For the past few years, an unspoken sentiment has surfaced on the pages of The Chronicle, at the meetings of student government organizations and in countless conversations across campus. Let’s come right out and say it: Housing at Duke is a mess. This condition has little to do with the nature of housing, even less to do with the fantastic staff of Residence Life and Housing Services and a great deal to do with the leadership style of RLHS Dean Eddie Hull.
It sometimes appears that Hull does not respect students. He is the master of the vaguely affirmative response that seems to promise future action, but that actually means he is going to do what he thinks best at a timetable that suits him and him alone. Student leaders, despite maintaining an affable mien for the most part, are deeply frustrated.
Take his decision last winter to abolish annual review for fraternities and selective living groups. Campus Council President Anthony Vitarelli was rightly outraged because in abolishing the process with no initial explanation, Hull left Campus Council, fraternities and even some fellow administrators blindsided. Vitarelli called the lack of RLHS communication “shameful” and said it “defied the community spirit of shared decision making.”
Communications woes are only the beginning. Hull has held onto several problematic policies, only to skirt them when convenient. The University requires that all freshmen, sophomores and juniors live on campus, but each of the last three years, Hull has created a housing crunch whereby students returning from study abroad have nowhere on campus to live. He instituted a lottery for juniors to move off campus for the spring and calls it an opportunity for free choice; to show a true commitment to free choice, however, he could change the policy and let juniors choose to live off campus.
The University alcohol policy is another oft-cited disaster. Hull should not get all the blame for this; it’s a tough thing to get right. But his management has made a bad problem worse. He told residence coordinators and resident assistants to enforce one policy at the beginning of the year, then devised a new enforcement strategy toward the end of the fall semester, then recently announced that the old way was back on. RCs are having trouble making sense of Hull’s inconsistent expectations, with the Crowell/Wannamaker and Edens RCs running uncompromising regimes and others on West Campus taking a more laid-back approach. It’s no wonder that RC turnover at Duke is so high.
The very existence of the RC position as currently conceived is rooted in a questionable model: the infamous quad model. Hull does not deserve all the blame for a model that predated him, but he has been its implementer and public spokesperson. He once explained that Quad Councils would replace fraternities as the primary engine for quad-wide programming—and he wasn’t kidding. Some of these councils struggle to get three people at meetings; even if they had numbers, they would still just be irrelevant appendages of the administration. There are many other problems with the quad model that I have explored in this space before, but the biggest one is that students were never offered a meaningful role in its creation.
Nor were they consulted about the administration’s decision to increase Central Campus rental rates—one of the biggest scandals of the year. The rate hike on these decrepit apartments will have a disproportionate and profoundly negative impact on the lower-income students who had preferred Central as a cheap living destination.
Just once, I would like to open The Chronicle and see some evidence that Hull is genuinely respectful of and responsive to students. It is easy to imagine what positive RLHS press would look like: “Hull opts not to raise Central rates.” “Hull accepts CC proposal on linking.” “Hull takes down ugly bell from new dorm on East.” “Hull revises alcohol policy—this time, for good.”
It will take a change in perspective for Hull to reestablish RLHS as a student-friendly, staff-friendly auxiliary service, but I believe he can do it. He has a national reputation and the apparent support of Duke’s senior administration. And if he is having trouble coming up with ideas for RLHS, his restive constituents—the students—are more than ready to help.
Andrew Collins is a Trinity senior and former University Editor for The Chronicle. His column appears Tuesdays.
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