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Potential changes to South Campus and housing requirements draw backlash at meeting

Codie Yan | Staff Photographer

At the Campus Framework open forum, the audience raised questions Potential changes to South Campus and university housing requirements.

Potential changes to South Campus and university housing requirements drew backlash and raised questions Tuesday afternoon at the Campus Framework open forum.

Syracuse University officials presented the possibility of a three-year on-campus housing requirement for students and continued with discussions about moving student housing away from South Campus. Changes to South Campus were included in the June 2016 Campus Framework Draft Overview, but a longer requirement for living on campus had not previously been discussed.

Numerous audience members voiced concerns about both of the proposals during the Q&A portion of the forum.

Michele Wheatly, vice chancellor and provost, was one of three officials who spoke at the forum and was first to address what she called the “living-learning situation” on campus. She said the 2014 MyCampus survey indicated that students liked living on campus so they could have better accesses to resources, such as the library, which is what led the university to consider expanding Main Campus housing.

Wheatly then said research shows that students who live on campus longer perform better in classes and have better retention rates. Because of this, the university administration, she said, is considering expanding the on-campus living requirement to three years.

Currently, non-commuter students are required to live on campus for two years, but can get a wavier in their second for living in Greek housing.

When questions were turned over to the audience at the end of the facilitated discussion, which also included Vice President and Chief Facilities Officer Pete Sala and Provost for Faculty Engagement Cathryn Newton, the first question was about the long-term plan for South Campus.

“I don’t think there’s ever a time where South Campus will go away,” Sala said. The implementation of the Campus Framework will add housing to Main Campus, Sala said, but many other offices and sites, such as offices on Skytop Road and the Tennity Ice Pavilion, will not be leaving South Campus.

Another audience member asked how feasible it was to move so many housing units to Main Campus.

In the Campus Framework draft, the construction of 900 additional beds on Main Campus is proposed, in addition to relocating South Campus spots. The draft calls for a total of 3,600 new beds to be constructed on Main Campus. Currently, South Campus accounts for one-third of on-campus housing.

The audience member also said he thought many students enjoyed living on South Campus because of the parking space and apartment-style rooms. He added that it was “dicey” to say that student performance and retention was affected by living on South Campus because most students choose to live there.

Sala responded, saying he thought the speaker was correct and the administration’s first priority is to keep freshmen and sophomores on Main Campus, rather than all students.

Questions then turned to the three-year housing requirement. A woman who identified herself as an employee from the Housing Office said she was concerned about the three-year requirement because the Housing Office currently cannot accommodate housing for all students for two years.

Wheatly reiterated that the requirement was still in early discussions and was only an idea, but said “we have to be informed by research.” She also said research shows that students now do more work in groups and that common spaces facilitate a better student environment, which is more accessible on Main Campus.

Several other universities have similar requirements, Wheatly said, including two of SU’s peer institutions: Georgetown University and George Washington University.

Other doubts cast on the plan revolved around the recent increase in private housing development projects near campus, one of which will be built on South Crouse Avenue almost adjacent to campus. An audience member asked how a longer on-campus requirement could affect those investments.

Both Wheatly and Sala said they have been in talks with local groups hoping to minimize any negative impacts. Wheatly said she believes as other local institutions — such as the State University of New York Upstate Medical University — make the region more attractive, more people will be available to fill those spaces.

To maintain transparency with the city, Sala said he met with every Syracuse Common Councilor over the summer and went through every step of the Campus Framework draft. He said one of their main concerns was preserving East Campus and University Neighborhood, which has become increasingly populated by students over the last decade.

Wheatly said the next draft of the Campus Framework plan, which should provide more details and address some concerns of the campus community, should be made public by the end of the semester.

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