Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: The University should allow more flexibility with student housing contracts

Boston University students have raised concerns over housing contracts for the 2020–21 school year, and petitions are circulating in a collective attempt to convince the University to allow the termination of these contracts for the Spring semester.

A final decision regarding contracts for students currently on campus will be made by Nov. 16. However, those off campus this Fall who apply for Spring 2021-Only Housing can only receive a refund of the $600 Housing Guarantee Payment as a credit to their student account if they cancel their Residence Life Agreement by Nov. 20.

Vanessa Bartlett/DFP STAFF

The University has reasons to be strict with housing contracts. First and foremost, it has a financial stake in our housing payments. If more students opt out of their RLA, then the University will lose more money.

On top of running high-quality testing facilities and paying for COVID-19 safety enhancements and cleaning, BU is likely suffering financially and would not be keen on losing even more.

Many claim the University can fall back on its endowment, especially in these extenuating circumstances. However, those funds often come with highly specific guidelines for spending and aren’t as easy to tap into as we might assume.

It is also understandably difficult to re-budget and re-calculate payments when students leave halfway through the semester, or at other odd times, and ask for a refund. If the time period for contract cancellations is extended, the University could have to tackle these complications on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the financial downfall can be somewhat balanced out with the reduced population of students. Fewer students means less food in the dining hall, less testing and less cleaning.

But besides money, the most pressing issue of strict housing contracts is the lack of transparency from the institution. The Learn from Anywhere model was supposed to be flexible on all fronts — not just our classroom location, but our residential location as well.

Many students were under the impression that the flexibility of LfA extended to our housing agreements, but BU Housing has vocalized the permanence of our contracts. Conversely, other offices on campus, such as the Howard Thurman Center, have vocalized their support for students through sympathetic campus-wide messages this semester.

Again, we are receiving inconsistent messages from different departments at BU.

When we agreed to our housing contracts in August, we weren’t able to predict what our quality of life would be on campus. We are now living in the bleak reality of isolating dorms, and with the current surge in COVID-19 cases, most of us are feeling more uncomfortable than when we first arrived. Our year-long contract only further binds us to the Spring semester, despite not even fully understanding our feelings on the current semester.

Living in University housing is quite difficult right now. It is isolating, rigid and at times even depressing. COVID-19 cases are much higher than they were when we agreed to stay here, and safety measures are only getting tighter — for good reason, of course. The University is doing its best to mitigate the spread of the virus.

However, BU could be more sympathetic with students and understand that some don’t want to be trapped in these living situations. Students are forced to choose between enduring a stifling campus atmosphere so they can make the most of their tuition or going home and paying thousands of dollars to learn from their couch.

The University’s decision to revoke Spring Recess — another well-intentioned effort to prevent the spread of the virus — could easily deter students from coming back next semester. One long semester without any breaks or chances to see family sounds exhausting.

While it is all to offer a chance at a healthy and safe semester, students across campus still hope for some accommodations to make life at BU more enjoyable.

Offering the chance to cancel housing contracts will give students better peace of mind and more control over their living situations, rather than force them to choose between two less-than-ideal options.

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