The idea of a luxurious, private dormitory that charges between $600 and $900 per month as an alternative to the grungy beehives freshmen are shoved into today is enough to make any proponent of integrated living communities shudder. Knowing wealthy students could segregate themselves in a dorm equipped with all the amenities any college student could ask for – private bedrooms and bathrooms, even maid service – is not a pleasant thought for those who advocate diversity in residential life. But although the arguments against building private dorms are numerous, University Housing’s operation of on-campus housing today makes the creation of a privately owned and operated dorm increasingly probable.

Private dorm alternatives have been creeping onto college campuses around the country to meet the demands of students who snub traditional dorm life. Managed by a slew of companies – most notably United Campus Housing and the Scion Group – these dorms are usually located near or on a college campus. First in 2003, and then again in 2004, housing contractors approached the University about building a high-rise complex on an unoccupied lot near Bursley Residence Hall on North Campus.

When an easement was drafted last year between the University and United Campus Housing for the company’s plans to build a 900-bedroom complex off Murfin Road, the idea of private dorm at the University became a reality. The plans were finalized in mid-February, when City Council approved the easement and construction plans by a 9-2 vote. The project was to be completed by summer 2006, or summer 2007 at the latest.

But then nothing happened. The lot wasn’t cleared, advertisements weren’t put up and life on North Campus has remained as stagnant as ever. A University Housing employee I talked to didn’t even know what I meant by a “private dorm” and was unaware of any prior North Campus construction plans.

The most reasonable conclusion I can come up with is that the company scrapped its plans and moved on to another college because the luxury dorm wasn’t welcomed by the University administration. And with no new proposals on the table from companies wanting to construct on campus, University Housing has retained its monopoly over the on-campus housing market.

North Quad plans are finally in full swing, and it appears University Housing is making overdue but genuine strides towards updating dorm life – which is long past due, given that the last new dorm was built in 1968. But its control over the market is frightening to say the least.

Year after year, freshmen are forced into dorms that are as uneconomical as they are shoddy, with almost no way around it. Undoubtedly, dorm life has long been a rite of passage for freshmen. But looking at dorms today, reality trumps tradition; what’s really going on inside University Housing should not be forced on anyone.

University Housing’s monopoly over the on-campus system has also allowed it to rob students in many undetectable ways. Reports of cockroaches in showers, unsanitary eating conditions, false fire alarms and instances of theft are becoming as ubiquitous as the minor in possession tickets handed out in dorm hallways. While the high cost of living in the dorms is no mystery, these drawbacks – along with inescapable meal plans and the prevalence of economy triples – make things even worse.

The fact is that the roughly 30 percent of students who live in dorms are not getting their money’s worth given the way housing has deteriorated. So as long as students are paying absurdly high prices, they might as well spend their money in nicer, more comfortable private dorms. Building such dorms is the only foreseeable way to counteract the irresponsible way University Housing is managing residential life on campus. In order to attract prospective students, it’s in the University’s best interest to recruit new on-campus housing developers and ensure they follow through with construction plans.

Theresa Kennelly is a Daily associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at thenelly@umich.edu.

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