UCI Students Pitch Tents to Protest Housing Policy
About 125 UC Irvine students set up a tent city on campus Wednesday to protest the university’s plan to boost the number of heavily recruited graduate students who get first claim to campus housing.
Those special slots for an estimated 50 to 75 beginning graduate students will mean an equal number of the university’s current grad students will continue waiting for cheap campus housing. Some already have been on the list for more than two years in a community where little inexpensive off-campus housing is available.
“There are graduate students I know of who are literally sleeping with friends and in their offices,” said Michael Latner, a doctoral candidate in political science and vice president of external affairs for UCI Associated Graduate Students. “There’s no affordable housing in Irvine.”
UCI is using the lure of cheaper campus housing to attract top-flight grad students at a time when the university, along with other UC campuses, says a dearth of grad students is threatening its academic rankings.
A fact sheet circulated from UCI’s graduate housing office said the campus “has determined that recruitment of graduate students to this University is among the highest UCI priorities.”
At dusk Wednesday, protesters gathered in Aldrich Park at the center of campus. On one of about 20 tents, a sign read “Cicerone Projects,” a reference to UCI Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone.
As their children played, some grad student protesters barbecued hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers. No campus security was in evidence, and few other students paid attention to the protesters.
Some 1,150 UCI graduate students, or about 40%, live on campus. That is the highest proportion of any UC campus.
The university’s plan means that about 20% of new graduate students will jump to the front of the line for campus housing, according to a May 21 letter from the housing office. The wait for single students has been 13 to 18 months, and 22 to 24 months for families, according to the housing office.
UCI officials acknowledge the housing shortage, but relief is two to three years away, when two projects are expected to add more than 1,000 beds for graduate students.
UCI rental units range from $574 a month for a studio apartment to $1,332 for the most expensive three-bedroom. Average rents in Orange County range from $893 for a studio to $1,750 for a three bedroom, two bath, according to Realfacts, a Novato firm that tracks housing prices.
“I understand the concern the graduate students have, and I’m in sympathy,” said Jim Craig, UCI’s director of housing. “I know the housing market in Irvine is a difficult market. I understand the concerns. We’re building as fast as we can.”
The students are angry that of the 250 openings expected in graduate housing this summer, 205 are reserved for recent recruits, an increase of 50 to 75 spaces from the previous year.
Debbie Davis, president of the campus’ graduate student organization, said the administration is considering increasing the number of priority slots to 500. Craig said no decision has been made, although discussions have been taking place.
The housing office said no student housing for those on the waiting list is expected until the fall semester.
The problem, Davis and other students said, is that they already will have had to sign leases for privately owned housing.
Davis said Cicerone and Manuel Gomez, UCI’s vice chancellor for student services, had agreed to come by later Wednesday to talk with a small group of students.