Over Spring Break, the residents of Munger Graduate Residences received a surprising e-mail from University of Michigan administration regarding the terms of their leases.
The e-mail detailed a change in their leasing policy, announcing future leases must be for a 12-month period. The former policy allowed students to choose between nine-month and 12-month leases, as well as to break their contracts upon graduation, should they graduate during the lease.
Munger, opened in year, is University housing specifically designated for graduate students interested in working with other graduate students from different areas of study. It was funded largely by a $155 million donation from Charles Munger.
Rackham student Marissa Quigg, a resident of Munger, said these changes were unexpected and could make graduation a more stressful time than usual.
"This is contrary to what we were previously promised as recently as February, when we were assured that we would all have the opportunity to break our contracts upon graduation," she said.
Given the late timing of the e-mail, many residents who were planning to renew their leases for a nine-month period next year now find themselves in a difficult situation, as a 12-month contract would require significantly more commitment, and little time remains for them to search for alternative housing.
At the University, students can begin to sign leases for off-campus housing as early as Welcome Week. For on-campus housing, start dates vary. Both often fill quickly.
"There are dozens of students who are no longer willing or able to renew their lease with Munger with a 12-month promise, and we find ourselves essentially displaced," Quigg said.
According to Robert Alexander, director and chief innovation officer of Munger, the policy change is intended to foster community within the program.
"We form a strong community together, and when it is not at full strength we are not able to deliver on our promise of a truly transformational living-learning experience," Alexander wrote in the e-mail to the residents. "That is why we believe it is important for residents to stay for the full 12-month duration."
Originally conceived of as a large-scale, transdisciplinary learning community, Munger's self-proclaimed goal has been to facilitate discourse and partnership between students of different backgrounds and career paths.
"The Munger Graduate Residences challenge students to develop networks across disciplines and to pursue new ideas together, through both formal programs and casual interaction," its website reads.
In practice, however, this has not necessarily been the case, says second-year law student Marika Rothfeld.
"(My roommates and I) requested to be on not the first floor, and then we got assigned to the first floor. We asked why, and (the administration) said that they were putting everyone with the nine-month lease on the first floor, and everyone with the nine-month lease happened to be law students. And then they constantly get angry that we're not very involved with the other students, but we're literally segregated on the first floor," Rothfeld said.
Quigg, who is not a law student, said in an interview she has had a different experience.
"Munger is very unique in that it has allowed me to meet tons of new students from all different disciplines," Quigg said. "Unlike undergrads, graduate students primarily, if not exclusively, spend time and make friends solely within their own department. Living in Munger has given me the chance to meet students that I probably wouldn't have otherwise."
Spring Break was not the first time this year Munger unexpectedly changed its leasing policy, either. At the beginning of (winter) semester, the Munger administration announced in an e-mail to its residents that only residents who had a 12-month lease, or would extend their current lease to a 12-month lease, could reapply for the program as current residents, whereas nine-month leaseholders would have to apply through the general application.
"As previously mentioned, only those with current 12 month contracts are eligible for reapplication," the e-mail reads. "For those of you who do not wish to transfer rooms/extend your contract to 12 months but wish to live in Munger next year, the general application will open in early February and all are welcome to apply to it."
However, in a spirited reply-to-all e-mail, second-year law student Dana Ziegler pointed out that the residents had not, in fact, received any previous warning about the policy.
"At no point in the electronic lease document, or in any advertisements or communications related to recruiting residents for Munger, did Munger stipulate that 9-month leaseholders would be subjected to additional hurdles in order to be considered current residents for the purposes of reapplication," Ziegler wrote. "In fact, Munger's Google Plus posts encouraging current residents to reapply did not distinguish between 9- and 12- month leases."
Though he said he was not able to give his own opinion on the handling of the policy change, Amir Baghdadchi, spokesperson and director of communications for University Housing, made it clear that the administration is now taking steps to give residents a voice in the process.
"Since this was a change, a number of residents asked the Munger team to review the new policy, and feedback from all over the building was collected and shared with a task force of residents and Fellows working on flexible alternatives for those residents who took part in Munger’s inaugural year," Baghdadchi said in an e-mail to the Daily.
The Munger administration held a town hall meeting Wednesday night to discuss alternative options for students who had lived there the past year and were under the impression they would be able to live there next year without the restriction of a 12-month lease.
"After a lot of comments, the administration conceded to our requests," Quigg wrote. "As it stands, if you lived in Munger this year, and plan to live there the following year, 9 and 4 month leases will be honored."
The 12-month lease policy remains in place for future residents of Munger, but the administration is currently exploring ways to be more inclusive of people who would leave Ann Arbor for the summer or graduate during the school year.