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Senate Council Response to Graduate Student Housing Rate Increases
March 18, 2021

Dear Chancellor Khosla, EVC Simmons, VC Ouillet,

Academic Senate Council was both shocked and disappointed to learn of HDH’s unilateral decision to dramatically raise rental rates for on-campus graduate housing. Increasing graduate housing costs by, in some cases, more than 70% without warning amounts to a shock to the entire fabric of the university and its core academic function. It directly undermined the Academic Senate in UC San Diego’s shared governance structure. We demand that these changes be immediately reversed, and that planning for graduate housing fees include stakeholders (and Academic Senate) in a transparent process moving forward.

Why must the announced rent changes be reversed?

The magnitude of this shift cannot be overstated:

  • These increases dramatically shift the affordability of pursuing higher education at UC San Diego and will make it harder to recruit the best students into our programs. Bluntly, we will lose the students who are the core engine of research. We already struggle to compete with higher-paying institutions in lower cost-of-living places; truly lower-cost, high-quality, on-campus housing is a critical piece of our success, especially given that our compensated graduate students live in the very low to extremely low-income categories (San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency).
  • Our professional graduate students disproportionately rely on on-campus housing, and the majority of these students take on debt to finance their education. The medical school has estimated that this housing increase would lead to more than $19k in debt taken on by medical students, since financial aid packages cannot be increased to compensate. We would expect similar annual increases ($4.8k per year) in additional debt for our lowest-income professional students in other units.
  • The additional Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion impacts of this shift are galling. The proposed cost structure will hurt our lower-income students most, and renders dozens of efforts across campus to recruit lower-income students moot. Moreover, based on demographic data, this cut will fall disproportionately on minority students. It will also affect students with disabilities and students with families, who may rely on being closer to campus, and international students with families whose partners may not be able to work. The proposed two-tier system, whereby students fortunate enough to currently be in on-campus housing will have one cost structure, while future students have an entirely different one, is unacceptable from an equity perspective, and risks creating a toxic divide among our students.
  • This traumatic rental cost increase is proposed right in the midst of one of most devastating catastrophes that the University and the world have faced, namely the COVID-19 pandemic. Due consideration has been given to the debilitating effects this is likely to have on the welfare of the faculty, and steps to mitigate these have been proposed. In contrast, increasing the rent in such an abrupt manner, with no input from the most vulnerable but imperative part of the population of the University structure, is particularly cruel and insensitive.
  • The reputational costs of this change to UC San Diego as a whole -- both in substance and in the way in which it has been justified and communicated -- will be severe and long-lasting:
    • The timing of this announcement, coming just as schools and departments across campus are working to recruit their admitted students -- where low-cost on-campus housing is a key piece of the puzzle -- has made countless faculty and staff appear to have acted in bad faith. There was no warning, and this has caused a collective embarrassment.
    • The justifications for the changes are insulting on multiple levels. An attempt to cloak massive price hikes as "20% below market value for comparable units" and the possibility of sharing a 275-sq-ft studio with another adult student as "offering a new choice for room occupancy [that increases] the amount of housing available for less than $750 a month" not only insults graduate students' intelligence, it belittles their shock and anger at the severity of the rate increases, and it portrays an administration that is out of touch with their general concerns.
    • The proposed changes directly contradict the stated goals in the planning process for the more recent graduate housing, which were built around, and sold to the faculty for approval on the promise of low-cost single occupancy well into the future. Furthermore, the financial reality stated to derive HDH’s decision directly contradicts financial projections and planning made at the time of construction of many of the newer establishments on campus. The projections made as recently as 2017, presented to the faculty and Regents, projected far more affordable options for the students than now presented.
    • The administration has largely shrugged these rent increases off under the justification that HDH is a self-supporting auxiliary enterprise with contractual restrictions imposed by UCOP. It is important to recognize that this distinction is understandably lost on graduate students, and members of the public, who associate buildings located on our campus with the University as a whole. Further, it appears that auxiliaries do not HAVE to be self-supporting. UC policy BUS-72 (V-c) states that “auxiliaries are not required to be entirely self-supporting”.
    • A recent update on this issue by Academic Affairs encourages students “without access to adequate food, stable housing or other basic needs” to approach the Hub Basic Needs Center. We find the implication disturbing. Graduate students should not confront precarity as a consequence of their decision to attend UC San Diego, and they must be able to thrive in basic security on what we pay them.
    • Housing instability and food insecurity are linked to overall academic challenges, mental health distress, and poor general health. Needless to say, this is not a situation conducive to learning particularly when layered with the pressures of the current pandemic (UC San Diego Basic Needs Insecurity Committee’s Report on Food and Housing Insecurity at UC San Diego 2016).

The proposed rent changes are unacceptable. We insist that the Chancellor and Administration recognize that this is not a fait accompli, and take immediate action to remedy this situation. In the immediate term, the increases must be rolled back. In the longer run, the decision to make graduate housing revenue neutral, rather than subject to institutional subsidy, must be revisited.

Finally, significant longer-run questions remain about overall accountability lapses that led to this decision, including the decision by the administration to communicate directly with students and circumvent the faculty role in governance. Moving forward, HDH financial activities should be brought under Senate scrutiny (under the Committee on Planning and Budget). The reasons for this are twofold. First, the poor planning and decisions that led to this unacceptable burden to our graduate students must be understood, and those responsible for those decisions should be held accountable. Second, as these events amply illustrate, HDH's functioning has become central to UC San Diego's academic mission. Going forward, it is clear that HDH's functioning requires Senate oversight so as not to further harm the academic activities of the campus. The Academic Senate is a resource for UCSD, and early involvement of the Senate in planning usually results in better outcomes.


Steven Constable
Academic Senate, San Diego Division

On behalf of Senate Council:

Tara Javidi (Vice Chair, Divisional Senate)
Aleck Karis (Chair, Committee on Academic Personnel)
Carrie Wastal (Chair, Committee on Admissions)
Janis Jenkins (Chair, Committee on Campus and Community Environment)
Lei Liang (Chair, Committee on Committees)
Jennifer Burney (Chair, Committee on Diversity and Equity)
Geoffrey Cook (Chair, Educational Policy Committee)
Shantanu Sinha (Chair, Committee on Faculty Welfare)
Lynn Russell (Chair, Graduate Council)
Kwai Ng (Chair, Committee on Planning & Budget)
James Posakony (Chair, Committee on Privilege and Tenure)
Victor Ferreira (Chair, Committee on Research)
Jane Teranes (Chair, Undergraduate Council)
Seana Coulson (Senior Divisional Representative)
Stephanie Mel (Senior Divisional Representative)
Daniel Widener (Senior Divisional Representative – Fall Quarter)
Shelley Halpain (UCFW Chair & Academic Council Member)
Susan Tapert (UCAP Chair & Academic Council Member)
Ross Frank (Representative Assembly)
Andrew Kehler (Representative Assembly)