Aug

16

Did Barnard Break Its Housing Guarantee?

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The Barnard housing crisis just got worse: we now know that Barnard students who went on leave signed contracts guaranteeing housing—only to return and find those guarantees gone.

Bwog has obtained evidence indicating that Barnard violated returning students’ housing contracts earlier this year by changing the terms, and revoking their promised guaranteed housing. Our tipster, who took a leave of absence for Spring 2012, sent us a copy of the contract she signed last November. Here’s the key passage:

Cancelling my academic year housing due to a withdrawal from the College means that I will be guaranteed housing upon readmission as long as I follow all housing application deadlines

Yesterday, we examined Dean Avis Hinkson’s crafty language—though she implied that students returning from leave had never been guaranteed housing, a 2009 contract we found proved otherwise. Soon after we posted, she admitted that “[t]he policy was changed last February.”

Our tipster’s contract, which she signed last November, promised her guaranteed housing upon return. Three months after she signed the contract, Barnard changed the rules. Instead of getting guaranteed housing, returning students would be placed on a Non-Guaranteed Waitlist. As far as we can tell, Barnard never even announced the change; the returning students still believed they would be guaranteed housing when they returned, as their contracts stated.


Instead, the emails that Barnard Housing sent to returning students gave the impression that housing had never been guaranteed. They also encouraged students to look for off-campus housing. An email from July:

As you know, housing is not guaranteed for students returning to the College through the Readmission process…We’d like to encourage you to investigate other housing options.

Another one from last week:

Students without a housing assignment are still encouraged to look for off-campus housing.

Our tipster did eventually receive an offer of housing—earlier this morning—but by then it was too late. She had already taken Barnard Housing’s advice and found an off-campus apartment.

That same tipster called Barnard Housing and spoke with a top Barnard administrator. Here is the important part of their conversation:

Administrator: So, after you signed this in November, the policy was changed at the beginning of February. It was changed on our website, and when we sent you two emails earlier this summer, we referenced the fact that readmitted students were no longer guaranteed housing.

Student: Okay, but as of the time I signed the contract and agreed to that, you understand that that’s not what I agreed to. You can’t…I mean…that’s breach of contract.

Administrator: Well, that’s for someone else to determine, not for me to determine.

We have, of course, contacted Barnard. As ever: tips@bwog.com.

Update, 9:10 pm: We contacted a lawyer who said that, while the linked document probably doesn’t function as a contract, in this situation, a student like our tipster was detrimentally reliant on Barnard, which might therefore be vulnerable to legal action. Basically, her decision to temporarily withdraw from the College was contingent on the information she was presented with by Barnard in the document. By retroactively changing that document, Barnard undermined the value of the document.

Update, 8/17 4:30 pm: Another tipster reports that according to Barnard Housing, “there are 38 transfer student[s] who we have not been able to provide housing to.” The transfers, like returning students, were told there were unlikely to be any spots on campus so they’d better find off-campus housing. A few were eventually offered on-campus housing, but by then, many had already signed leases for off-campus apartments.

If you know more, or just want to chat (anonymously) about your experiences with Barnard Housing, get in touch: tips@bwog.com

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60 Comments

  1. BC '14

    we can't let the admin take advantage of us like they did with part time registration.

  2. CC '13

    That is complete bullshit. I feel so, so deeply sorry for those affected by this. No it's not the end of world, but that's an awful thing of the administration to do. No amount of emails notifying students of the change makes it ok. A change in terms is exactly what a signed contract is supposed to prevent!

  3. BC '13

    So, not to make light of this shitty situation, but this was probably the best bwog post I've ever read. Juicy stuff right there.

  4. CC '14

    ...I smell lawsuits!

  5. Anonymous

    I really hope this ends poorly for Barnard. Only then will they realize that the way to increase alumnae donations/their endowment is NOT by fucking over their students.

  6. BC14

    without sounding bitchy or anything, if all those students who are screwed over by this banded together and filed a lawsuit against the administration, that would be amazing. i sincerely hope they do that.

  7. Anonymous  

    You guys are doing a great job of this. (SNIFF) SO PROUD!

  8. Anonymous

    This is shameful. I hope they do get sued. It takes balls to screw students over on such a large scale and think no one will find out...

  9. tipster

    i am the tipster who was following the ResLife story—and who ResLife knew was following the story leading up to today. this morning ResLife sent me the email below (body copied/pasted verbatim). i'm curious now as to how they decided *I* should get housing, today.
    if you are a returning BC student this fall, please reply with your year and whether or not you received this email, so we can figure out whether or not there was a legit selection scheme— and, if not, what the implications are of ResLife offering me housing over other returning students.



    subject: Guarantee of Housing, please reply ASAP!


    Thank you for applying for on-campus housing and for your patience as the College has waited to see if we receive any additional cancellations.

    We receive a cancellation this morning, so we are able now to provide you with a guarantee of room assignment, should you confirm via email (see below).

    The assignment would be in a double room, but we cannot provide the specific room # (or building) at this point. We should be able to provide that info via email by the beginning of next week, if you accept our offer.

    To accept this offer of housing, please reply to this message and confirm in writing no later than 5pm this Friday, August 17 that you wish to accept.

    Please note that once you accept our guarantee of housing, you will be subject to the $1000 cancellation fee should you decide to cancel housing.

    If you have already made other arrangements for housing this Fall and/or no longer wish to live in campus housing, we would appreciate you replying to this message to let us know as soon as possible, so that we can offer this spot to another student who has not yet been assigned to housing.

    Thank you!
    Barnard Residential Life & Housing

  10. Anonymous

    Great work Bwog. The way Barnard has dealt with the housing shortage has been pretty deplorable.

  11. Anonymous

    What annoys me most about Barnard is the way they will never admit that anything is their fault. Whenever a situation like this one arises, they've always got some excuse for why they're screwing over their students. For once they should just cut the bullshit, admit their mistake, APOLOGIZE, and then try to make it right. This will obviously never happen, but it would make me respect them a bit more if it did.

  12. Anonymous

    http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2012/08/15/barnard-house-all-transfer-students
    SOMEONE EXPLAIN WHAT IS GOING ON. AM I SUPPOSED TO BE ANGRY OR HAPPY? I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO FEEL WITHOUT SOME CAMPUS PUBLICATION TELLING ME. PLEASE HELP.

    • Anonymous

      It looks like to me that all the transfer students got housing, but that doesn't mean that any students that took leaves of absence did

      • tipster

        yes. this also is going to be awkward for reslife because transfers in the past were not always guaranteed housing while returning students up to (and we now know, including) this semester's were. whether that hierarchy is fair is a separate issue, but in any case at the time of that article/transfer housing, not all returning students—any as far as i've heard—had been housed. so in some capacity, reslife had switched the two groups' standings, giving housing to transfers before returning students all while effectively backpedaling about its guarantee to house returning students.

        incidentally, any BC tour guides care to tell me if the tour script still says "Housing is guaranteed for all 4 years" without excepting for leaves of absences or transfers?

  13. Anonymous

    Bwog, I've never commented before but I just have to say how awesome this is. Loving the investigative journalism going on, and that students in all schools are noticing the injustice of this situation and responding (okay, in the form of anonymous comments... but it's still something).

    And to end with a pretentious-but-relevant quote:

    "In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." -Czeslaw Milosz.

    Way to be the word of truth, Bwog. Now let's get housing for these BC students!

    http://weknowmemes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/at-dawn-we-ride.jpg

  14. BC'13

    As much as I love that you guys investigated whether or not Barnard broke contract with returning students, what about all of the girls in Plimpton who got royally screwed by being told they would no longer be in a single but a forced double? If I were one of those girls, I'd be pouring over the contract I signed last semester to figure out if what Barnard did to them broke contract or was just douchey.

    • 2x Check NYS Occupancy Limits?

      NEW YORK STATE
      MULTIPLE DWELLING LAW

      ARTICLE 3
      MULTIPLE DWELLINGS--GENERAL PROVISIONS

      Sec. 66. Lodging houses.

      5. The number of persons accommodated on any story in a lodging
      house shall not be greater than the sum of the following
      components.

      a. Twenty-two persons for each full multiple of twenty-two
      inches in the smallest clear width of each means of
      egress approved by the department, other than a fire-
      escape.

      b. Twenty persons for each lawful fire-escape accessible
      from such story if it is above the entrance story.

    • Also BC '13

      Yeah I thought about that too, but then my friend who was in a Plimpton corner room read her contract and it says in one of the clauses the Barnard can change the occupancy of the room at any time. Sucks :(

  15. bc '13

    a similar thing happened to me, i withdrew for the semester and was not guaranteed housing. suddenly last week they were offering me a spot on the guaranteed waitlist, which i had 2 days to accept (even though their policy requires 5 business days). there is a $1000 fee for canceling housing once you accept their guarantee, so basically you have to accept ANY housing they give you (even if it's a forced plimpton double) or else they charge you $1000. it has really become apparent to me as a senior how little they actually care about me as a student. their goal seems to be maximum tuition per square footage.

  16. Anonymous

    yes. this also is going to be awkward for reslife because transfers in the past were not always guaranteed housing while returning students up to (and we now know, including) this semester's were. whether that hierarchy is fair is a separate issue, but in any case at the time of that article/transfer housing, not all returning students—any as far as i've heard—had been housed. so in some capacity, reslife had switched the two groups' standings, giving housing to transfers before returning students all while effectively backpedaling about its guarantee to house returning students.

    incidentally, any BC tour guides care to tell me if the tour script still says "Housing is guaranteed for all 4 years" without excepting for leaves of absences or transfers?

  17. BC ´13

    Well imagine this situation for international students. No parents to support you or make angry phone calls, no credit report available (required for a lease), no capacity to search housing, no nothing. I felt like I was left in a ditch to die.
    Anyway I called and complained to the Dean and two days later I got housing anyway. Absurd but I'm not complaining (just having nightmares at night of my double).

  18. Anonymous

    Im sorry to those Barnard students, that really sucks. Isn't anyone else getting tired of Barnard and Columbia squeezing the money out of students and families? All the fees and changes of policy and hidden charges... enough is enough. Not to mention the shit financial aid system.

  19. Anonymous  

    cannot wait to see what bwog breaks next. good start to the year.

  20. Anonymous

    I know that this comment expresses a nasty and disrespectful sentiment. But it still makes me laugh.

  21. Anonymous

    though Bwog didn't note this, note the latest update about transfers against the Spec article of Aug. 15 stating (via Sun Min), "Barnard’s administration managed to find enough housing for incoming transfer students awaiting housing." Either BC was (again) lying, or it was another one of those untruths and they weren't counting all the students who'd taken their advice to withdraw, whether or not they'd actually found anything by the time of that statement.

    Also, how everyone's been asking for just one apology after all their un-apologizing as they pulled these sketchy/illegal stunts and they can't apologize or say anything beyond "the policy was changed in February" sickens me. (They said, "The policy was changed in February" before it was even clear what they were talking about and the story had broke.)

  22. Anonymous

    Someone please take legal action. They signed a contract and those people who went out and paid for off campus housing should at the very least be compensated for the difference.

  23. BC '14

    I love Barnard's various support systems for its students (Office of Career Development, Office of Disabilities, etc.), but this housing situations shows terrible treatment of its students. It's sketchy as heck.

  24. Columbian  

    Those words may not be directly interchangeable, but their Housing departments are similarly incompetent. That being said, Barnard wins the Worst Housing Award this time, despite all the nonsense that happened this summer at Columbia.

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