Group of SG officers stands up for Shoreland

By Tara Kadioglu

A recent exchange of letters between a group of Student Government (S.G.) officers and University administrators has further confirmed what many have suspected for months: the days of the Shoreland as undergraduate housing are numbered.

Though the College Council as a whole has deliberately assumed a neutral stance on the Shoreland debate so as not to misrepresent the conflicting opinions within the student body, a group of six SG officers decided early on that it wanted to explore the implications of the dorm’s possible decommission. Many students had reacted to the thought of “no more Shoreland” with immediate defensiveness, causing SG officers to ask themselves what, exactly, they should do to help these students look out for their beloved dorm.

The class officers decided the best way to tackle the issue was to go to the students. Gathering questions and concerns from their peers, the officers put together a lengthy letter, full of research, which they sent to the administration.

Cheryl Gutman, assistant dean of the College and deputy dean for housing, dining, and transportation along with Vice-President and dean of students Steve Klass—had held “townhall meetings” this fall to discuss the Shoreland’s future with the University community. Some attribute the low student turnout at the meetings to the fact that the new dorm to replace the Shoreland will not be ready until the autumn of 2007, when all current undergraduates will already have graduated.

But these conferences did not seem to be assuaging student concerns. The purpose of the letter, said David Courchaine, a first-year class officer actively involved in the preparation of the letter, was to ask questions that remained unclear or unanswered after the first town hall meeting. Drafters of the letter hoped that it would present more specific, pointed questions to be answered with on a case-by-case basis, rather than through loose forum confabulation.

About a month and a half after the letter was sent to the administration, the SG officers received an 11-page response letter, signed by Gutman and Klass. Accompanying the letter were various statistical charts. The administration’s reasoning was mapped out via direct responses to specific factors in the SG officers’ letter.

The focal point of this “discussion through letters” was, as Gutman and Klass’s letter put it, the “choice between investing a large amount of capital into Shoreland Hall and using those resources to build a new residence hall or halls closer to the central campus.” Their letter vouched for the latter option, mainly for two reasons: the feasibility of building a new dorm, when compared with the economic and operating difficulties in continually renovating the Shoreland, and yearly trends in the types of dorms students seem to prefer.

The administration’s letter noted that its size, materials, and landmark status would make the Shoreland increasingly expensive to maintain. The letter said that it would cost $164 million more to operate and maintain a renovated Shoreland over the next 50 years than it would to operate and maintain the same number of new beds.

The administration’s decision is backed by an increasing demand for housing closer to campus and a declining interest in the Shoreland as a first-choice housing option for new students. Similarly, based on the Shoreland in-house lottery results between 1997 and 1998, the number of returning students—another important factor in determining a dorm’s utility—dropped 10 percent and continued to decrease by smaller increments up to 2003.

The letter also mentioned the University’s original intention in obtaining the Shoreland:

“The purpose of our purchasing it 25 years ago was primarily neighborhood stabilization. Over time, that became less important an issue as many other residential buildings in East Hyde Park were stabilized.”

Gutman said that she was grateful for the SG officers’ letter because “it identified the areas in which we had not successfully communicated.” She expressed dismay that the officers have not yet gotten back to her, but admired their work in initiating this letter exchange.

“On the whole, I thought [their letter] was a good thing,” she said. “We have been talking for the past quarter with students, housing staff, and alumni about the conundrum of how to continue to support this wonderful old building in a system that is being negatively impacted by its relatively high financial needs and have not discovered a solution that would not require some house system residents in other dorms to subsidize the Shoreland.”

Supporters of the Shoreland as an undergraduate dorm lament that its future does not look bright, given the unwavering, though responsive, perspective of the administration.

The administration has hired a real estate firm to determine the marketability of the Shoreland in the general housing market. In addition, an architectural firm has been contracted to conduct a study to assess the feasibility of a large dorm on a site south of B-J and its ability to accommodate increasing demand for on-campus housing. Gutman noted that they hope to “come to a resolution on the first process by the end of January.”

The Board of Trustees will have the final word, and it appears to favor the notion of decommissioning the dorm.

Courchaine, the freshman class officer, affirmed this bleak outlook for the Shoreland. “In reality, the decision, as far as the administration was concerned, had…already been made. I must say that the administration has been extremely cooperative with the student body in our efforts. Unfortunately, it certainly seems like the Shoreland’s fate is sealed, regardless of the adamant desire of many students to keep it open.”