In recently announcing that Pierce Tower will be closed at the end of this academic year, the University broke a piece of news that many had long expected. What came as a surprise to many, however, was the manner in which the announcement was made. At a quarterly open forum with students last Wednesday, President Zimmer stated publicly for the first time that Pierce would be closed at the end of the year to make way for a new residence hall to be completed in 2016 spanning Pierce’s current lot and the adjacent North Field. His impromptu announcement was not a part of the Administration’s plan for revealing the news and has demonstrated yet again the University’s haphazard approach to determining and publicizing the fate of Pierce—an issue that dates back to last year’s plumbing fiasco. Zimmer’s misstep and the administrative damage control it prompted bring to mind a number of concerns surrounding the Pierce situation.
Soon after Zimmer’s slip-up, members of the Pierce Work Group—a committee of housing staff and residents formed to consult with the Housing Office in the wake of last year’s facilities issues—were told they would meet with administrators ninth week to receive a definite answer on whether the building would close. The group was told that a final decision had not in fact been made. Yet, in contravention of these assurances, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Karen Warren Coleman sent an e-mail to Pierce residents last Friday which officially announced the dorm’s upcoming closure. This clumsy revelation marked another low in Admin-student communication on this issue. Releasing this news in a more organized manner—namely, by first informing housing staff and student leaders, thereby giving them time to prepare to answer any questions posed to them by residents—would have prevented the current situation.
Due to the sudden announcement of Pierce’s closure at the end of the year, students have spent a frustrating week pondering their uncertain future living situations. Should they choose to remain in housing, this group of students, which by and large deliberately chose a dorm near campus and with a unique communal layout, will most likely have to live in scattered housing that may lack these characteristics. Of particular concern is the fact that first-years, before arriving on campus, were never officially informed that Pierce might close at the end of this year. Four years ago, when the former Shoreland residence hall was in its final year, residents were fully aware of its impending closure. They had the option to seamlessly transition, if they so desired, to South Campus Residence Hall, which opened the following year. This time around, there is no such choice, either for first-years who chose Pierce with the expectation of being able to live there at least two years, or for the second- and third-years who wish to remain in the same dorm. The housing office has clearly failed in comparison with its past efforts.
But the fallout from the Pierce situation will not just affect Pierce residents. First-year housing facilities are already seemingly at capacity, with new College houses now firmly established in I-House and New Graduate Residence Hall. These sudden space constraints will surely allow almost no margin for error when it comes to the sizes of the next few incoming classes. With the recent trend in increasing admissions yield, it is more crucial than ever that the Housing and Admissions Offices mend the disconnect that exists between them and cooperate to find an appropriate, likely reduced number of new students to admit and work toward reaching that target. There must also be swift steps taken toward replacing Pierce Dining Commons; the lack of an immediate replacement is particularly concerning.
To its credit, the Housing Office has promised to maintain a relationship with the Pierce Work Group during this transitional phase. The plan is to use the group as a tool to help ensure “continuity of community” among Pierce houses, wherever they end up. However, given the Administration’s latest stumble, it’s hard to believe that this goal will come to fruition. Though the University has done little to instill confidence in its housing plan, we can only hope that it will prove these concerns wrong.
The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.