Much attention has been paid to the University of Wisconsin's denial of on-campus housing to nearly 700 freshmen and transfer students this year, and rightfully so. We believe providing on-campus housing to students is a basic function of any university that wishes to be more than a commuter school.
According to UW Housing Director Paul Evans, the gap between supply and demand is nothing new. UW is the only Big Ten university not to guarantee on-campus housing to freshmen, and according to Mr. Evans, shortages like this one have been "about typical" for a few years now.
Of course, UW officials are not blind to the problem. They've finished replacing the dilapidated Ogg Hall with two new residence halls this year, adding about 60 beds in the process, and they'd like to add another 500 beds by the year 2012 as part of their Lakeshore Development Project. Unfortunately, that construction may be put on hold as one of many sacrificial lambs in the ongoing state budget negotiations.
State Republicans, who control the Assembly, have long found it politically prudent to antagonize UW, and they are protesting approval of the new building projects, calling them unnecessary luxuries beyond the means of Wisconsin citizens. It is important to note, however, that although the project requires a loan, it would be paid back in full by the students who actually live there — not by state taxpayers.
Moreover, even if state Republicans accept the premise that these new projects are exorbitant and luxurious — which we do not — that does not justify axing this proposal if there is a demand for them, and if UW continues to charge differential room and board for the more expensive residence halls.
Surely, the state should not hand over a blank check to the UW System for every item of funding each of the 26 campuses want. A little bit of scrutiny is healthy, and we're grateful for that. But the Senate Democrats are right on this issue, and when the Legislature finally comes to a compromise in these long and tedious negotiations, we hope the path will be cleared for a Lakeshore groundbreaking in the very near future.