BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Published September 16, 2013
Plans to develop a new graduate student residence hall were met with potential resistance from some graduate students at a town hall meeting on Sept. 11. University officials spoke with graduate students at a forum Wednesday dedicated to discussing what will likely be called the Munger Residence Hall, a new dormitory funded by a $110-million donation from University alum Charles Munger, who also bankrolled a similar residence hall at Stanford University. Despite enthusiasm from the administration, the building’s seven-resident unit layout and potential prices disenchanted graduate students in attendance. However, when these criticisms were voiced, E. Royster Harper, vice president of student affairs, emphasized Munger’s own intention with the dormitory, and the administration’s need to respect those wishes. Moving forward, the University needs to do a better job balancing the wishes of donors with student needs.
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When the University broke the news of Munger’s donation in April — the largest gift to the University prior to Stephen Ross’s early September donation — administrators outlined a vision for a complex that would bring together students from different academic backgrounds in an attempt to “make graduate study less isolated,” as University President Mary Sue Coleman put it. Munger’s well-intentioned mission, however, has begun to outweigh the interests of students themselves.
One of the ways the Munger planned on creating this interdisciplinary community was by building seven-resident apartments with shared living space. At the town-hall session, however, graduate students — the targeted tenants of the complex — reacted negatively to the “experimental” concept, arguing that this attempt at creating community-style living isn’t the right fit for upper-level students. Graduate studies often require intense focus, and students in graduate programs are closer to starting families than their undergraduate counterparts. Despite the attempt at building community, seven-person housing units might not be the most productive way to foster the dialogue that Munger wants to build.
The price of living in the residence hall is also concerning — especially considering students would be sharing space with so many people. Current price approximations for the residence hall are about $1,000 per month. While this price might keep the University competitive with the recent rise of luxury apartments in Ann Arbor, it’s far from an affordable option for graduate students, especially those already managing student-loan debt.
“When you’re still working from, in a lot of cases, a research stipend or something like that, you have to be pretty frugal with what you’re spending on housing,” Rackham student Michael Hand, Rackham Student Government representative, said at the meeting. In light of rising housing prices in the city, the University’s role in housing should be providing an affordable option. The vision of the donor shouldn’t impede the ability to finance students’ education.
The University has received many significant donations in the past year, from Ross’s recent donation to gifts from the Zell family. Of course, the University community is grateful for the continued support from alumni; however, these donations are offered and planned long before they’re announced to the entire University. Instead of focusing on unveiling these donations with pomp and circumstance, the University should be working toward bridging the gap between donors and students long before building plans are released.