- Jakobsen Conference
- GSS Survey
In light of continued rent increases over the past two years at the Aspire at West Campus apartment complex, the Graduate Student Senate has the following statement:
For over fifty years, the University of Iowa operated apartment complexes specifically for students with families and for graduate students. These apartments, Hawkeye Drive and Hawkeye Court, offered affordable housing solutions with easy access to campus through the CAMBUS system. In April 2011, given the age of the buildings and the damage suffered in the 2008 floods, the University decided it would be necessary to either replace the buildings are discontinue offering these housing opportunities. The goal in replacing these apartments was “to continue serving the populations currently living in Hawkeye Campus housing.” After exploring the available options the University decided to avoid constructing apartments that would require charging rental rates above market rates and thus partnered with Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions to construct Aspire at West Campus apartments. The Iowa Board of Regents noted that “BBCS will make the new units as affordable and attractive as possible to tenants.” 
When Aspire at West Campus first opened in 2014 there were already concerns about the prices, as noted in the University Housing & Dining annual report for fiscal year 2013: “It appears that our staff’s fear that rates will be beyond the financial means of the people who used to live at Hawkeye Court - our single and married graduate students who are on graduate assistantships - will be realized.”  Since 2014, rates have increased at a pace that is unsustainable for graduate students and students with families. At the planned rental rate increases for Fall 2016, a one-bedroom/one-bath apartment will cost $959 per month, far above average market rates. A two-bedroom/two-bath apartment will cost $1239 per month. These rates are 9.6% and 12.6% higher, respectively, than the rental rates just two years ago. Not all graduate students are fortunate enough to receive graduate assistantships to help fund their education, but even those who receive these assistantships can expect to pay as much as 63% of their assistantship pay on rent alone if they live in a one-bedroom apartment at Aspire at West Campus.
BBCS has failed to replace the old family/graduate housing options with newer apartments that maintained the affordability of these living options for their intended market. The University opted for the private partnership to avoid offering apartments that would need to be rented at rates above the market rates. However, despite the private partnership, Aspire at West Campus rates are above market rates for their location. The deal successfully privatized graduate student housing options and absolved the University of responsibility for skyrocketing costs of living, but did little to aid graduate students in finding suitable, convenient, and affordable living arrangements in Iowa City.
We strongly urge Aspire at West Campus to reconsider the planned rent increases. Although it may be too late to construct apartments that are as “affordable and attractive as possible,” the least that can be done is to stop the price gouging of graduate students to maximize profits. In contracting with the University to build replacement family/graduate student housing there should be some obligation to respect the income of the typical graduate student and the high expenses of students with families.
We are pleased that University administrators seem to be willing to encourage Aspire at West Campus to keep costs low, and we are eager to see continued action from the University on these issues.
In light of the process by which the Iowa Board of Regents selected J. Bruce Harreld as the 21st University of Iowa President, we, the Graduate Student Senate, release the following statement:
Graduate students are critical, evidence-driven, and adaptive, and as a result often entertain radical ideas. Many of us have worked in corporate settings and are not against the idea of non-academic university leadership. Non-academic executive administration of universities is not uncommon: the University of Colorado president, for example, came from the corporate world but also had years of experience in philanthropic, political, and higher education initiatives. It is perplexing that Iowa Board of Regents ultimately selected a candidate whose résumé did not list such qualifications, while there were three other finalists whose résumés and public forums contained evidence of strong conventional qualifications and a good fit with the University of Iowa core mission1. Thus we do not object to the selection of a candidate from the corporate world in principle, but rather the lack of transparency in this selection process. We are also very concerned about the effects of this selection process on the future of funding from our historically generous donors. Because of these factors it remains unclear how the Board, in the face of visible negative feedback from the university community2, could have made this decision for the betterment of the University of Iowa.
The Graduate Student Senate stands with the University of Iowa Student Government, the Graduate and Professional Student Government, COGS, and the Faculty Senate. We hereby condemn the process by which the Board selected the incoming University President, and we have passed a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in the governing abilities of the Iowa Board of Regents.
We end by looking forward. We expect the incoming president to learn more about the University of Iowa community in the upcoming months, and to stand by the values and expertise of the faculty, administration, and students he serves. Although we disagree with the handling and transparency of this presidential search and selection process, we extend an invitation to the Iowa Board of Regents, the incoming president, administration, and faculty to work together to strengthen the university as a whole. As important members of the community, it is crucial we work together to meet the needs of graduate students and ensure that the University of Iowa embodies its core mission:
“…to advance scholarly and creative endeavor through leading-edge research and artistic production; to use this research and creativity to enhance undergraduate, graduate, and professional education, health care, and other services provided to the people of Iowa, the nation, and the world; and to educate students for success and personal fulfillment in a diverse world.”
The Graduate Student Senate is comprised of 83 members and represents over 5,000 graduate students at the University of Iowa. Contact us at email@example.com.