OPINION | Lake, River Hall delay represents poor communication

Sarah Lambert, Contributing Writer

(Hailie Goldthorpe)

It’s been a difficult couple of years in Tulane University’s effort to build a dorm building. With a pandemic, labor and material shortages and annual hurricanes, there have certainly been many legitimate roadblocks to construction.

But if unprecedented recent events have taught us anything, it is the importance of transparency in dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Hurdles are expected, but those impacted appreciate when difficulties are communicated clearly and regularly. 

Instead, when faced with construction adversity, Tulane’s administration attempts to cover up messes and save face. 

When the school could be working to create an open stream of communication between students and administration, it is instead creating an environment of confusion and distrust. 

On Nov. 17, students living in Phelps, Irby and Paterson Residence Halls received emails from Chief Operating Officer Patrick Norton informing them that they will remain in their current residences for the rest of the academic year. Norton explained the decision was made “due to delays from the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida, supply chain issues and labor challenges.” 

The update is an abandonment of the plans communicated in prior messaging to students up to this point. Since early last spring semester, all communication from administration has suggested that students assigned to one of these three residence halls for the fall semester would have to move to either Lake or River Hall at the time of their opening in the late fall or early spring

This announcement from the office of the Chief Operating Officer is just the latest example of poor communication and lack of transparency where the Tulane administration failed to provide students with timely information. 

This is not to say that the anticipated transition was popular with all affected residents or that cited construction delays do not provide valid excuses. However, the lack of effort on the part of the administration to communicate these delays and changes of plans speaks to a greater issue within the administration in keeping students informed about the issues and decisions that affect them. 

As construction updates rolled out, impinging further into the living spaces of affected students, the school created a confusing contrast between what it was telling students and what students were clearly witnessing. 

Although the university updated students with emails about work schedules — including adding early morning starts and weekend construction — ensuring students that work would be completed on time, students could witness the construction progress first-hand, which clearly would not be finished by the expected date.

Sean Swinkle, a sophomore living in Irby said, “I was assuming that it would be somewhat finished at the beginning of the next semester, but seeing the construction throughout this semester made me doubtful.” 

The lack of progress was obvious to students like Swinkle who live directly next to the  construction. “They still are making progress on the outside which made me think that they wouldn’t be finished in time to move in at the end of the semester,” Swinkle said. The fact that construction was so obviously behind schedule called into question why such incessant work schedules were implemented in the first place. 

The construction has intruded into life in adjacent dorms. A peaceful, consistent and reliable living space is a treasured comfort for many on-campus residents, and this ever-changing schedule and construction demands interferes with that. 

Students realized early on that they could not predict what their housing challenges would look like this year. Construction brought about hot water interruptions in entire dormitories, fencing on major walkways and loud distractions throughout the day. 

One resident, Lauren Gachassin, a sophomore in Phelps, called the construction the “most annoying thing that occurs in my life on a daily basis.” She said her daily schedule has been altered due to the construction. “I wake up at 8 a.m., sometimes 7 a.m., to the sound of metal being cut, like they are doing it right outside of my door. I prefer to study during the day to prevent staying up late to do work. I cannot do work in my room due to the noise the construction makes so close to my room, so I either have to go to the library, B-School or stay up late in my room to do work, just to be woken up earlier than usual to the construction again,” she said.

Some students were actually looking forward to the move. Sean Swinkle said that he and his roommates had “actually planned on moving into Irby over Aron in hopes of getting the new dorm.” This was a fair assumption after students were told prior to making their housing decisions last year that this would be the case. The guidance the administration provided unfairly informed students’ decisions. Instances like these prevent students from trusting the information provided by the administration in the future. 

Other students had opportunities lined up for them if the move had gone over as planned. Mia Aleman, a sophomore living in Phelps this year applied to work as the Hub Assistant in the new residence. With only a select few campus jobs available, the chance to apply for an open position is rare. After Aleman underwent the entire application and interview process, she was informed on Dec. 2 that she would not be able to receive an offer until they knew when the Hub would open. 

While Tulane prides itself on its intelligent and capable student body, the way the administration chooses to communicate issues on campus that affect its students appears condescending and implies a lack of trust in its students, even if that is not the intention. Not allowing students to be involved in these decisions suggests that they cannot be trusted with that responsibility. This is not an independent incident. We see this failure to communicate in Tulane’s delays in releasing the Climate Survey data from last year or how they addressed the renaming of certain buildings on campus, most recently Hebert Hall.

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