Over the last several years, the Eastern Michigan University administration has made the decision to privatize several areas of campus operations that were previously under the full control of our public university.
In 2016, EMU Dining operations were , a private food service company, in a 10-year deal that included $18 million in initial capital funding. Last year, parking operations were in a 35-year, $55 million dollar deal.
These partnerships have had mixed results so far. Despite vocal opposition to the Chartwells agreement at first, a indicated that student satisfaction in taste, cleanliness and price has modestly approved. Additionally, Chartwells has recently put some of the aforementioned capital funding into renovations in the Student Center and Eastern Eateries.
The LAZ Parking partnership has been less successful. Student Government in January to amplify student voices unhappy with aggressive enforcement, unfairly issued tickets and poor customer service. While LAZ agreed to issued over winter break in response to student pressure, it is clear that EMU did not make student protection enough of a priority when quickly inking a 35-year deal without seeking broad-based community input.
Recently, the administration has turned their attention toward renovating our aging housing stock. Make no mistake, housing does need help. Several weeks ago, President Crutcher solicited students’ feedback on their living conditions and received a wide range of testimonies addressing concerns like burst pipes, flooding, heat management, power outages and accessibility. In Westview apartments, a student had to be let into empty units to shower because their water ran yellow.
The poor conditions of student housing, at the high cost, is fundamentally unfair to students. Faulty housing presents unnecessary and unfair distractions from learning, particularly for our most socio-economically vulnerable students. EMU students shouldn’t be faced with inescapable debt for substandard housing.
EMU has not yet decided whether or not to employ yet another public-private partnership to address these concerns. Like the majority of EMU students, Student Government feels that the trend toward privatization across higher education in response to rapidly declining state funding is extremely disturbing. Public assets belong to the people and are designed to serve the public good, not-for-profit corporations.
Nonetheless, as EMU decides how to address substandard living conditions for its students, Student Government is working to ensure that they take a student first approach in any potential renovations by holding the administration to a set of four core demands:
First, housing prices must NOT rise. Students do not support the construction of “luxury dorms.” EMU students represent a working-class demographic whose single most important concern is cost. There must not be any tuition increase due to housing construction specifically, nor any housing-specific student fee.
Second, students must retain control over their living conditions to the maximum possible extent in any new renovation or construction, such as full control over heating and cooling. EMU must retain ownership of all housing assets in any potential public-private partnership
Third, Housing and Residence Life (HRL) staff must not be cut or affected by any potential housing renovation project, including paid room and board for RA’s and other staff. If the university does sign a contract with a partner, HRL must remain under the full control of EMU.
Finally, students must be protected from unfair monetary penalties for alleged damage to their rooms. An accessible and efficient appeals process, controlled by EMU if a private partner is involved, is absolutely necessary as EMU or a potential partner may seek to over aggressively and unfairly “protect its investment.”
No matter what path the university takes moving forward, Student Government is calling upon President James Smith and the Board of Regents to employ a student-first solution to housing by acting in strict accordance with these demands.