October 5, 2016

EDITORIAL: Building A Better Cornell

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Cornell has a long way to go on student housing. Dozens of transfer students were forced to live in lounges on North Campus at the beginning of the semester, and 10 have still not been moved out. Collegetown apartments are expensive, and the annual rush to sign leases shows no sign of slowing.

Simply, there is a dearth of on-campus housing: 78 percent of undergraduates surveyed in the spring indicated that they would like to live on campus, but only 56 percent managed to. Off campus, students often pay high rent and face subpar living conditions. These challenges — combined with the yearly stress of finding appropriate housing — dampen students’ social lives and make it more difficult to focus on academics.

The clear path forward is to construct more on-campus housing. The real-estate consulting group U3 Advisers presented a potential plan to build new dorms for sophomores on the CC lot and the fields behind Appel. Such a plan would alleviate the demand for student housing and be a productive use of campus space. North Campus can be further developed to accommodate more students, and many facilities should be reevaluated. For example, are current facilities like Helen Newman and the townhouses the most efficient use of the land they are built on? As undergraduate enrollment steadily increases, the housing plan should become more ambitions and include building more facilities, not just for sophomores, but also for an ever-increasing freshman class.

There is much on North Campus to critically evaluate, and this includes more than just dorms. Cooperative housing offers living communities for transfer students and upperclassmen at lower costs. Independent co-ops also engage students more actively than dorm-style living. The University should consider replicating these models of community living by establishing more cooperative housing and incorporating these models into new and existing dorms.

One model for dorm-living — West Campus — has been moderately successful at creating smaller communities of engaged students and faculty, but since its completion in 2008, it has not been adequately reevaluated. Today, the lottery system to live on West is highly competitive and stressful. West Campus, like Collegetown and North Campus, cannot accommodate the rush of students who want to live there. Whether West campus housing could be the site for further development is an important question to consider as Cornell seeks to increase its on-campus housing offerings.

It’s a perpetual joke that Cornell is always under construction, but building more on-campus housing will directly improve the quality of student life at Cornell. As Cornell develops its master housing plan, the University should actively seek community input, as it has done on the U3 Advisers’ proposal to expand North Campus housing. In this process, Cornell must be brutally honest about campus housing’ weaknesses and strained capacity, and it should openly acknowledge problems like insufficient housing for transfer students rather than sweeping students into lounges and issues under the rug.