The Not-So-Suite Life

Because of growing retention rates in the past few years and the sophomore class being the largest in Florham Campus history, housing occupancy has reached its highest point, at least for now. The demand for housing prompted the university to look elsewhere for housing for the 2015-2016 school year.

According to Dean of Students Jas Verem, 55 students will spend at least the first semester, if not the full year at the College of Saint Elizabeth. At one point early this semester,  as many as 19 students lived temporarily at the Madison Hotel awaiting on campus housing. In addition, residence assistants (RAs) have been assigned roommates.

“Last year we had an eighty percent retention rate, which is unheard of for our campus. It’s fantastic but [having so many students] is difficult for housing; I have been here for four-and-a-half years now and I don’t think we have had fully occupied housing since I have been here,” Verem said.

Having a waitlist for housing isn’t the biggest deal for a college. The list diminishes over the summer months as students make off-campus arrangements.

This year, around 250 names sat on that list in April, according to Verem By July, the list had shrunk to around 100 and did not melt much beyond that before school started. Compare that to the 150 initially waitlisted the year prior, with everyone being placed before school started. At that point, Verem and the housing department began looking at options beyond the campus’s own walls for those who could not commute.

Verem met with people from Drew University, CSE, the Madison Hotel and the Wyndham  Hotel to narrow options. The building offered by Drew did not suit FDU’s needs while the Wyndham Hotel was not interested in housing a large number of students.

The search came down to the Madison Hotel and CSE. The issue of commuting  prevented the hotel  from housing students on a more permanent basis. The commute between the CSE dorm and the academic buildings at FDU is much shorter. Since 80 percent of the wait list was made up of men from FDU, a key factor was that CSE, a women’s college, was willing to house men.

CSE gave FDU 55 spots including the full first floor of O’Connor Hall to house students.  Thirty-nine  men from FDU live on the first floor while women from FDU are spread out throughout the other three floors. The earliest any of the students will move back to FDU’s campus would be in the spring.

There are both positives and negatives associated with living on the CSE campus. According to Verem, CSE is cheaper than a Park Ave or Rutherford suite. FDU senior Dave Vogt described the rooms as “comfy for one person.”

Each room has its own box fan, like those in the freshman dorms, and its own sink. The floor shares separate communal shower and restrooms that are cleaned very regularly.

According to students living at CSE, the cafeteria has better food than FDU’s cafeteria but its odd hours make it difficult for the FDU students to eat there on a regular basis.

The rules that residents are expected to follow–ranging from having to keep a shirt on in the hallway to limitations on guests–provide the biggest frustration.

Guests are expected to leave before midnight during the week and before 2 a.m. on the weekends while overnight guests are restricted to members of the same gender.

“I would still rather be [on campus] than living at CSE. There are too many rules. [The overnight guest rule] is the only one that is bothering me. If they got rid of that rule, I’m good,” said FDU junior Alex Blake.

Unlike the students living at CSE, those at the Madison Hotel are slowly but surely moving back to FDU. Junior Adhem Morsi is one of them.

Morsi didn’t initially receive housing because he applied late after his initial housing arrangement fell through over the summer.

He communicated with Verem most of the summer about housing options. Living at CSE was becoming possibility by then, but updates stopped coming a few weeks before school started

Morsi commuted from his home in Edison, NJ, for the first week or so of school. The trip, which saw him go as far as Penn Station before transferring to the Morris and Essex line, took three hours every day; that is, if the trains were on time.

The last Monday that he commuted, Morsi had an eight minute transfer window at Secaucus and his train from Edison reached the station ten minutes late.

“All of a sudden, instead of getting to class a half an hour early, I am a half an hour late. There was nothing I could do. I was getting up at six in the morning in order to make a 9:55 class,” Morsi said.

The move to the Madison was a huge boost for him; his commute was cut to only thirty minute walk. Morsi was essentially like any other hotel guest. The rooms were cleaned daily and all, and Madison “is a very nice hotel.”

While much more convenient than home, Morsi was still very much tied to campus while living at the Madison. If he wanted to eat, he still had to go the cafeteria, forcing him to lug all his stuff around between the hotel and campus if he wanted to get work done.

“If I didn’t have class until 5:25, well, its 9 a.m., I still gotta go,” Morsi said.

Labor Day weekend rolled around and Morsi, who finishes with class for the week on Thursday morning, headed out to Coney Island, NY with his family. Morsi’s younger brother, Bilal, was headed off to boarding school, his first extended period of time away from home.

Only hours after arriving, Morsi received  a call from housing saying that he can move into a room on campus, but that the Madison needed him out by the same time the next day. He spent the rest of the day with his family, leaving early Friday to complete his move in. He stayed the night on campus and went back to Coney Island for the rest of weekend.

“It kind of threw off the whole weekend. It wasn’t bad per say, but it certainly changed plans,” Morsi said.  

As of Sept. 9, only  five students were still living at the hotel,  with prospects of moving to campus sometime in the following week.

Some may be moved into freshman dorms until vacancies open up in upperclassmen buildings.

Next year could be even more problematic. With another large freshman class this year, the pool of students expected to apply for housing will continue to grow.

As of now, no serious plans have been made to expand the campus or to build any new buildings. According to Verem, if plans to expand the athletic facilities–including moving the softball field across campus–go through as planned, the current site of the softball field could be one option, as well as rebuilding the village two buildings at a time to potentially double the number of beds there.

“You have to have sustained demand; one year of a wait list doesn’t show sustained demand if next year we go down to having empty beds. If we have that demand over two or three years, that is something that needs to be addressed,” Verem said.

Verem is already searching for additional off-campus housing for next year. The corporate apartments being built across Park Avenue could be a potential spot for graduate students to live.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 17,2015 edition of the FDU Florham Student Newspaper, The Pillar.