Dokken: Why This? Why Now?
The faculty vote to pause progress on the Lyme Road housing project is selectively paternalistic and selfish.
In a Feb. 21 press release, the College announced that faculty and administrators had voted 89-4 to delay the development of proposed undergraduate housing along Lyme Road. The reason? Faculty members expressed concern about the distance of the housing from the core of campus, arguing that it contradicted the commitments Dartmouth made in its strategic master plan and threatened the quality of the “undergraduate experience.”
While the vote prompted the College to pause development on the project, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence told The Dartmouth that the College still intends to move forward with the plan to build more housing. While I am grateful that the College does not intend to use this vote to halt all progress on housing projects, I am nonetheless disappointed in the decision to pause development on the Lyme Road project. Moreover, it is ridiculous that one of the few times faculty has decided to take a stance of this magnitude in the name of the student experience, it is over a housing project, when there have been countless other matters where students would have benefited from organized faculty support.
There is a desperate need for more student housing: From the fall term housing shortage that culminated in a 128 person housing waitlist and a lottery system to bribe students into living off campus and a decision to turn lounges into dorm rooms to the at-capacity on-campus housing for the upcoming spring term, it is clear that students need housing sooner rather than later. While I am sympathetic to concerns that the distant dorms will hamper the undergraduate experience, the truth of the matter is that the current lack of housing is also impeding the undergraduate experience to a far greater extent.
Lack of housing on campus has significantly impacted the student experience for decades. Insufficient housing forces students to find housing in the Upper Valley that is both limited and expensive. This means that low-income students are at a disadvantage when it comes to finding housing off-campus, particularly during times of on-campus housing scarcity, as was experienced this past fall and numerous other times over the past fifty years. While wealthier students can afford to pay upwards of $1,000 per month in rent, these prices are likely too expensive for low-income students, such as myself, who often work several on-campus jobs just to get by. Additionally, the limited amount of housing means that some students may simply be without housing until after the academic term begins. Not only would these students be at risk of missing class due to lack of housing, but students may also have the entire first half of their academic term disrupted, as they would have to move in when the academic term is well under way.
Moreover, the Lyme Road project is not intended to be a one-off solution to the housing crisis, as there are plans in the works to also build dorms closer to the heart of campus. While these dorms should be built as soon as possible and prioritized over other projects, there is no reason to panic that the College is abandoning its commitment to creating a “walkable, central campus core.”
Rather, I believe a shift in perspective is necessary to understand the College’s reasoning for the Lyme Road project. Although the dorms are farther away from campus, they are a quick and inexpensive way to address the housing shortage in the short term. Additionally, the project will ensure that students will have housing as the College pursues other lengthier and more expensive projects as a supplement for the long term. Furthermore, the central core of campus will remain walkable even if there is one dorm that requires a shuttle bus to get to and from campus.
Additionally, although I am certain that many faculty members who voted against further development of the Lyme Road project believe they are acting in students’ best interest — and are sympathetic to the issues some students face when looking for housing — this does not detract from the reality that they are not the ones most affected by the housing crisis.
This is why it is so frustrating that one of the few times faculty have come together to speak out against the College, it is to oppose a proposal that guarantees students will have a bed to sleep in at the end of the night. It is clear from the faculty vote and the College’s subsequent decision to pause further development on the project that faculty input can, and does influence the College’s behavior. So where was the outrage when the College was sued for allegedly colluding with peer institutions to price-fix students’ financial aid? Where was it when students were crying out for more mental health support last year? Where was it when the College initially denied hundreds of students housing last fall?
Altogether, the faculty vote against the Lyme Road project is selectively paternalistic. Sure, the faculty should be interested in the College’s policies and projects, but not only in instances where the policies may have auxiliary impacts on them. Students desperately need more housing, and while waiting until further progress can be made on projects closer to campus would be nice, time is not a luxury that students have. The Class of 2026 will be here in just over six months, and if history holds, the College will admit another large class.
I urge faculty to reflect on their vote and consider why this project is one of very few instances where they felt the need to speak up. While many of the concerns voiced by faculty are valid, it would be great if such anxiety was expressed over other pressing issues as well. The College must resume progress on the Lyme Road project immediately, not only to ensure that every student has housing, but also to improve the undergraduate experience that faculty fear this project will so irrevocably destroy.