Raised Eyebrows over Raised Fees
Procuring an apartment located on one of the local streets of Washington Heights to live in is somewhat of a rite of passage for students on YU’s Wilf campus. While first year on campus students, affectionately known as “FTOC’s” (emphasis on the ‘on campus’), are required to live in the dormitories on campus, everyone else is free to find his own housing. A high percentage of second year students and a significantly larger number of third years (at least based off of some non-scientific random polling) move from the dorms into off campus housing. In fact, this is so prevalent that, according to Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Vice President for University and Community Life, nearly 50% of YU’s men (539 out of 1130) live in off campus housing. In my second year, I too moved from the dorms to a slightly grimy, yet very cozy apartment just a few groggy early morning minutes away from the main campus.
This culture of moving into off campus housing is clearly quite strong, but how did it get this way? I believe that it is a product of three factors. Firstly and most obviously is the price. Paying for YU dorms runs up the already-pricey tuition fee to something even more daunting. This is both due to having to pay for the dorms themselves and the required subscription to the university’s dining club that comes along with living in the dorms. The cost of rent in many local apartments comes out to thousands of dollars less than the dorm prices and, for those who have the head to plan it out, the cost of food is also much lower. The second thing that students gain from living outside of the dorms is a sense of independence and freedom; a sense that had been stifled by the many rules and regulations of the dormitory, including the no alcohol policy and the need to sign in guests in order to allow them to stay the night. Finally, what follows directly from this newfound sense of independence is an increase in responsibility coming from the need to pay rent on time, make sure that the apartment is clean (or at least livable), and arrange all meals. Inculcating into oneself this ability to be self-sufficient is an invaluable lesson to learn as college students transition into work and family life.
Late this past summer, as I was peering over my bill from YU for tuition and other various fees, something caught my eye. Under the heading of “Off Campus Dining Plan” was a $400 fee for the fall semester. While this was not a new fee altogether, it was a $150 per semester increase from the previous year’s mandatory dining card fund. I was initially suspicious that this was an error, as neither I nor my parents had received any notification from the university that the price was going up, but after consulting with my many other off campus friends, it was confirmed that the university had raised the fee. Aside from my initial frustration with the university’s lack of transparency in raising a fee without mentioning it or explaining their reasoning to the students, there was something else bothering me. For some reason, I had a feeling that this was another example of the university attempting to help its student population without knowing what their real needs are.
Once I returned to campus, I made sure to contact the administration to find out what happened and why this change was made. I was told that the basis for raising the mandatory fee was because students in the past have not been able to manage their funds correctly, and thus in stressful times of the semester such as midterms and finals, they will not have any remaining funds and will be forced to skip meals. I was assured that these dining funds were tax free, would go towards “maintaining and enhancing the dining options” on campus, and that the funds could be used in most of the restaurants on the Wilf and Beren campuses. In the remainder of this essay, I would like to explain why I think that these funds are misguided, and suggest what similar minded students like me can do about it.
As mentioned above, having an apartment comes with major responsibility. One is subject to eviction if they do not pay their rent on time. Living out of the dorms also increases the potential security risk, and therefore requires one to have a extra caution about leaving valuables lying around or walking home alone at night. Additionally, living out of campus housing requires one to make real calculated decisions about food purchasing, preparation, and consumption. Those students who decide to live out of the convenience of the Morg, Rubin, or Muss dorms are essentially saying that they are accepting these and other responsibilities upon themselves. And just as it is not the responsibility of a university to make sure that its students pay their landlords before the first of the month, it also should not be its responsibility to take care of their grocery shopping needs.
Additionally, the very notion that it was necessary to raise the fee for all off campus students overlooks the system within which it exists. Dining cards can be very easily refilled on the OneCard website. Students are very familiar with this system, especially as this year for the first time they are able to sign up for Shabbat meals in the cafeteria from that very same site. If students really are running out of money around stressful times of the semester, they should be able to independently add to their own funds using that website. The notion that students would rather starve than spend 5 minutes pursuing this is a very difficult one for me to accept.
With such a large percentage of students living off campus, it only makes sense that more focus should be placed on how to best service that part of the YU population. In this sense, the administration was in the right for thinking about them. However, these decisions must be made after conversations between the administration and the off campus population to find out what their main needs are. Imposing random fees for reasons that don’t apply to everyone that were decided by the administration without consulting the affected group seems more like a punishment for living off campus than anything else. It might be a relatively small $300 per year difference, but I think that the larger issue makes this sufficient grounds for letting our voices be heard and trying to work together with the administration to make useful and effective change going forward.