When Shoreland Hall closes at the end of this year, it will mark the passing of an era at the University of Chicago. Much like the switch to the Common Application, the Shoreland’s closing reflects the University’s attempts to redefine the experience at the College. Consistent with this, the opening of the new dorm next to Burton-Judson is intended not just to bring students closer to campus; it is also an attempt to entice more upperclassmen to stay in housing. Both of these aims are in turn part of the University’s larger goal of concentrating the campus. And while the University has good intentions, the means by which it is attempting to reach its ends are far from the best.
To begin with, University housing will never be an attractive option as long as a mandatory meal plan is included with it. While current upperclassmen are still allowed to stick to the moderate and minimum dining plans, future students will not have that option. Forcing students to buy an unlimited plan in order to stay in housing greatly increases the costs for them, making moving out of housing a more attractive option. The lack of options in new meal plans will counteract any efforts that the University is making to keep students in housing. While there might be an in-housing population uptick in the next couple of years because the new dorm will be finished, the increase will not prove permanent unless the University adds new meal plan options.
Moreover, there are distinct benefits to having students more spread out among the community. Such a distribution fosters greater interaction with the residents of Hyde Park and encourages a more even allocation of retail establishments throughout the neighborhood. While the Shoreland was located relatively close to a slew of stores and restaurants, the new dorm is not: Though administrators have talked at length about their hopes for the area, South Campus remains barren as far as retail and dining options go. Even with the bus system making access to the establishments near the Shoreland relatively easy, concentrating students south of the Midway would likely decrease business without any necessary corresponding increase near the new dorm. More students on campus would also necessarily encourage students to stay on campus rather than to venture into Hyde Park, meaning that the University will become more disconnected from the community around us.
There are thus several different changes that the University should make as it works to centralize the campus. The first is obviously that it should not require the unlimited meal plan as it has recently vowed to do. Rather, administrators should continue to offer a smaller alternative so as to get future students to actually want to stay in housing. Second, the University should encourage more retail development near the new dorm, so that any loss of business near the Shoreland is made up by a corresponding increase south of the Midway. Lastly, if the University wants to continue pursuing its policy of condensing the campus, it should do so not by systematically inching residence halls closer, but by making it easier for students to find and live in apartments closer to campus. This would encourage students both to move closer and to remain a part of the Hyde Park community.
The University’s goal of concentrating the campus is not inherently bad. New ways of approaching that goal, however, would greatly help the University both in achieving its aims and in helping the community at large.
Alex Zhao is a first-year in the College.