October 8, 2003

WCRI Eliminates Transfer Center

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Decisions concerning the West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI) do not come easily, even to members of the West Campus Planning group, who decided to eliminate a transfer center from future housing plans.

The decision was a controversial one, but the committee, made up of students, faculty and administrators, ultimately came to the conclusion that transfer students would transition more quickly and fully into the community through integrated living conditions, rather than separated in an isolated building.

In “A Vision for Residential Life,” written on May 9, 2000, the committee stated its decision to eliminate a building housing only transfer students, saying, “the committee believes that upperclass transfer students have special needs that can best be addressed within the House system, rather than in a separate transfer center. We therefore recommend that the needs of transfer students should be met through programming in the living-learning houses.”

The current transfer center in the Class of 1917 houses about 190 of the 400 transfer students who live in university housing each year.

Those not assigned to the transfer center live in program houses on North Campus, traditional residence halls on West Campus or in Collegetown. The transfer center will remain intact and functioning until January 2009, when the Class of 1917 building will be demolished as part of the final phase of the residential initiative.

Under the new housing system, which will be complete in 2010, transfer students will be assigned in smaller groupings, such as a suite or cluster of transfer students within a house.

According to Jean Reese, WCRI project leader, “we are not dismantling the transfer center. We’re distributing the transfer center and integrating it within all five houses.” Reese stressed that transfer students will continue to have access to programming exclusively for transfers, including the well-established orientation program currently offered each year.

“When West Campus is completely up and functioning, transfers will be dispersed in all five houses,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. Murphy expressed the idea that none of the new program houses scheduled to be built on West Campus would have a particular predetermined theme. “Through the house system, there is an opportunity for smaller communities to develop,” she added.

Edna R. Dugan, assistant vice president, student and academic services and co-chair of the West Campus council, agreed that the services currently in place for transfers will still be available. Because the structural plans were laid out two years ago, she explained, they can work to develop the more specific needs of students while the initial plans are being carried out.

“We have time to work out the issue in that we can make sure the needs of the transfer students are met in a holistic way,” she said.

Don King of the campus life management office said that many of the services currently available to transfer students will be in place under the new house system. An assistant dean will develop programming for transfer students, and a room will be made available for students to use as a gathering place and as a resource. King said the programming will be both “educational and social, helping them adjust to the Cornell community.”

Students have a variety of reactions to the planned living arrangements for future transfers. Jackie Bernstein ’04, said that her Cornell experience has been strongly influenced by the friendships she made in the transfer center, and the community that it created for its residents.

“I think that living in [the transfer center] was the greatest thing I possibly could have done. I had all of these other people who were going through the same experience as me,” Bernstein said. She worried that mixing the transfer students with upperclassmen would not provide these students with the same sense of community that she experienced.

Brian Schartz ’04 had a very different experience. He chose to live in Risley Residential College instead of the transfer center because he did not want to feel like a transfer student, but like a Cornell student. He became involved on campus and was able to make friends and become a part of the community through his activities and personal interests. “I think I’m a better student for not having lived there,” he said.

He acknowledged the importance of the center, however, for others who might have a greater need for transition and an immediate sense of community, such as those coming to Cornell from a community college.

Even more controversial than the elimination of a transfer center is the plan under the WCRI for a parking lot on West Campus.

The parking lot, which would occupy the block below Stewart Avenue and above University Avenue, has been strongly opposed by Cornell students and Ithaca residents, many of whom will be affected by any construction, traffic and lighting brought about from future developments.

Earlier this year, Cornell sued the City of Ithaca Planning Board under Article 78, when the planning board did not approve the WCRI’s proposed parking lot. Under the article, the case could be brought to the New York Supreme Court if necessary and gives a judge the opportunity to reverse the government’s decision after reviewing the case.

The status of the proposed lot is currently up in the air until a Supreme Court judge notifies the Planning Board of a decision. There is no deadline for the judge’s response.

The judge issued a statement in August and gave the city of Ithaca until Sept. 15 to respond in writing if they chose to make a stronger case for their concerns and objections to the project.

According to Reese, the Planning Board rejected the plans for the parking lot with “continued concern over whether Cornell University effectively mitigated the environmental impacts on historic resources, lighting and vegetation.”

Archived article by Stephanie Baritz