Northeastern University opened up its newest dorm this semester, called the East Village tower, for students to move into. While the dorm looks visibly similar to other common dorms on Northeastern’s campus, it broke ground as the first dormitory in Boston to be financed by private developers, according to The Boston Globe.
Other colleges in the area are now adopting the same ideology. According to The Boston Globe, plans for privately financed and operated dormitories are underway at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and Northeastern is already looking into building a second one. Suffolk University is also said to be heavily considering partaking in this new development strategy.
Each party benefits differently from this kind of development funding. Developers partake in a profitable deal, and universities gain new housing that allows them to appeal to more students and beat out competition from other universities in the area. Universities also utilize that housing for years to come. While they run the buildings on leases, they still retain the opportunity to purchase the dorm from its developers if they choose to do so. The colleges still take ownership over the buildings as part of their campuses, but due to the private funding, they are able to save money on the universities’ budgets.
Saving money? Sounds great, doesn’t it? But when it comes down to it, these universities should ideally have an allotment of money built — pun intended — into their budgets for the restoration of pre-established housing and the institution of new dormitories, if so needed. If they save money from these privately funded deals, where does the money saved for housing go?
As this trend continues to travel throughout the community of universities in Boston, the fear of it reaching Boston University becomes imminent. I use the word “fear” deliberately, because if this trend reaches our home university, we will need to become more aware of what our payments finance and how this process is executed.
Earlier this month, BU President Robert Brown sent out an email to all BU students. The dreaded sender of the email, of course, was “[email protected]” If you haven’t already heard, the email detailed the raised tuition rate at BU: $50,240 for tuition and mandatory fees and $14,870 for the basic room and board rate. These values amounted to an overall 3.4 percent increase.
The email goes on to mention that the increase in expenses will be used toward “necessary supports and services to students and faculty” at BU, and there is a vague allusion to the “overall expenses associated with running our physical plant.” If the term “overall expenses” was not troubling in itself, Brown also reminds us of the urgency regarding “competitive increases in salaries and benefit costs.”
And yet, it’s interesting to see the differences between the university’s clear concern for these issues and the way they are actively handling them in preparation for this new tuition increase. Walking outside BU’s College of Arts and Sciences last Thursday, I was handed a flyer that outlined the delicate financial state of BU’s part-time faculty. One of the top outlined claims on the flyer reads, “Since 2004, Boston University has increased tuition by 22%, while spending for instruction has increased by only 2%.” The flyer also reminds students that they “pay the same tuition whether the course is taught by … adjuncts or not,” and that these adjuncts “can earn less than a counter clerk at Dunkin’ Donuts,” despite the necessary experience and degrees for maintaining their positions as BU staff members.
So while the future intentions of BU to support its faculty — or more specifically, its adjuncts, as the status of benefits and pay for full-time faculty is not well published — seem to be something most students would happily be willing to invest in, it’s hard to say if BU will follow through on that promise. Between the university’s apparent past inability to adequately support the staff it relies on and its recently announced increase in tuition and the possible threat of its future ability to save money through new dorm development plans, I feel as if we as students ought to demand more specific details on the status of this funding.
While the possibility of these future plans has not yet been hinted at by BU, it is rapidly circulating through Boston schools and seems to be a likely option for the university in coming years. BU is currently in the process of remodeling buildings to use as dormitories — one new dorm at 1047 Commonwealth Ave. is already underway for the 2016-17 school year — and in order to accommodate its increasingly large student body, it’s only a matter of time before the administration looks into more ways to save money in the future.
As the university’s students, it’s up to us to monitor its actions that affect us and to be aware of what we’re supporting.