May 6, 2004

Dorm Disparities Cause Controversy

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“We don’t really need air conditioning, anyway,” resident advisor Inna Kleyman ’06 explained to a group of prospective freshmen on a housing tour of North Campus as she addressed the disparity in amenities offered in the freshman dormitories.

Dorm rooms are priced based on the number of occupants in the room. A single in Mews Hall, Balch Hall, or the new Alice H. Cook House, will cost a student $6,645 to live in during the 2004-2005 school year. Depending on one’s place of residence, this flat rate can get you air conditioning, cable capabilities in your room, a dining hall in your dorm, or none of the above.

The Class of 1922 and 1928 Hall complex, built in 1954 and most recently renovated in the late 1980s, is slated to be torn down this summer. Sperry Hall was built in 1977. For the last three school years, a double in any of these three buildings has cost the same amount as one in Court or Mews Hall, constructed in 2001.

“In the past, we [have] had numerous rates to address different room sizes and amenities. Unfortunately, that did not feel fair to all students since amenities, room size, building type is all in the eye of the beholder. After reviewing what our peer institutions do, we decided to have a condensed rate structure and base it upon number of occupants,” explained Pam Zinder, interim manager of the housing and dining office.

Students do not feel the matter is as subjective as the University’s administration does.

“It’s simple: In Court, they get to watch Sex and the City in their rooms; we don’t,” said Carolyn Torsiello ’06, a resident of the Class of 1917 Hall.

According to the Campus Life website, a double in any residence hall will cost students $5,875 and a triple will cost $5,400 in the upcoming year.

The terms “single,” “double,” and “triple” do not refer to uniform room sizes, however. A typical double in Balch Hall measures 11’0″ x 17’0″ but a typical double in Sheldon Court in Collegetown is larger, measuring about 16’0″ x 17’0″.

“Because all [the] buildings are not exactly alike, it would be hard to compare them to determine different prices for each,” Zinder said. “We don’t want students complaining that ‘his single … costs more than my single,'” she added.

Not only room size, but also differences in amenities offered are a source of complaints from students.

“Our showers are pretty gross,” complained Mary Donlon Hall resident Rachel Musiker ’07.

“It seems reasonable that those of us who are stuck with old showers should get a small price break as compared to those living the newer dorms,” Musiker added.

“Not that it’s any individual girl’s fault, but there is so much hair in our sink after one morning’s round of showers that it’s hard to brush your teeth until after the sink has been cleaned,” said Shana Greif ’07.

The Cook House will be comprised of suites, with three singles, one double and a bathroom for each, but is not available to freshmen.

Caitlin Kontak ’07 is upset that her current room in Dickson, and her future room in Sperry Hall, will cost the same amount as a room in the new Alice H. Cook House next year.

“I love Dickson, but in the Cook House, they have five people sharing a bathroom; we have 25. Not fair,” said Kontak.

Some sororities — another option for housing — at Cornell factor in the number of bathroom users in the price of a room.

“In my sorority, it costs more for a room that has it’s own bathroom than to have to share with other girls on the hallway,” said Gillian Winkler ’06.

Other colleges vary their prices across dormitories, and within dormitories based on room size and using modernity as a major factor. According to the website for housing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the newer dorms cost student over $900 more per year than the older ones.

The way institutions like MIT deal with this issue is by allowing students to rank their dorm of choice before assigning them.

Some students suggest that they think such a system would work at Cornell.

“Let me rank Court as my first choice, and if I don’t get it, I’ll fall back on a cheaper rate as compensation,” suggested Jenna Odett ’07.

Zinder described Cornell’s system as a product of the budget. “In order for us to plan our budgets, we need to plan well in advance. If students are able to rank their choice … we may not be able to forecast our budgets accurately.”

Ultimately, Zinder said that “this is just the rate structure we have.”

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Staff Writer