GW housing officials said this week they are cutting the number of Martha’s Marathon auction picks from 10 to five in a “philosophical decision” to maximize the number of beds for this year’s housing selection.
The move angered Residence Hall Association leaders who annually sponsor the 38-year old charity event, which raises thousands of dollars for housing scholarships. The first housing lottery number is traditionally raffled off and then students are then able to bid on numbers two through 10.
“Every cent goes toward housing scholarships … the change is not in the direct interest of students,” RHA President Emily Naden said.
Students have bid more than $4,000 for a number in the past and Naden said she expects a severe decrease in the amount the RHA will be able to raise for scholarships. The event raised $47,000 last year, she said.
Director of Housing Services Andrew Sonn defended the move, adding that the University has received complaints from students and parents stating that the auction is unfair to the general student body.
“While the money raised goes to a good cause, the idea of 10 picks going to the highest bidder seems to make the system unfair for the thousands of students who cannot afford one of the 10 Martha’s picks,” Sonn said. He also said that the number of lottery picks available has varied during the four-decade history of the event.
Sonn said the University will wait to see how much is raised during this year’s event and then consider whether they will alternately compensate the housing scholarship fund.
Financial Aid Director Dan Small said the office likes to use the RHA money as a “buffer” for students who write in saying they need more money and can prove a particularly strong need for funds.
“If the money isn’t there, and I hate to think that it’s not, we’ll have to hit into our contingency fund for special cases,” Small said, adding that about 30 students benefit from the RHA fundraising with each receiving between $1,500 and $2,000.
Officials also said bidders will only be able to choose rooms in residence halls designated for their class this year, eliminating the opportunity for current freshmen to purchase numbers and choose a New Hall room.
“We feel that students participating in Martha’s Marathon should follow the same general rules that other students follow,” Sonn said.
Naden said she feels that move will also limit the amount of money the event raises because freshmen will be unwilling to spend as much for a room in Dakota versus a room in New Hall.
“I don’t expect as many (freshmen) to come to Martha’s,” she said.
Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak said he supports the cut and believes students may pay more for the four lottery tickets still available.
Some students interviewed Wednesday said they agreed that the smaller numbers could create greater demand.
Sophomore Aaron Childs said he doesn’t care whether there are five or 10 housing numbers for sale because people will pay more for the fewer slots.
” It’s still the same concept. I’ve got no problem if the money goes to housing scholarships. Let’s bilk these rich people for all they’ve got,” he said.
However, some students said they think the University should keep the number at 10, or otherwise compensate the housing scholarship fund.
“It’s good (to have 10 numbers) because it raises more money for the school,” sophomore Dave Sigmon said. “If rich kids want to pay that much for housing that’s fine with me.”
Naden said the RHA is looking to hold a Town Hall meeting where students can speak to Sonn and other Community Living and Learning Center officials about the changes next week.
T. Neil Sroka contributed to this report.