GW names budget priorities

GW’s budget for next year includes changes that will once again allow students to buy cigarettes with their meal plan and possibly force upperclassmen to live in the Hall on Virginia Avenue.

The budget, which University officials discussed with the Board of Trustees this weekend, will impact students with student life initiatives such as a new meal plan structure and housing changes required by a recent federal court decision.

Administrators responded to student leaders’ questions about next year’s budget, housing issues and the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision to instate city zoning limits on GW at a meeting to unveil funding priorities Thursday.

Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz announced a plan to combine meal points and Debit Dollars so they can be used at J Street, laundry machines, the bookstore and any locations that accept GWorld payment. This saves students sales tax at all venues and forces Aramark to compete with off-campus restaurants for students’ business, said Robert Chernak, Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services.

The new plan, similar to the current meal points system, will be required for all students living on campus. Freshmen will have to purchase a $1,500 plan, sophomores $1,250, juniors 1,000 and seniors $500.

A court order, which was handed down Feb. 4, reinstates a city order requiring the University to house 70 percent of undergraduate students, including all freshmen and sophomores, on campus or outside Foggy Bottom. The decision accelerates a GW search for more housing and also disallows the construction of any buildings that do not include at least 50 percent of space for housing.

“We’ve never disagreed about housing more students on campus,” Chernak said. “The issue is whether we can build the right types of projects … Given time, we can add the number of beds they are requiring.”

The University has until March 9 to appeal the decision to a full nine-member U.S. Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel decided the case.

GW is arguing the federal case on Constitutional grounds of academic freedom, saying the city should not be involved in University planning. University lawyers are arguing a concurrent case in the D.C. appeals court on the grounds that telling students where to live violates the D.C. Human Rights Act.

“You could characterize this area as a ghetto, where an undesirable group of people called freshmen and sophomores have been herded,” University President Stephen Trachtenberg said, indicating the campus boundaries in a map of the Foggy Bottom area on a projection screen.

The court order disallows freshmen and sophomores from living in the HOVA and the Aston, as it discounts any buildings outside defined campus boundaries (which also includes Pennsylvania House and City Hall) from GW’s “on-campus” housing inventory.

The University is searching for housing in the District and possibly Virginia to accommodate the order, postponing the housing selection schedule. Meanwhile, Dean of Students Linda Donnels said GW will be looking for “nooks and crannies” to house students in its current facilities within the boundaries.

The court decision also curtails GW plans for a new business school, set for construction pending city permits, which could be delayed about a semester, Trachtenberg said.

University officials are “hesitant to dig until we are more sure we can come into compliance,” he said.

Katz also announced GW will switch from Prometheus to Blackboard course software by June 2004. The new technology will be available next year to train professors.

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