MacPherson House will now occupy bottom two floors of MacDonald
Due to low enrolment, MacPherson has been deemed financially unsustainable and will be closed for the 2016-17 academic year. MacPherson House is being temporarily relocated to the bottom two floors of MacDonald House.
StFX Residence Services sent personalized emails to all male residents of Cameron Hall informing them of the changes on Wednesday, August 24th, ten days before move-in day. The rivals, formerly partitioned by TNT, will now only be separated by a flight of stairs.
The university approached the StFX Students’ Union on August 10th, initially intending to move all MacPherson residents into MacDonald and have MacPherson cease to exist for 2016-17. Given a day and a half to respond with a plan, the Executive Team negotiated that the integrity of MacPherson House be maintained, and suggested having each house occupy two floors of the building instead.
These changes are being implemented solely as a response to enrolment numbers, not as a result of any further disciplinary action by Student Services and Residence Services. The university budgets for a residence occupancy rate of 93%. With over 150 empty beds on campus this year, only 91% of rooms have been assigned.
The trends in residence applications indicate an increase student demand for single residence rooms. While residences such as Bishop’s and Mount Saint Bernard received enough applications to put students on waitlists, traditional double residences like MacPherson and MacDonald are only half full.
Carla Gillis, Interim Director of Ancillary Services, explains that MacPherson and MacDonald were the subject of these changes because Cameron Hall provided the most opportunity for cost-saving while disrupting the least amount of students. “From a university standpoint, the ability to be able to close one of [the houses in Cameron Hall] would save costs.”
Residences cannot stay only partially open, since Facilities Management would still have to clean and provide supplies for the entire building, thus eliminating the possibility to reduce costs.
With 2068 beds on campus, a 91% occupancy rate would have approximately 1,881 students living on-campus. Ancillary Services would have to fill 42 more residence assignments to meet the budgeted target of 93% occupancy. Estimating that the university collects an average of $10,000 from each resident, between residence fees and meal plan, the university stands to miss out on approximately $420,000 because of these vacancies. While some of these fees would have had to been paid to Sodexo and other services, 42 unexpected vacancies nevertheless takes a significant toll on anticipated revenue.
Gillis could not provide details on how much money would be saved by closing MacPherson.
This announcement follows last year’s decision by Student Life and Ancillary Services to make MacIsaac and the TriMac residences frosh-only. These changes were made in October 2015 as a response to continued behavioural issues, party atmospheres, and high damages. Initially, it was announced that no second-years would be returning; after discussions with the Students’ Union, these restrictions were later lessened to allow six returning second-years in each TriMac residence, two of whom would serve as House President and Vice-President.
According to Joelle French, SU Vice-President of Residence Affairs, there are currently four second-years registered to live in MacDonald while the only second-years in MacPherson are the HP and VP.
Gillis informed the campus community of MacPherson’s relocation in an email on Friday afternoon, claiming that the change comes as a result of a decline in the demand for male-only, double-occupancy accommodations. According to Gillis, this demand has been decreasing steadily for several years.
She did not provide details to corroborate this statement. What is known, however, is that the demand for male residences in Cameron Hall decreased immediately following the university’s decision not to allow most second-years to return to MacPherson and MacDonald.
Gillis would not acknowledge this correlation. However, in an earlier interview, Bob Hale, Head of Student Services, admitted that the university was hoping to keep more second-year students on campus this year. “We realize some of the changes we made in Cameron Hall and MacIsaac upset some students and they left, but our goal is to get more students back on campus,” Hale explains.
French acknowledges, “It’s unfortunate that [these changes are] happening the year after residence changes,” and reiterates that the decision was motivated solely by financial reasons, not by any further disciplinary action by the university.
The university’s fiscal motivation is valid. In an era where universities are essentially governed by their business models, efficiency is the primary driver in any decision. “We’re trying really hard to make this positive, but I can honestly say this is not ideal. But it’s hard to argue with money,” French concedes.
However, Gillis’ claim that the relocation was unanticipated simply does not stand in face of the overwhelming sentiment that this could have been avoided had the university let second-years back into the building.
According to a second-year MacPherson alumnus, “The original plan was to have zero second years [in the building]. So many of our guys got houses, furniture, etc., and by the time that there was the ‘6 allowed back’ announcement, it was a bit too late.”
The student, who wished to remain anonymous, estimated that approximately 10 second-years from MP would have returned to live in the building had they been allowed. Ten extra students would have bumped the occupancy rate in MacPherson from 56% to 78%. Riley Hall, which remains open, has an occupancy rate of only 79%.
The MacPherson alum went on to add, “I can’t help but feel that this decision comes from the aftermath of multiple other decisions made by the university. Making MacIsaac first-years only and renovating and reopening the previously closed Mount Saint Bernard limited the amount of potential frosh for our house, as those buildings must also be filled. Placing a late cap on second year returners also had a great effect on this decision.”
French also confirms that MacPherson received fewer applications this year. “To my understanding, there were several MacPherson alumni who decided to sign leases off-campus or move to different residences on-campus,” she comments. This is unusual behaviour for male alumni of Cameron Hall, who traditionally opt for a second year in the building whenever possible.
Darcy MacIsaac, last year’s Vice-President of MacDonald, shared his thoughts on the relocation with the Xaverian Weekly. “The decision was a pretty big slap in the face looking back at the past year and how much work was done to improve the buildings and how hard all of Cam Hall and TheU fought to ensure the buildings would remain the same,” he states. MacIsaac believes that the university “more or less directly [set up] both houses to fail.”
However, despite the prevailing opinion that the university’s attempts at improving life in Cameron Hall have only served to worsen the situation for students, residents of Cam Hall remain optimistic about the year ahead.
Logan Brown, House President of MacDonald, states, “The TriMac houses have been dealt their fair share of unfavourable hands in the past, and this is simply one more hurdle that we’ll have to jump over… Although we are in a less than ideal situation, this is something we’ll be able to deal with.”
MacPherson House President Tyler Brady echoes this sentiment. “Thus far, Randon [Vice-President MacDonald] and Logan have proven themselves as fantastic partners in communication. Myself, along with my Vice-President Kent Hasegawa will have to work closely with them this year to ensure that our Frosh classes demonstrate the respect towards each other that is needed to create an environment that is safe for both sides.”
The university will be implementing some new programs to help facilitate the transition, such as implementing building-wide damage fees as opposed to the house-specific model that was formerly in place. MacPherson and MacDonald will now both be liable for any damages that happen in the west wing of the building. TNT will retain its independent damage schedule.
The university has said it will look into reopening MacPherson for X-Ring to allow fourth-years to revisit their residence on December 3rd.