By Gabriella Levine
For such a small school, Union seems overcrowded lately. Since winter term began, students have raised several concerns about increasing congestion in certain areas on campus. Most commonly complained about are problems with Dining Services, including Reamer’s crowding during common lunch and increased waiting time at brunch, and changes in residential life for first-year students.
After speaking with Admissions, Dining Services, Residential Life, the Counseling Center and dismayed faculty and students, it appears that the source of the issue is multi-faceted.
The jam-packed, hungry hordes caused by Dining Services’ issues have garnered the greatest amount of feedback from students. Common lunch and brunch complaints have skyrocketed this term as the crowding became increasingly apparent.
“Crowds are 25 to 30 percent larger in comparison to last term,” says Director of Dining Services David Gaul.
Originally, some thought the large number of students who came back from abroad in the fall was causing the problem, but Gaul believes it may be attributed to the heightened use of updated meal plan selections and improved dining options.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit because we reacted to what we knew students wanted for meal plans, which was a heavier declining balance. We made that adjustment, but we did it knowing it would impact business and it has,” Gaul explains. By increasing the amount of dining options, Dining Services increased the demand amongst students, ultimately resulting in the surge in crowds.
Though the new changes in dining were intended to be beneficial, students are clearly frustrated and outspoken about their dismay with the long waits in line and the frenzy at meal times. After using a meal swipe at Ozone and not being fed, Abby Calish ‘13 said, “I’d rather not eat lunch than eat on campus during common hour.”
Gaul noted, “Last Friday, Ozone served 325, but the typical count is 250 for the meal. So, it was just a matter of it being incredibly busy that day.”
Ava Carnevale ‘14 also expressed her frustration: “Lately when I walk into Reamer during common hour, there are no seats and absurd lines.” For students like Carnevale, who have classes before and after common lunch, the brief hour is their only opportunity to enjoy a meal. But to some, this has become an impossibility. “It is troubling to me to go to lunch or dinner and not have a place to sit and eat,” Carnevale continued.
Matthew Dalo, a Dining Services employee who specializes in omelet-making at brunch in West on the weekends, acknowledges that there is a problem.
“Overall we have been busier than normal for brunch…a lot of the students come in in bunches and groups which causes a traffic jam!” Dalo exclaimed. The Concordiensis has received reports of omelet line waits anywhere from 30 minutes up to an hour and 15 minutes.
Gaul reassured that Dining Services and senior staff on campus have proposals to address the challenges.
Among these proposals are tentative plans to renovate Dutch and construct an expansion of Reamer, which would include a new dining hall with potentially 750 seats. “We do have design concepts already done, but it’s a matter of funding right now,” he said.
Many people believe an increased amount of students on campus has led to the sudden crowding, yet it turns out that there are only seven more students total on this campus than there were last year at this time. However, the first-year class is larger than Admissions intended.
Vice President of Admissions Matt Malatesta ’91 explains, “We were shooting for a first-year class of 575 students and enrolled 591,” due to what he calls “the summer melt”: the process in which students withdraw from Union over the summer “either because they got off another waiting list or something unforeseen comes up that disturbs their plans to attend college.”
This summer, however, the melt was not nearly as large as anticipated. To balance out the current size of the rising sophomore class, “next year, the target is 570, which is lower than last year’s target…we were over that target, not by design. Yield prediction is an inexact science, so some years we are very close to our target and some years we are off,” Malatesta elaborated.
While the change in the size of the first-year class may not be responsible for the crowds on campus, it certainly has affected the typical freshman residential experience.
As recent as 2010, West College offered two large common spaces on each residential floor. Since then, these areas have been transformed into triples in order to accommodate the additional new first-years. The former common rooms in West “are designed to hold that many people, that is the correct occupancy for those rooms,” says Interim Residential Life Director A.J. Place. There are also forced triples in the basement of Davidson.
Though the common areas in West may have been designed with the intent of housing students, residents have utilized them as academic and communal spaces in past years. The elimination of common space in freshmen dorms potentially causes consequences.
“Things are a bit crammed in terms of forced triples and things in that situation, which can cause stress,” notes Director of the Counseling Center Marcus Hotaling. “The biggest factor for students living in West is the lack of a space to go. There has been frustration with those students…they don’t have a place to decompress or sit and think. You typically have a common room where you might be able to do that.”
In the basement of Davidson, Josh Callahan ‘16 lives in a triple and explains that, “The majority of the basement is football players, a lot of the team lives down here in triples.” For Callahan, the triple life hasn’t been detrimental to his time at Union.
“In my personal opinion, it’s a very positive experience,” he said. Callahan was able to make friendships with the fellow teammates that he lives with. “We’re very close because of the close quarters,” he continued. But Callahan admits, “If someone didn’t like the room, it could cause some problems because there’s no privacy.” In Callahan’s case, his room was a forced triple and he “didn’t really have an option” to live in a double.
When it comes to the academic realm, Dean of Studies Mark Wunderlich reassures that the effects of the heavy crowds and larger freshman class sizes are not detected within the classroom. “I have not been getting complaints about overcrowding damaging the learning environment,” Wunderlich said.
However, former Dean of Studies and Professor of Mathematics Kimmo Rosenthal expressed his dissatisfaction with the rising number of students in classes.
“Since I have been at Union, the math department policy has been that our goal is to have Calculus classes under 30, with the understanding that we may occasionally go over. This under-30 policy is touted to prospective students as one of the salient features of the college,” Rosenthal stated.
Rosenthal provided a specific instance during which the department failed in maintaining its goal. “Last spring there were two Calculus classes at 42 and 43…absolutely unheard of…and not educationally the best,” he said.
A concerned Carnevale remarked, “Since the beginning of this term, it has become an obvious issue with Union’s inability to manage the amount of students on campus. It seems to me that there is an evident need for some changes, such as another dining facility, more options, a longer common hour period, or decreasing the amount of students admitted to Union College.”