The Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) Board of Directors passed a resolution of no confidence in Cal Poly University Housing.
This vote was a formal expression of the board’s lack of confidence in the operation of University Housing.
Due to the ASI Board’s position as an advocacy board, the resolution acts as a formal statement of opinion but does not influence the operation of University Housing.
During the May 19th ASI Board of Directors meeting, the board engaged in a lengthy and contentious debate over the resolution, which ultimately passed with 17 votes in favor, 3 votes in opposition and one abstained vote.
The resolution highlights four main topics of concern relating to the actions of University Housing.
Two-year housing requirement:
The first concern highlighted in the resolution revolves around the two-year housing requirement that is currently in the midst of being rolled out.
Author of the resolution, ASI Director Alexander Ameri, acknowledged that while University Housing is not directly responsible for instituting the second-year housing requirement, as this is a part of the University’s master plan, he still believes that housing has a moral responsibility to serve students to their best capacity.
The main points of concern regarding the two-year housing requirement involved the recent rent increases and the unclear exemption guidelines provided by University Housing, according to Ameri.
University Housing plans to increase on-campus housing prices by 6% for residence halls and 9% for apartments in the 2021-2022 academic year, as reported previously by Mustang News.
With this increase in rent prices, many board members were concerned with how this would affect students facing financial hardship.
During an ASI Board of Directors workshop in February, multiple board members questioned the absence of financial instability as an approved reason for exemption to the two-year housing requirement.
Since receiving that feedback, University Housing has added financial hardship as an approved reason for exemption. However, Ameri said that it shouldn’t have taken the board talking about it for University Housing to include financial instability as a reason for exemption.
The resolution includes a study conducted in 2017 that named Cal Poly as the least income diverse CSU.
Ameri said that the mandatory housing requirement reflects this lack of income diversity by not properly accommodating those with lower incomes.
“Recent housing policies make clear that University Housing does not make a concerted effort to serve a more income diverse student-body,” Ameri said.
$7.9 million loan from UU reserves:
The second concern of the resolution touched upon the $7.9 million loan that University Housing took from University Union (UU) reserves at the beginning of this academic year.
While Ameri acknowledges the financial strain that the pandemic caused University Housing over the past year, his concern was over the lack of consultation with student government members over the reallocation of the large sum of money that would directly affect students.
Cal Poly has the highest mandatory student fees in the CSU system at $4,201 for the 2019-2020 academic school year, according to the CSU website. A large portion of these fees goes towards campus facilities that are open to all Cal Poly students, including the UU.
Therefore, Ameri argued that University Housing should have consulted ASI before they decided to re-allocate a large sum of student fees away from the UU.
Overcrowding on-campus living this year:
The third concern of the resolution included the number of students Cal Poly brought back to on-campus housing this academic year.
The resolution noted that Cal Poly housed more students than any other CSU in 2021, housing about 4,500 students, or 57.4% of housing capacity.
Ameri argued that this led to concern over students safety while living on campus during the height of the pandemic.
University Housing made plans prior to Fall quarter to accommodate this large of a population on campus, however the implementation of these plans were not adequately prepared, according to Ameri.
The overcrowding of students living on campus this year led to the fourth point of concern of the resolution.
Resident Advisor responsibilities and safety during COVID-19:
The resolution notes that University Housing did not implement the appropriate infrastructure to accommodate this large population of students living on campus. This led to a majority of responsibilities falling back on Resident Advisors (RAs) pertaining to maintaining COVID-19 safety.
During an open forum at ASI Board of Directors meetings in the fall, multiple RAs came to speak about minimal COVID-19 safety training and unclear guidelines of their responsibilities maintaining COVID-19 safety.
This lack of adequate planning for COVID-19 safety guidelines led to RAs being placed in dangerous working conditions without hazard pay and caused many RAs to resign from their positions due to unethical working conditions, according to Ameri.
Anders Bjork, who worked as an RA during fall quarter and is also a newly elected ASI Board member for next year, spoke at open forum on May 19, urging the board to hold University Housing accountable for the harmful decisions of the past year.
“University Housing really failed to meet the challenge of this pandemic,” Bjork said. “There is no norm of social distancing or mask wearing within on-campus apartments.”
Bjork also touched upon University Housing’s lack of support of the RAs and the power structure between the RAs and University Housing.
“I think the fundamental issue here is that the relationship the RAs have with housing is inherently unequal because resident advisors sign a contract that’s outside of labor,” Bjork said. “This doesn’t leave RAs in a position to bargain and their non employment status also disempowers them from a safe work environment, just compensation, and fair hiring practices.”
Debate over the resolution:
Before the resolution was voted upon and successfully passed, the ASI Board members engaged in a lengthy debate over the ramifications of this resolution.
ASI Board of Directors, Samuel Park, argued that this resolution would hurt the relationship between ASI and University Housing.
“[University] Housing is a very important partner on campus,” Park said. “Should we want to work with them on future matters, it is important that we maintain a positive relationship with them. I cannot believe that passing a really harsh resolution of no confidence is the proper way to do this when most of the issues that we currently have don’t stem from the current administration of housing, or are not directed from housing itself.”
Park discussed the mandatory two-year housing requirement as an example of University Housing simply enforcing plans that were decided by the university administration.
In addition, Park argued that many of University Housing’s current budget issues have been passed down from past administrations’ financial decisions.
“I do not believe it is particularly advantageous of us to try to pin this on the current housing director and staff for the issues that they are trying to alleviate,” Park said.
In addition, although Park agreed that he wished ASI was consulted before the $7.9 million loan taken from UU reserves, due to University Housing’s position as a state operation, they cannot end the fiscal year in a deficit. Therefore, Park urged his fellow board members to realize that University Housing didn’t have a choice in the matter.
Lastly, there was extensive discussion about the relationship between ASI and the Inter Housing Council (IHC), which is a student governmental body representing students living on campus.
Park argued that while ASI represents the entire student-body, both students who live on and off campus, IHC represents specifically students who live on campus and therefore, IHC is more familiar with the issues and problems of students living on campus.
“The issue that is always brought up when we talk about ASI and IHC is whether ASI makes itself seem like it’s stepping on another elected body on campus,” Park said.
IHC president, Sam Andrews, spoke during the open forum to voice his opposition for the resolution. He argued that in terms of the rent increases, the COVID-19 response and second year housing requirement, University Housing was limited in ability to take action against these issues.
The housing rent increases for next year were unanimously approved by the IHC, according to Andrews.
Andrews opposed the claim in the resolution that University Housing has taken insufficient action to support students of low income backgrounds.
Dr. Jo Campbell, Executive Director of University Housing, argued for University Housing’s continued support for low-income students through a housing grant provided for students who have an estimated family contribution of $6,000 or less.
However, there is a $1,000 cap on the grant per year, which many board members argued would not be sufficient in supporting low-income students required to live on campus.
In response to the state of the relationship between ASI and University Housing after the passing of this resolution, Director Mckenna Grant, argued that while a damaged relationship between ASI and University Housing is a valid fear, it is the ASI Board’s responsibility to uplift student voices.
“We will not be doing our duty to this school by ignoring the issues that have occurred in this year alone, specifically regarding the treatment of RA’s,” Grant said. “I think it is important to advocate for the students now and by doing so, hopefully progress can be made with housing in the future to better our school.”