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viewpoint

Graduate housing

| Monday, October 30, 2017

Notre Dame is planning to remove the graduate housing on the campus of Notre Dame. Sorry to say, but in this case John Affleck-Graves and the related administrators have it totally wrong. In the long run, this would be very damaging to The University.

Most people know Notre Dame because, as a modest size school, they play big time football. It is also known as an excellent undergraduate school that admits more selective students who are taught by very good professors. One key to the people who teach these students is that they are virtually all scholars who are active in the research of their respective disciplines. They are at the top of their academic fields. Many years ago Fr. Theodore Hesburgh made the vow to make the University into a first rate teaching-research institution. This requires a graduate program that fosters research in academic disciplines that are being taught. Many faculty at Notre Dame have gained national and international reputations in their respective fields. They also teach the students who take the courses in their disciplines.

In order to have and maintain a good, active graduate program to continue research in the various fields, good graduate students are necessary. I believe I would be speaking for most faculty in that I would never have accepted the offer of a faculty position here if there was not an active research program in my discipline (biochemistry). There are similarities in faculty attempting to recruit good graduate students in our disciplines and the coaches of the sports’ programs trying to recruit good student-athletes. Graduate students are critical to virtually all of the graduate programs on campus.

It is a strange contrast of the University’s conflicting current decisions to require undergraduate students to live on campus for at least three years to enhance their campus culture. In contrast, the decision is the opposite for graduate students. There will no longer be a graduate student community if this decision goes forth. There are many reasons why such housing is critical to the graduate programs.

First, of course, is that most beginning graduate students are new to the area and current graduate housing is on campus. Not all new graduate students have cars therefore transportation problems are diminished. Campus housing is within walking distance to all the important sites on campus. Students don’t have to search through a new city to find affordable, safe and accessible housing. Also, campus housing is significantly less expensive than local rental housing. Most beginning graduate students have yet to meet new friends to share apartment space. Also, a fact of life, much of the less expensive rental properties are in less agreeable sections in town. It is important to remember, graduate student stipends are not very large.

Many of the graduate students who are pursuing degrees in experimental disciplines, such as science and engineering, spend long hours in their respective labs. The end of their daily work is dependent on the experiments and is rarely at fixed hours. Often the end of the work might well be at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m. It is easier and safer for a student to walk back to their “house” than drive across town at that hour of the night. It is also important to realize that in some of the sciences, nearly 50 percent of the students are females and females are in significant numbers in engineering. It is a concern that the new plans would put so many graduate students in greater danger.

Because of Notre Dame’s current reputation, many graduate students are foreign students. Very few have funds to purchase cars, they are unfamiliar with American culture, and have no knowledge of South Bend or Mishawaka. It is a distinct advantage to have graduate student housing on campus for students such as these. It is a distinct advantage to recruit both domestic and international students when there is campus housing available and they are not in the middle of a large city with little campus culture.

Graduate students, regardless of discipline, have many things in common. These include the stress of classes, focus on their research and having some “life beyond the classroom/laboratory.” They have community. This is especially the case of married students. In some cases the spouse might not work or need to care for young children. They rely upon each other as community. For all the rhetoric of “The Notre Dame Family,” the attempt to remove graduate housing will badly destroy graduate family connections within the various programs. This will be a shame and somehow be in opposition to Catholic Social Teaching, as I understand it. Were the administration of the University to run in a democratic fashion by the faculty, there would probably be nearly universal opposition to the intended move by the current administration.

On behalf of the graduate students and faculty at Notre Dame, I implore the administration to rethink their decision. The University has recently built a significant number of new buildings to foster greater scholarship in various disciplines on campus. This has been a wonderful investment in the academics at Notre Dame. The administration appears to have forgotten that the basis of all of the scholarship expected is directly tied to and with the graduate students who all play a critical role in the actual work. They need to address this issue in these investments. With the significant endowment that the University has, they should be able to afford to provide good graduate housing and newer and better married-student housing. If graduate student housing will no longer be available, it will diminish the ability to attract good graduate students that, in turn will diminish the level of scholarship within our academy. In my perspective, diminishing the academic reputation of Notre Dame will be sinful.

 

Thomas Nowak
professor emeritus
department of chemistry and biochemistry
Oct. 27

 

 

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Craig Difley

    Fisher Graduate Housing is on campus. The Overlook Apartments is just across the street.
    Nearly 800 new units have come on line in the last few years. I think the University is trying to stay out of the rental property business. Student housing is a specialized field of real estate that requires well compensated people to run it. It takes many skilled maintenance people to keep these units on the market in a marketable condition. Property managers have to provide well planned logistics to get units ready in short windows of time, deal with international students’ arriving at all times of the day and night for immediate move in and maintaining a pleasant disposition in the face of unending questions and demands.

    • HolyHandGrenade

      So there are expenses, naturally. The argument comes down to whether the economic profit/opportunity cost of paying those salaries and maintenance costs is more or less than the benefit to the health and talent the university’s graduate student body. Professor Nowak appears to beg to differ, and considering how much Notre Dame has pumped into things like new research buildings (McCourtney Hall) and surely greatly increased compensation to professors in more recent years, he seems to have a point. It’s hard to put a value on something like that, but it appears ND thinks it isn’t worth it, in the face of getting that sweet lease money and a more attractive North side of campus, which has its own value. Nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that the loss doesn’t negatively affect grad students and research short term, if ND really cares about that on principle.

      • Craig Difley

        Well stated. Current married family housing has a sense of community and lower rents than newer housing. The life experience leading to a graduate degree goes far in shaping the intensity of research and scholarship for every student. The added economic burden and security concerns surrounding housing for these students shows the intangible effects Professor Nowak and you point out: ND principle.

    • Michaela D

      First of all, the Overlook does not house families. Second, Fischer is indeed on campus, but the cost of living there is $1200 for a student family (twice the rates at the Village which is being razed without a replacement). I know some families here at the Village who are living on a $1500/mo stipend. That leaves $300 to be spent on food, utilities, and health insurance for spouses and children. PER MONTH. It’s absurd that anyone would think Fischer is an option for any international student on a stipend. There is a PhD student living at the Village now who will be forced to send his wife and child home to Uganda for the next four years, so he can get a roommate to afford housing and food. So no, none of the options the university has given us are sufficient for international families. And if they can build an extravagant multi-million-dollar stadium, why can’t they build and staff a small family housing community that will be filled with generations of loyal future alumni? and happy safe families, too.