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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Graduate students frustrated with university housing matters, lack of transparency


Administrators disagree, maintain there is transparency

Members of the UC Student Workers Union Local 2865, a union that represents graduate student workers and undergraduate tutors on campus, have expressed concerns regarding mismanagement of funds by university administration, particularly with university housing. One claim is that the university has been taking rent from residents of Solano Park, a university housing community for graduate and undergraduate students with families, and putting it into reserves to fund luxurious housing projects, rather than maintaining current housing or building housing that UAW considers affordable.

“We know from other sources, for example, that the university has used reserves money to build the infrastructure for West Village, which is an unaffordable housing complex that private developers are operating and making money from,” said Caroline McKusick, a Ph.D. student in the anthropology department. “Solano Park has been paid off and residents’ rent has been going into paying for that reserves portion of the Student Housing and Dining budget. This raises some questions about how the university is using the money they are getting from very low income families and students. They’ve been raising rent here in Solano Park for a long time despite the complex itself being paid off.”

When asked how members knew Solano Park has been paid off, Emily Frankel, a Ph.D. student in languages and literature, said that she was informed by a resident advisor that “it was paid off” and that Vice Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff “never denied Solano Park being paid off” at a meeting.

In response, Ratliff said via email that the “debt for Orchard and Solano housing is not paid off. The final payments will occur in 2026” and that some funds from student housing revenues “are held in reserve for major maintenance and facility projects.” She also said that “Student housing funds have not been used for West Village.”

Additionally, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Executive Director of Student Housing Emily Galindo maintains that the budget for Student Housing and Dining Services is relatively transparent.

“We have our resident hall advisory board that we meet with on a monthly basis where we review all of our budget with students,” Galindo said. “We are a self-supporting auxiliary which means that we are responsible for all the costs associated with the program, so we don’t get funding from the state or campus. Rather, based on the revenue, which is student rent, we have to ensure that we can operate effectively and efficiently, and that’s going to include a myriad of things: salaries and benefits of staff, facilities related expenditures, maintenance that has to happen on an annual basis and we have to plan for the future. We have our website [and] we have the budget documents which are available to anyone who requests them.”

However, according to Ellie White, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in civil engineering, a major issue that UAW has with university administrators concerns transparency.

“Whenever we ask for information, they tell us it’s already up there, and that we just haven’t looked,” White said. “Or that it’s been on their website and we just haven’t found it. According to them, the budget is online and they’ve been transparent, which is not the case. When we do go and try to find it, there is nothing online for me to be able to see how much goes into Student Housing and Dining Services and how much goes out. It’s such a bold lie. When we’re talking to them at these town halls, it shuts us down because everyone thinks we just haven’t done our homework.”

White mentioned that the only way that UAW can receive information about budgetary concerns is through California Public Records Act requests.

“What we have to do is legally require them to give it to us through CPRA requests,” White said. “I made the request in December [and] they just got back to me about it. They use these bureaucratic methods to stifle us — it’s been a couple of months — and then they give us a 300-page document that we also have to pay for, 25 cents per page. The university’s use of complexity here is to obfuscate, to stop us in talking in opposition.”

Frankel suggested that the lack of transparency with the Student Housing and Dining Services budget is related to UAW’s claim of mismanaged funds.

“There’s obviously a mismanagement of funds,” Frankel said. “We already have seen this with the issue that they’re having with the mental health center. We know that’s happening here with housing. We know this has happened with medical insurance. We know this has happened in other instances. We know that this university, in particular, has a history with mismanaging funds. We know they must be mismanaging the funds here at Solano because we can’t seem to gain any sort of transparency as to what they’re doing with our rent money. Where is our money actually being allocated?”

When asked about RA responsibilities at Solano Park, Galindo noted via email the way RAs are involved in the ticketing of cars parked in the wrong spots.

As the RAs do their regular rounds, if they see a vehicle that may be in violation of some sort of parking situation, they tag it and notify TAPS,” Galindo said. “TAPS is responsible for responding, determining if in fact there is a violation, and then citing as necessary.”

White, however, discussed this RA responsibility as “pitting the community against the community” and causing the demobilization of graduate and undergraduate students at Solano Park.

“Immediately, I’m not going to like my RA,” White said. “This relationship of the community with the RAs gets conflicted because of the responsibilities that are forced on them by the administration.”

According to White, the UC Office of the President has only chosen a few developers that the universities “are allowed to contract with,” which has caused confusion regarding the university’s selection process of housing developers.

“We don’t know how they were selected [and] we don’t know why they were selected,” White said. “No engineering project works like this. You [generally] request for proposals and you get everyone who wants to send a proposal and you evaluate all of them — you have more options. They’re basically creating this kind of a market and there’s no transparency on why these developers were selected. Why was there no affordable housing developer among these people?”

Galindo discussed the process by which these developers were picked.

“We worked with two committees,” Galindo said. “The first committee was chaired by the former dean of graduate division, Jeff Gibling, and they did a pretty extensive review of housing and what graduate student families wanted to see, what was most important to them in a new development. Then, we created a project advisory committee that took that work and developed a request for a proposal for the next version of family housing and we provided some targets for rent. Based on that request for proposal, we gaged the eight developer teams that have been identified from President Napolitano’s housing initiative.”

Galindo explained that six teams responded from the eight reached out to, and the university interviewed four from there, eventually choosing University Student Living.

White said that she was okay with her “rent going to Student Housing and Dining Services.” With the advent of these private developers, however, she said she has a problem with the fact that her “money is going to go into the pocket of a rich developer.”

Frankel emphasized the need for affordable housing on campus for all university students, including international students.

“We know the university can make affordability possible for students,” Frankel said. “We have international students who have whole villages sometimes paying for their tuition just so they can come to the United States and get an education from UC Davis. When we think of this money, we can’t just think about [it] as domestic — we have to think about it as a form of international exploitation. The university knows that students want to come here to get this education and they’re going to do whatever they can do to take that money from that village or that family.”

Frankel also mentioned the difficulties domestic students face who “can’t come to this university because their families don’t have the money to pay for it.” She finds issue in the fact that California residents, who pay taxes that partially go toward public universities like UC Davis, can’t afford to come here because of tuition hikes and limited affordable housing.

White discussed why affordable housing has been an important pursuit of the UAW.

“I don’t want to be food insecure to pay my rent,” White said. “My quality of life dropped and I was considering whether or not it was worth it — to put your mental health on the line to pay your rent and to barely get by and not save any money. We are students who cannot afford an emergency.”



Written by: Sabrina Habchi — campus@theaggie.org



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