CMU Board of Trustees moves on Washington Commons Project, discusses enrollment

Central Michigan University Board of Trustees met for a formal session April 21 in the Lake Superior Room of the Bovee University Center.

After hearing concerns from several Central Michigan University students and faculty members at its April 21 meeting, the CMU Board of Trustees passed a resolution which "recognizes that the university has significant enrollment and fiscal challenges," but will continue with the proposed demolition and construction plans of the Washington Commons Residential Community Project. 

The board has yet to approve the actual construction of the residence halls, which the board will revisit by Sept. 30. 

"I will be voting 'yes' because with this action, the board of trustees and the university's administration reaffirm our ongoing commitment to maintain and improve student housing – to provide quality and affordable student housing," Trustee Chair Richard Studley said. 

One of the board's main reasons for pursuing the new housing options is to combat CMU's trend of declining enrollment. Students and faculty who made public comments at the start of the board's meeting listed concerns about safety, the university's budget and affordability.  

A common concern expressed in discussions about the project was the safety of students, faculty and staff who are losing convenient parking in Lot 22, which will be demolished to make room for the new residence halls. Lot 75, which is south of Broomfield Street and further away from academic buildings, will be used to compensate the lose of spaces in Lot 22

Mathematics faculty member Katrina Piatek-Jimenez said the board's decision "fits the exact definition of not being listened to." She expressed concerns about the safety of walking a further distance to or from Lot 75 and crossing Broomfield Street, especially for women at night. 

"People bring forward very real concerns and they're told thank you for sharing," Piatek-Jimenez said. "Then the university goes ahead and does what they were going to do before." 

The Central Michigan University Board of Trustees passed the resolution at its April 21 meeting.

Before proposing the resolution, Trustee Edward Plawecki addressed the public comments. 

"We hear sometimes that we don't listen," Plawecki said. "Just because we don't say things, doesn't mean we're not listening. I am a bit disappointed that some of the speakers that spoke on this aren't still in the audience so they might listen to us a little bit too. Very frankly, we've heard from the voices that don't want this project at all. We've heard from the voices that want this project to go ahead 100 percent, and we've heard the voices that want some modifications."       

Some students at the meeting expressed concerns about CMU's affordability as a university. Cypress, Texas senior Teresa Homsi said CMU must deliver high quality education at affordable prices to increase enrollment.  

"Imagine two burger joints in town," Homsi said. "One is selling high quality burgers at a higher price and another is selling lower quality burgers at a high price. Which one are you going to chose? As a student when I'm looking at where I want to go to college, I'm looking for what's affordable and what's going to give me good quality education. I know that analogy seemed kind of out there, but if you want to run this place like a business you've got to consider it that way."  

The board voted unanimously on the resolution.

A spreadsheet showing CMU's projected Fall 2022 enrollment. The numbers for Fall 2022 are as of April 20 and the numbers from Fall 2021 are from the same time last year.  

The board discussions revolved heavily around CMU's enrollment challenges. President Bob Davies said Fall 2022 enrollment is projected to be higher than last year. 

According to a report of Fall 2022 Application Statistics as of April 20, there are 1,667 students who have made deposits as a commitment to CMU. The same time last year, 1,622 students had made deposits. Davies said he expects the numbers to continue increasing.  

"We're confident with what we're seeing that we will feel safe in projecting an increase in (enrollment) numbers," Davies said.     

However, Davies said that the number of incoming students for Fall 2022 will still be less than the 2,509 undergraduate students graduating on May 7.