Writer’s note: The comments made by Curtis Cohen and Riley, the other student quoted, were made before either student, or myself, was aware of the amendment made to the addendum.
WSU updated its housing policy, which originally told students it would not refund housing costs should the coronavirus cause another school shutdown. This came after a petition circulating online gained more than 5,000 signatures.
“If a public health order requires the University to vacate residence halls due to COVID-19, the University will implement a refund or credit policy commensurate with the order(s),” according to the new addendum.
ASWSU denounces the recent Housing and Dining Contract addendum. pic.twitter.com/GcCAyzkVcC
— ASWSU (@ASWSU) July 7, 2020
Among other changes, students now have until Aug. 3 to cancel their housing assignment without fees. WSU Housing also expanded exemptions for the first-year live-in requirement, and the university will release the revised fall class schedule on Aug. 1.
“As a WSU Community, we live by our values of Cougs helping Cougs, and our actions since COVID-19 unexpectedly arrived demonstrate that. Our community must come first,” wrote Mary Jo Gonzales, vice president of Student Affairs, in the letter posted on the university’s social media pages.
Before the amendment, students and alumni had already questioned the motives of WSU and its ways of communicating with the community on social media. Even after the change, some also criticized the administration for the ethical implications of having students sign a contract that asks them to “voluntarily” engage in the guidelines.
Update on Washington State Univ housing. They are requiring incoming freshmen to sign an agreement that if the school closes because of COVID-19, students must still pay room and board for the year. And you don't get a room assignment until you sign the agreement. @erichoov
— John Fraire, Ph.D. (@JVFraire) July 5, 2020
So you’re requiring people to live in then act like it’s “voluntary” if they get infected with Covid-19. Everyday @WSU_Cougar_Pres and the admin. show their true colors. They see students as money bags to pay down the debt their bad practices have brought on. https://t.co/dabviK4x8L pic.twitter.com/X0YIFxgspN
— Timmy Tim (@KingJelani_) July 7, 2020
Is anyone reading this?! If students are forced to leave even a week into school, WSU will NOT refund a cent!! Dining credits, housing, all gone. ~$14,000 of that students earnings/student loans straight into WSU’s pockets. Thievery & completely immoral. What has happened to WSU?
— Sally Hougham (@Sally_GoCougs) July 2, 2020
Incoming ASWSU President Curtis Cohen said ASWSU openly supported the petition because he figured more signatures would cause responsiveness from the WSU administration.
Much of the information people found about the original contract came from third-party sources, Cohen said, such as the WSU Pullman Twitter account.
“It seems you go on the WSU Pullman page and it’s nice pictures of campus,” Cohen said, “then you look in the comments with WSU not responding to anything. There needs to be more transparency and communication.”
According to the original contract students had to sign in order to get a dorm, students could not cancel their contract with WSU Housing “even if the university unexpectedly requires that I vacate my residence hall space and does not provide me any alternative housing due to COVID-19.”
WSU jeopardizing students health (even with its precautions) and financial stability all while diminishing the quality of a students actual education doesn’t sit right with me at all.
— Wendy (@Wendy_Alcantar) July 6, 2020
WSU is raising tuition, making freshmen sign away their right to a housing refund, staying silent on race issues on our campus and they only care about pleasing rich alumni and football fans.
They’re bleeding us dry.
— Lauren Prasanna (@laurenprasanna) July 7, 2020
Riley, an incoming freshman who did not want his last name used because of his uncertain housing situation, said he got the email about the contract on July 1.
At first, it was not clear what the school was asking him to sign, and the wording of the email made it seem like a routine update, he said.
“Then they said, ‘We will not give any refunds if there’s a COVID outbreak,’” he said. “They kind of threw it in there. This is so big I think it should warrant an email on its own.”
As an out-of-state student, Riley said the school did not give him many options. Either the school honored the petition, he said, or he could not attend WSU.
Both of Riley’s parents attended WSU. He said he chose WSU for its inviting campus but was “disappointed” to see the decision made without student input.
Financially, WSU will face a decline in revenue overall, and layoffs across all colleges are likely.
Phil Weiler, WSU’s Vice President for Marketing and Communications, told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News the school anticipates $20 million in lost housing revenue and a sharp drop in the students they can have on-campus.
Student housing costs and other fees fund the cost of housing, not taxpayer dollars, Weiler told the Daily News.
“The cost of housing is what it costs us to provide that housing,” Weiler told the Daily News.
Cohen said he understood the school must navigate a difficult financial situation, but students should not bear the burden of those costs and uncertainty.
“That risk shouldn’t be placed on students and families,” Cohen said.