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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Close quarters; Brandeis should save space

Published: January 17, 2014
Section: Opinions

My freshman year, I was lucky enough to be placed into a double room, and not a lofted triple. The idea of squeezing three people into a room that was designed to fit two completely boggled my mind. I had no idea how three beds, three desks and three sets of drawers would be able to be jammed in there. It was incredibly unfair to those poor souls who had to live in such cramped quarters, but the university felt there was enough space to house all of those they admitted.

If lofted triples are not enough to be convinced of the ever increasing crowding of campus, look at the dining halls. At peak meal hours, there is barely a table to be found in Sherman. Some comment about how during Sukkot, with the construction of the Sukkah, there is actually room to move around in Sherman. Usdan is a bit more spacious, but it still reflects a high school cafeteria when it’s 6 p.m..

Looking at the Common Data Sets, which are available on Brandeis’ website as PDF files going back to the 1999-2000 school year, a quick summary of the growth of the student body can be made. Until 2009, enrollment of undergraduates was consistently at or below 3,200 students, with only one year that it breached 3,300 students, 2006-2007. Yet in the 2009-2010 academic year, though, there was an increase in the amount of students to above 3,300. It stayed at that level the next year, and 2011-2012 saw a roughly 6-percent increase in students to more than 3,500. Enrollment increased again the next year, and it does not seem evident that the university is addressing this issue. A simple solution to having more people would be to build more buildings to house them.

Most people would be excited about the possibility of building a new, an additional dining hall or a residence hall to provide more room for the student body, yet the plausibility of that idea is faint. The land the school actually owns is already close to capacity, unless the new building were to be constructed in Sachar Woods. I would be the first on the picket lines if that were proposed, as well as numerous others, because Sachar is a sanctuary and retreat right on campus. A quick hike through can bring peace and comfort, and the ecological damage of destroying it would invalidate what this school stands for.

Another possibility for space would be to try to buy out private homes on the streets adjacent to Brandeis to expand campus, but that might be too much of a hassle and could create tension between the school and the community.

Not only is there not enough room on campus for more buildings, the cost alone would probably make the Board of Trustees turn down any proposal. There is no need to provoke the school to raise tuition to fund construction of a new residential quad; they already do so yearly. Besides, in the current economic climate, it might not be the most prudent decision to invest in more square footage to heat and clean yearly if the space issue is not at a critical mass, yet.

Instead of building more dining halls and residence halls, what I am arguing for would be to admit fewer students annually. Brandeis was able to reach great success those years when enrollment was around 3,200 students and the endowment was at an all-time high; there is no need to try to alter that by creating a larger enrollment. For a school that markets itself as being a small, liberal arts college within a research university, there appears to be a desire to expand as much as possible. Admitting fewer students would decrease the acceptance rate, which would give the impression that the school is exclusive and selective, effectively raising our rank among other universities. Classes, dining halls and residence halls would become less crowded with a lower enrollment, and this would create a more relaxed environment for all. The amount of waste then produced by the school would decrease with fewer students, and Brandeis’ carbon footprint would decrease as a result. The benefits from admitting fewer students are endless.

Maybe this increase in enrollment is not a result of university policy, but instead factors that the admissions committee cannot foresee may affect how many students enroll. Each year, a certain amount of hopeful high school seniors are accepted with an expectation that a certain amount will wind up matriculating. If, for some reason, a larger amount of accepted students decide to attend Brandeis than in years past, Admissions cannot retroactively deny a student they already accepted. It’s possible that total enrollment could end up decreasing without any active change in admission policy. Either way, having fewer students does create one drawback: The amount and variety of classes offered each semester would most certainly drop. While not every class is as popular as Coiner’s Econ 2A, they all offer something different that makes Brandeis what it is.

Yet that is one drawback to many evident advantages of accepting fewer students annually so that there is some actual room to move around on campus. No one would have to part ways with a friend, only future prospective students might dislike this proposal. Most students, though, would agree to it in an instant if it meant shorter lines waiting for food, fewer lofted triples and more space to stretch out your arms around campus.