April 29, 2009

Program Houses Come Up for Review

Print More

This article is the first of a two-part series that examines the controversy surrounding program houses.
The timing of the current review of the program houses on campus has aroused some controversy. Students have feared that with the University constantly on the lookout for means of saving money, the program houses might be deemed an unnecessary expense. Joseph Burke, the director of residential programs, acknowledged that while many would view the timing of the review as suspicious, he said that the review was planned before the economic downturn.
“This is where you go back and have to rely on history and not just what happened yesterday,” Burke said. “Years ago a decision was made that there [would] be a moratorium on program houses. It’s coincidental that it’s happening when the economy is hurting.”
According to Burke, the review had been planned since the residential initiative was put into place by former-President Hunter Rawlings III more than 10 years ago. The initiative stipulated that North Campus would be devoted to first-year students, West Campus housing would be razed and replaced by the housing system and that there would be a moratorium on the program houses until after the West Campus houses were completed. This moratorium mandated that the University maintain the existing program houses without creating new ones, followed by a review of the program houses after the West campus housing construction was finished.
Burke said that the West Campus housing initiative was finished sooner than expected; and once it was complete, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 pointed out that the University was obligated to do the program house review.
The program houses — notably Akwe:kon, the Holland International Living Center, the Latino Living Center, the Multicultural Living Learning Unit and Ujaama Residential College — have been a way for Cornell to illustrate its diversity on campus. These program houses have their place in Cornell’s history: For example, some attribute Ujaama’s creation to the Straight takeover, and the LLC’s creation can be linked to another student protest in 1993.
Burke noted that the current review would be performed with the mindset of looking for ways to improve the program houses, such as making information about them more accessible as well as strengthening the program houses themselves. He mentioned that over the past three years that he has been at Cornell, interest in program housing has waned.
Elena Zelaya ’09 also mentioned that she has noticed a decreased interest in the program houses. “I lived in the LLC the second semester of my freshman year, and at that time there were a lot of great things going on; the community was really united, but after that, there seemed to be a lack of interest for students on campus to go live in the program houses,” Zelaya said.
According to Burke, historically the housing lottery for program housing has run before the other upperlevel housing lottery. This past semester, the numbers of students enrolled in the program house lottery were not as strong as the University had hoped, forcing administrators to extend the deadline for an additional week. As there were still vacancies in most of the program houses at the end of that week, the open rooms were then entered into the upperlevel lottery system — all the vacancies were filled by this new batch of students.
“There are a number of students who are interested in the program houses, what the program houses offer, what the program houses are all about — but [these students] may not necessarily want to live there due to other priorities” Burke said.
Students living in the program houses are also required to pay an additional fee to support the special house programs.
Tom Keane, director of financial aid, said, “The fee is anywhere from $25 to $90 for the whole year. That fee in particular is not included in financial aid except in the way that there is a component of the financial aid budget that covers miscellaneous and personal expenses which can range from $1500 to $1600. The program fee could be thought of as being encompassed in that.”
The decline in popularity of the program houses is worrying to some members of the communities. Sherina Giler ’10 is an out-of-house member of the LLC and the treasurer for La Asociacion Latina. She said that LAL constantly worries about the future of the LLC as a result of the review.
“There needs to be safe spaces on campus for cultural communities,” Glier said.
Aviva Horowitz ’10, co-chair of Native American Students at Cornell, said that if the program houses were to be removed, “[she] would be outraged, because they benefit the entire University.”
Zelaya confirmed that if it got to the point where the University decided to eliminate the program houses, many students attribute the decision to discrimination.
“It would be very drastic to get rid of them. With a little guidance in the right direction they can be improved,” Zelaya said.
The review on the program houses is scheduled to be completed by December.