Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Fairmont Property Proposal

by Deborah Knuth Klenck
Professor of English

This plan to locate 81 seniors in a single downtown building, supervised and maintained by a developer based in Cleveland is almost comical in its departure from recent improvements that Colgate has tried to bring about in its housing policies and in its relationship with the Village. 

To review a few of these changes, mostly in chronological order: 

1. Under President Chopp, and with the blessing of the Board of Trustees, it became a truism that Colgate must own the buildings where its students live. Accordingly, and after much controversy and at great expense, the University acquired buildings formerly owned by the fraternities and sororities. Why? As I recall, the immediate catalyst for the change was the deadly car accident on Oak Drive, caused by excessive drinking at a fraternity party. While the expressed advantages of University ownership included upgrading the buildings so that they met fire-and-safety codes and opening the buildings to supervision and intervention by Colgate's Campus Safety personnel when necessary, I think that another important prompt was that Colgate is liable in lawsuits even over student events that occur "off-campus"--in Greek-letter houses. The hope was that if Colgate owned the residences, some more reliable standards could be maintained, leading to fewer disasters—and fewer lawsuits. Unless there's a definite perception that it has been a mistake to take over the Greek-letter houses, and I have not heard of one, it seems counter-intuitive now to reverse our policy by out-sourcing supervision and ownership of a large living-unit to an out-of-town corporation. 

2. The most recent incarnation of the/a strategic plan to address residential life, "Living the Liberal Arts," repeats throughout its report the insistence that it is a good for students to live in "inter-generational" housing. Putting 81 seniors, with no underclassmen, in a single downtown building works directly against this ideal. 

3. The same report encourages the University to "identify and provide appropriate incentives to faculty who will partner with staff to oversee living/learning communities." Whether or not I think it's part of the faculty's job to function as a civilizing influence over and in student residences (whatever the incentive), I certainly think it hardly likely that faculty will volunteer to work (for free) for Fairmont Properties to provide any such influence.

4. The Partnership for Community Development has brought about many desirable changes downtown. But here’s another inconsistency with another recent policy change, one that may appear to be minor: the recent eviction of the Curtain Call luncheonette and catering business from its site next to the movie theater was supposed to have been prompted by a desire for a more up-market, boutique-y shop-front to take its place---or so it was explained to the many departments that used Curtain Call’s services for receptions, interviews, and meetings. How is moving a high concentration of students to this very same neighborhood going to create the desired "tone" to which Curtain Call was apparently so deleterious? The location of the planned structure is a concern for Colgate’s “partners,” the community.  I don't see the Maroon-News very often, but in more than one issue during 2013-14, the “Campus Safety Blotter” listed offences including public urination--on Lebanon Street-- sometimes at hours like 10 AM on a weekday. Moving 81 seniors to that precise area seems, again, counter-intuitive, if making Hamilton an attractive, “classy” destination for students and their families and for alumni--and of course for residents of Hamilton themselves--is any part of Colgate's purpose. 

By sponsoring this plan, Colgate seems to be abandoning its responsibilities to its students and its neighbors, not to mention flouting the recommendations of its own hard-working planning committee(s). I don’t live in the Village of Hamilton, but I continue to teach Colgate students, and I want what is best for them and for my neighbors who do live in the Village. This development is not only not the best—it may actually be the worst.

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