Administration demands room damage fees—some students ask what for?

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When on-campus students of the 2009-2010 school year were e-mailed their respective housing charges this summer, the warmth of those carefree months suddenly turned the hearts of certain students cold. A discomfort far more severe than the guilt of being irresponsible assailed a number of New College students. In some cases, charges stacking up to four digits brought the vacationing mindset of students down low to reality.

Altogether, the student body was actually charged less money for a smaller amount of damages this past year than the year before, reported Associ- ate Dean of Students Tracy Murry. This phenomenon may be due to one precaution taken by some students at the end of the school year that wasn’t taken in years previous: some serious spring cleaning. Still, Wendy Rucci, a second-year, told the Catalyst that she was particularly perturbed by the Room Condition Report’s (RCR’s) incident by incident charges for damages.

“They should just have students pay a security deposit, and, if there’s no significant damage on their room, students should get that money back,” she suggested.

A long list of individual damages proved to be a substantial burden on some students. Third-year Megan Rogers paid $1130.51 in damages this summer so that she might be permitted to register for classes this semester. She felt dissatisfied after moving into her new Goldstein room this August when she encountered less-than-spotless conditions hiding under the cushions of her common room’s couch.

“So, we each paid a thousand dollars in room damages, and they didn’t even clean the couches?” she joked to her roommates the morning after they completed move-in.

Her fellow third-years, Gabriela Portilla and Cory Costello, both report moving into a room this year with defective chairs, and Portilla’s dresser drawer slides on a broken track. Rogers’ new room exhibits damages from the previous year’s RCR that have not been fixed.

Where, then, did the money transmitted to pay for Rogers’ $1130.51 housing fee actually go? These on-campus students and others are thinking: the previous tenants must have paid charges for these damages as I have, yet the damages remain.

Although Murry confirmed that some students were charged a hefty sum

of money in one dorm building, he told the Catalyst, “Last year was a huge surprise. We were not expecting such a large reduction in housing damages and fines.”

Although the current end-of-year policy in which Resident Directors (RDs) compile a list of each damaged item in a particular room might be exact and comprehensive, every student is now moving into a room whose materials suffer some defects. What’s more is that those administrators who cited the RCR this summer in their accounting of charges managed to create loopholes in the form—Rogers was charged $25 for a “Window Screen not fitting in place,” while the previous year’s RCR read, “Bent Window Screen.”

As each damaged item is to be as- sessed by an RD at the end of the year towards a total sum of fines, third-year Andrew Cerni was displeased to learn that the actual list of damages on his RCR was purposefully not given to the Work Crew in charge of summer cleaning for review.

“What am I paying for, if they’re not fixing the things they’re charging me for?” asked Cerni.

Murry informed the Catalyst that the Work Crew does not see the RD’s RCR and does not refer to it in their own

assessment of the summer repair work that is to be done. This measure was put in place to provide a reliable backup to the RD’s appraisal of each room’s situation. Still, the RD’s list of charges is the only one to be approved by the Board of Trustees, and there are no measures in place to ensure that the fines students pay are going to be used to fix the items for whose damages they are responsible.

So where does the money go? A general repair and improvement fund is beefed up every summer from the charges students pay.

“We’ve been able to do a whole lot in the way of improvements the past couple years,” Murry said.

But Rucci, among others, thinks that an incident-by-incident list of fees doesn’t make sense if the money spent for each item does not go to the repair of those items.

Murry is no dogmatic proponent of the current system. He has been steadily working the grind for the past few years to improve student experiences, as well as to keep the dorms looking nice. Complete renovations of Second Court in Pei and the Dort dorm buildings have each been conducted in the past four years, not to mention the successful completion of all the new letter dorms in that period as well. These types of projects are made possible by the fund to which room damage fees go.

To help out students worried about the threat of fines this coming Summer 2011, Murry was able to offer some sincere words of advice. When asked if there is any possibility of utilizing the Work Order to repair damages that appear through- out the year, Murry told the Catalyst, “Definitely. The sooner the better is always the way to go.”

On-campus students are paying for the services that work orders provide. All students pay a fee for the regular maintenance of their rooms. “If students raise issues to their RA or the administration during the school year while they [the students] are actually around, they will be better able to defend their claims,” Murry said.

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