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A new inequity on Central

Open up your pocketbooks, Central Campus residents. Those crappy apartments won't come so cheap anymore.

Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta is paying for a long-term Central renovation in part by dramatically raising rental rates for existing Central apartments. This means that lower-income and minority students will bear a disproportionate burden for Duke's ambitions--and that is plain wrong.

Lower-income students have traditionally chosen Central because of its cheaper rates: a one-bedroom double costs $3,800 per student this year. Minority students, a cohort that substantially overlaps with lower-income students at Duke, have had the added attraction of a racially diverse Central community. Moneta now wants to make Central rates comparable to those of West Campus, where a double room currently goes for $5,524. In many cases, families simply cannot afford to pay an additional $1,724 in housing costs.

Students who choose Central for financial reasons already have to suffer the assorted problems of living in dilapidated buildings that Moneta himself says should have been torn down five years ago. In addition to the grungy, unattractive facilities, these students must contend with added daily travel time, lack of basic amenities and a sense of isolation from the on-campus community. Now, we are increasing the rental rates on these apartments by nearly 50 percent and depriving students of a lower-cost housing option? Something about that doesn't make sense.

Moneta, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and other administrators involved in the Central Campus project have grand ideas that will cost the University an obscene amount of money. From all indications, their fledgling plans provide a solid basis for improving the quality of student life and facilities and should be carried out soon.

But in paying for these ideas, Duke is neglecting a crucial question of equity. We should not shift the brunt of the costs onto the undergraduates who are least able to afford it. Otherwise, we unjustly burden those members of our community, risk Duke losing its luster for lower-income prospective students and commit a grave error of unfairness.

Central Campus must remain an affordable housing option for as long as the campus exists in its current form. If money is so sorely needed, Moneta can petition the Board of Trustees for another hike in the rate of the annual tuition increase so that all undergraduates can share the costs. I think the Central project is a worthwhile destination for my tuition dollars; let the Board determine whether students as a whole should pay more. Should the Board decline to allocate the money, Moneta could raise all housing rates proportionally, go back to the fundraising drawing board or perhaps slow down development plans a bit. No renovation is worth this inequity.

Moneta cites increasing diversity on West Campus as a possible benefit for raising the Central rental rates. My response is, at what price? Sure, lower-income and minority students will no longer have a compelling financial reason to head to Central, and more may well choose West for their junior and senior years. But they will be paying $1,724 more! Are we really asking the less advantaged among us to pay this sum for our diversity efforts?

The planned rate hike also sets up a generally inequitable situation for juniors of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds. With 50 percent higher rental rates, Central would become far less desirable than West--as opposed to marginally less desirable, or even sometimes preferred--for juniors stuck with the three-year live-in requirement. So, every junior goes into the housing lottery with the specter of an unduly expensive, low-quality apartment lurking behind a high number. Such a disparity is not desirable, as it sets up a rift between the haves and the have-nots and leaves far too much to chance. If we are forcing students to live on campus their junior year, we should be working to make their housing options more equitable, not less.

President Richard Brodhead has indicated that shoring up financial aid is one of his most prized initiatives. It would be a mistake to undermine such a noble goal out of the box with this inequitable and truly unfathomable rate hike. Furthermore, the argument that a new, improved financial aid system will offset this new burden for lower-class students does not hold water. Even if such new measures were implemented and made Duke a generally more attractive place for such students in the long-term, the short-term is when lower-income students will be suffering the effects of this rate increase. Some students will receive an adjustment in their financial aid package, but many of the middle cases will not, and the rate increase will be quite palpable for them.

Putting the squeeze on Central residents is unwarranted, unfair and unnecessary. It is time for Dr. Moneta to reconsider.

Andrew Collins is a Trinity senior and former University editor of The Chronicle.


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