Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

On Feb. 28, West Chester University’s Student Government Association (SGA) held a town hall for students to ask questions to the administration. Over 70 questions were submitted, but many similar questions were consolidated according to SGA President Catherine Young. 

One of the first student submitted questions brought up the issue of classes not being offered or being canceled when they are needed for graduation requirements. Deputy Provost Jeffrey Osgood explained that deans always make sure there is another class section available or an appropriate substitute when canceling classes because of retention. 

President Fiorentino added, “if you have a problem like that you have to let somebody know. Tell the chair, we need to get the information to the dean, we will make sure that no one will be denied graduation because of an issue such as that.”

The progress of renaming the Schmucker Science Center was also brought into question. President Fiorentino responded: “Schmucker’s name is on that building because somebody years ago thought it was a good idea, and now we’ve had this issue come to light and we’ve asked this committee to review the facts, make a recommendation to me that I will take to the council of Trustees and we’re hoping that we’re gonna get that finished by the end of this semester.” 

The committee he refers to is made up of WCU students, faculty and alumni who will provide a review of the situation that Fiorentino will then present to the Council of Trustees. 

“Our chairperson is already ready to move on and ask what to name the building now,” Osgood added, noting that the Council took student concerns “very seriously.” 

Questions related to housing were saved for the end, with President Fiorentino giving a statement before the questions started. 

“We understand there’s a lot of frustration around housing,” Fiorentino said, crediting some of this frustration to “misinformation about how certain things work.” 

He emphasized throughout the speech that housing is an “auxiliary,” and not something WCU is able to provide to students, with money coming from students or taxpayers for their implementation and upkeep. Traditional dormitories like Killinger, Schmidt, Tyson and Goshen Halls were paid through a mortgage from the state, who gave WCU tax free bonds to build these buildings which have since been paid off. 

With the construction of University Hall in 2004, Fiorentino said The Pennsylvania State System of Education (PASSHE) “didn’t want universities putting up any more housing using state dollars” and expected WCU to form a private-public partnership with an outside organization, which became University Student Housing (USH). 

“They don’t make any money on these buildings,” Fiorentino said regarding the nonprofit USH who has a $200 million debt on their WCU residences, “the buildings are there to serve the students of the university. They were very expensive to build.” 

The President said that in more recent years PASSHE has rescinded their previous statement that state universities make private-public partnerships and other universities have started to build their own buildings again. However, he stated that this is “not a practical move” for WCU, as buying back the USH residence buildings would cost the university $200 million.

He spoke about a concern students have in the deal with USH, as they require their beds to be filled before university owned beds: “While technically there could be a time where they could cry foul because we filled the university beds but their beds aren’t filled, that has never even come close to being an issue.”   

In 2019, Fiorentino said WCU was looking at plans to build another residence hall but both USH and WCU owned residence halls did not fill in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 

“At that point, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect going forward from there. Did that reflect a new reality that students didn’t want to live on campus?” 

He went on to say that “we have a long history” of students living in residence halls for their first and/or second year then moving out to apartments in the borough in their remaining years. He acknowledged that with more beds available on campus, more students would opt to stay rather than move to off campus apartments and referred to a previous study that showed students who lived on campus for their first two years were more likely to graduate. 

When addressing an earlier question, Deputy Provost Jeffrey Osgood noted that enrollment at WCU is still low despite the current freshman class being the largest one ever because of retention. He claimed “we had 533 fewer students show up for the spring semester than we anticipated,” resulting in a loss of about $5.3 million. 

In his housing speech, Fiorentino brought this point up again, stating they weren’t expecting to have this many freshmen as the university normally experiences a “melt” where several hundred freshmen decide not to attend WCU after already signing up for housing. However, this year the same levels of “melt” did not occur, resulting in too many students and too few beds. 

After realizing the need for more beds, Fiorentino and Todd Murphy, the Vice President of Finance & Administration, looked at a shorter-term solution in possibly putting beds in Wayne Hall. However, they ultimately decided against converting Wayne as millions of dollars had already been spent in converting it to an office building and making the rooms dormitories would displace many departments and offices. 

They have been working, however, to build a new residence hall to house more students in the future but “there’s some interesting challenges around building a building,” said Fiorentino. West Goshen and West Chester Borough created a combined zoning district where student housing could be built. According to Fiorentino, it took three years to come to this zoning decision. He also said West Chester Borough does not want more students living out in the borough because of the parties that often take place on Walnut and Matlack Streets. 

They are currently looking at Lawrence and Killinger as possible future locations. However, there are still offices and food vendors in Lawrence and tearing down Killinger to rebuild a taller building would create less spots for students to live during construction.

“That’s what we’re taking a look at now. We’re actively pursuing this issue as part of our overall facility’s planning process that we’re going through right now. So we are committed to adding more beds to this campus,” Fiorentino stated. 

A question asked after the President’s statement on the situation called into question why the university stipend for students denied housing for the next academic year was only $2,000 per student when one bedroom apartments in the borough are averaging $1,800 a month. In response, Fiorentino stated WCU would be unable to provide students with more money in the future, as the stipends came from federally given Covid-19 relief funds which the university will no longer receive in the upcoming years. Doctor Tabetha Adkins, the Vice President For Student Affairs, added that students denied housing would see the $2,000 in their fall bills of the next academic year. 

Adkins also mentioned that traditional housing would be “getting a facelift” this summer in the form of new furniture and that painting would start over spring break. Osgood added that the university was working on bringing traditional housing up to a more comparable standard with USH, possibly spending $100 million in the future to do so. 

The last question asked during the Town Hall asked the university how they were going to handle extra commuters to which Adkins said “we really aren’t going to have an increased number of commuters because overall enrollment is down.” When asked about commuter parking earlier in the town hall, Chief of Police Ray Stevenson said “despite what you may believe, commuters have the greatest areas of parking on campus.” 

The Town Hall ended directly after the pre-submitted questions were answered and was not opened up for audience questioning as the town hall had already run for a full hour. 

Emma Hogan is a third-year English major with a minor in Journalism.

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