WCU students up in arms over 2020-21 housing agreement

Photo Courtesy of WCU.

Originally published in The Sylva Herald on July 16, 2020. 

Western Carolina University’s 2020-21 Housing Agreement has left students angered and concerned for the upcoming school year.

“Residents acknowledge that, in the event of such temporary closures, restrictions, and/or adjustments to the housing services schedule, WCU shall not have the obligation to issue a partial refund or credit for such interruptions or adjustments,” the document says. “In the event WCU requires resident to vacate university housing, residents will be responsible for removing all valuable personal items at that time.”

This clause may seem benign, but the skepticism among students began when it was revealed that it had only been added due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Previous residence hall agreements have not included any information on refunds, including those implemented during the spring 2020 semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” WCU spokesman Bill Studenc said. “Following the end of spring semester and learning from the complicating factors surrounding COVID-19, we realized we needed to modify the 2020-21 residence hall agreement to address the issue.”

WCU made this decision based on guidance from the University of North Carolina System.

UNC-Greensboro student Laura Comino created a change.org petition titled “UNC System: Refund Housing in 2020-2021 If You Kick Us Out.”

The petition states the following:

“We demand that these refunds be guaranteed across all 16 colleges, with consistent language and published with clear communication to all student bodies. In the case of no refunds, we demand that any further university communications on this matter be consistent across all institutions still, communicated at the same time and in the same manner.”

Some WCU students have noted that the language does imply that they may still disburse refunds in the future if they choose to do so.

“The school not being required to issue refunds does not mean that they are refusing to issue them,” said Hagen Boggs, a student at WCU. “The decision comes down from the UNC System, and the university is simply doing what they’re told. If memory serves correctly, they didn’t have to issue refunds for this last semester, but they still did. Not being obligated to does not mean they won’t.”

Others can see the difficulty this may cause WCU if they were obligated to issue refunds.

 “It’s extremely difficult for them to give out refunds,” said student Alexis Brodie. “Every student pays a different amount for dorms and meal plans. They not only have to factor in that, but factor in how much of the meal plan each student has used. It takes a lot of time and is difficult.”

However, students did receive prorated refunds for the spring 2020 semester.

The majority of students believe that regardless, WCU and other UNC System schools should be required to do so.

“That’s ridiculous,” WCU student Courtney Towery said. “The students should have a refund if they can’t stay there.”

WCU says that refunds should not be expected, but plans could certainly change as time will tell.

“As we move forward into the new academic year, WCU will continually assess conditions and adapt our actions accordingly, including re-examining the issuance of refunds or other measures if that becomes necessary,” Studenc said. “Back in March it wasn’t clear that WCU would have the authority to process refunds. We don’t know what might happen in the future, so we’re communicating that students should not assume refunds are certain.”

As of Tuesday the petition has 39,824 signatures. 

More on WCU’s operations and procedures for the fall 2020 semester can be found at www.wcu.edu/operations-procedures.