Opinion: Does my school care about me?

Illustration by Jake Barnard

Illustration by Jake Barnard

On October 11, 2018, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents' Finance and Operations Committee voted to pass the President’s Six-Year Capital Plan. Included in that plan was the allocation of funds for UMD to build an estimated $59 million worth of new student housing and a new dining center. This is coming fresh off the heels of the construction of the new Heikkila Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science (C.A.M.S.) Building, which costed the state of Minnesota $28.3 million, which is only about 67% of the total budget of $42 million.

As a current UMD student starting my third year in the Twin Ports, I can’t help but ask myself, “is this really what students are asking for?”

After seeing the yearly mad-dash that off-campus students take part in every summer when trying to reserve their maroon and white parking passes, I don’t know if this is exactly what the student body has been hoping for. Perhaps this shows that our school is more focused on admissions for incoming freshman, especially in some of their biggest fields of study, and not working to retain the student body that they already have.

From the perspective of many students who eat a breakfast at home before shoving off for their 9 AM class on a January morning with -15℉ wind chills, all in true Marge Gunderson fashion, the one thing that can ruin a Bulldog’s morning is being in the back of a white lot, just to hope that your nose doesn’t freeze off before you can make it to the library doors.

So when I open up Twitter and see a tweet from the Duluth News Tribune for an article titled “UMD planning new dorm, dining facilities,” all I can think of is all the conversations I’ve had with my classmates about how bad parking can seem on campus some days.

I do have to admit, the amount of improvements on campus during my time here has been nice to see, even though I personally have reaped few benefits of this. As a student of the Labovitz School of Business and Economics (completed in 2008), I can say that we are very lucky to have the high-quality facilities we have.

From the perspective of the University, this mindset makes the most sense for them. Why wouldn’t they want to increase the school’s capacity, bringing in at least four years’ worth of tuition payments per person, in comparison to making the students who have already been paying their tuition happy with investments that benefit them the most?

It’s very hard to be critical of the University for making investments to help them expand and grow but in general  the talk on campus seems to be more directed towards improvements rather than expansion.

On the topic of student housing, a sizable percentage of the allocated funds for the new project will be set aside for a new housing project. It’s hard to overlook the 7% growth in student admissions from 2015 and say it isn’t at least partially responsible for the demand for expanded housing. The last time that the University sponsored a new student housing project on campus was the Ianni Residence Hall built in 2011, while the University was experiencing a separate spike in first-year admissions. The construction of our campus’ newest residence hall then paved the way for the demolishing of the Stadium Apartments complex, which was built in 1975. Keep in mind, these housing expansions have taken a priority to renovation or expansion of some of the older residence halls on campus.

This causes me to think, “what really is holding back the University for the expansion of parking that it seems would be widely accepted?”

In 2016 the Transportation and Parking Services Department conducted a Parking and Transportation Study and analyzed different options to improve parking on campus. A few of the options this study explores is for the expansion of existing lots, such as the Maroon M2 Lot, which could add 152 spaces for an estimated $881,600. Although a small scale fix, it would cost only a relatively small amount compared to some of the University’s more recent projects.

But one of the phrases that gets the attention of many students on campus, is “parking garage.” A few of these options were, in fact, explored in this school sanctioned study. So, as we know that the university has possibilities for different garages across campus, it doesn’t seem that much action has been taken on this front.

At least six different ramp or lot/ramp combination options were explored by the survey. All options would have about the same capacity— at between 500 and 600 spaces created. This would seem like a no-brainer for the university—until it comes down to money. When the study dives into the topic of money, we learn all the numbers that the university knows for four of the possible projects. The cost of the three most similar projects would cost between $15.36 million and $12.48 million, with one outlier as an underground lot estimated at $18.36 million. We must also consider maintenance costs estimated between $175k and $100k, depending on the size of the structure.

Knowing the comparison between the two types of investments, it makes us think about where our university’s priorities truly lie. Again, I can’t argue with the logic behind the university’s decision. Although the expansion of on-campus resident resources would expand capacity and, in turn, increase revenue through tuition dollars. But we also must consider the needs of the students who don’t live on campus but still pay their tuition dollars every semester, just like first-year students. Although a parking ramp would still be a sizable investment where we must also consider concerns due to an influx in traffic, it would help benefits the rest of the campus population, as well as helping gain revenue through the sales of parking passes.

Speaking personally, when I look back on all this information, I don’t feel as though our university truly places its priorities with its current student body, mostly due to money. This is the kind of message that makes me, as a student, feel as though the longer I stay here, the less important I am. This brings me to a simple question that recent decisions have caused me to ask; how much does my school really care about me?

VoicesNathan Casanova