GW appeals ruling, housing selection set for late April

GW is filing an appeal this week of a recent federal appeals court decision that restricts where students can live and could hold up construction of a new business school. The University is requesting review of the case by a full nine-member U.S. Court of Appeals after a three-judge panel ruled against GW last month.

University lawyers also plan to go back to court this summer in a D.C. Court of Appeals case fighting the restrictions on grounds that they violate students’ human rights.

The decision, handed down Feb. 4, requires the University to house 70 percent of full-time undergraduates, including all freshmen and sophomores, on campus or outside Foggy Bottom. GW is prohibited from building new non-residential facilities until it complies with the order.

Dean of Students Linda Donnels said the U.S. Court of Appeals decision “isn’t necessarily logical” and has pushed housing selection dates to April 26 and 27. GW plans to distribute Intent to Return forms the last week in March.

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision, which was set to impose restrictions this weekend, will not take effect until the court decides whether to rehear the case or not, University Senior Counsel Charles Barber said. This process could take “a couple weeks or longer,” he said.

The federal court could choose not to hear the case, which GW lawyers could then try to take longer,” he said.

The federal court could choose not to hear the case, which GW lawyers could then try to take to the Supreme Court, arguing the decision hinders the University’s academic freedom to govern its own operations.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment placed the restrictions on GW when it approved the University’s campus plan in March 2001. GW appealed the BZA decision and won in U.S. District Court but lost the federal appeal last month.

The D.C. Court of Appeals will likely hear oral arguments from GW and the city in a separate case in June, Barber said. University and D.C. Corporation Counsel lawyers agreed to stay the case, which GW filed last spring, until the federal case was decided.

The D.C. Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on basis of “matriculation,” or status as a student, among other categories such as race, sex and age in property transactions.

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said the argument in the D.C. court is compelling because the law specifically protects students from discrimination in housing opportunities.

However, he said, the court is “very deliberate” and could take months to decide the case. Meanwhile, Trachtenberg said GW is working with the city government to interpret the order to allow the University to meet the requirements on an extended timetable.

GW plans to come into compliance with the housing restrictions by 2005 by building Townhouse Row, set for completion in the fall, constructing a new 720-bed residence hall by 2005 and buying or leasing a new facility outside Foggy Bottom for next year.

Trachtenberg said he hopes this “good faith effort” to comply will convince city officials to grant the final permits to begin construction on the new School of Business and Public Management, planned for the parking lot next to Funger Hall.

“Just because they have the power to stop us from building the business school doesn’t mean they have to,” Trachtenberg said, calling the federal decision a “trick bag” that “forced us into non-compliance.”

The order also disallows the University from counting the Aston, City Hall, Hall on Virginia Avenue and Pennsylvania House as “on-campus” buildings because they lie outside BZA-defined campus boundaries.

Barber said GW is required to house all freshmen and sophomores on campus by 2004 and 70 percent of full-time undergraduates on campus or outside Foggy Bottom by 2006. After August 2006, the order requires the University to house 70 percent solely on campus.

The court decision has shaken up GW plans for next year’s housing selection, traditionally completed by March. The University is looking to secure 500 to 700 beds outside Foggy Bottom and as far as Virginia before students pick housing for next year.

“We want people to know all their options and be able to see them before they leave for the summer,” Dean Donnels said.

The University is also “looking at what to do to make HOVA and the Aston more appealing, or more useful” to upperclassmen since freshmen and sophomores could be prohibited from living there as early as next year.

Housing officials will also add a bed in some apartments or sets of rooms in buildings including Fulbright Hall.

“We’re not trying to not tell people (information),” Donnels said. “We’re trying to work with it and not put information out there we (may) have to change.”

She said that, with the housing selection process online since last year, students can choose rooms instantly and really only have a deadline of leaving for the summer.

“We feel confident that we will have all our options available for housing selection,” Donnels said.

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