-Riva said.
Several S.A. members questioned Wright-Riva about the increase in costs involved with the proposed changes. Wright-Riva responded with the unique concerns facing Cornell Dining, including the necessity to provide a living wage to its employees.
According to Wright-Riva, Cornell Dining pays its employees between $10-12 an hour while its competitors in Collegetown and elsewhere do not have to comply with such standards, and on average pay between $6-7 an hour.
S.A. President Noah Doyle ’03 also announced that President Hunter R. Rawlings III will address the S.A. at its meeting on Nov. 3.
Archived article by Mackenzie Damon