Amid concerns of coronavirus, TU required students to move off campus and detail plans for housing and dining refunds.
After an email from Interim President Janet Levit on Thursday, March 19, students who lived in on-campus housing had only 29 hours to pack their necessities and leave campus. Access to students’ residences, and any belongings, will be severely restricted until after the semester is over or until social distancing ends, with few exceptions.
This decision is one of many made in light of rising concerns of the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, with the desired effect to “flatten the curve” of infections of the virus, giving the healthcare system a better chance at treating those who have it with a limited number of resources such as beds and ventilators.
Following Janet Levit’s initial email, Associate Vice President for Campus Services Dr. Melissa France sent an email detailing the changes at 1 p.m. on Thursday that all students who were able to, must leave campus housing by Friday, March 20 at 5 p.m. Students were encouraged to leave their possessions on campus and to pick them up at a later date.
The exceptions policy about moving out included if a student whose permanent residence was outside the country and were unable to travel back as well as personal circumstances such as the student being a part of the foster care system, the student and their family not having a permanent address, the home community is quarantined, returning home is a health or safety hazard or if returning home will provide a technological barrier that limits access to classes.
Referring to the decision, France said, “On a residential campus where students live and study in close quarters, social distancing is simply not possible. Our decision is supported by guidance from public health officials and agencies and consistent with actions taken by other colleges and universities across the country.”
With the short notice, many students were either unable to pick up their belongings within the timeframe or rushed back to campus to pick up their things.
Grace Havrilka, a junior computer science major, was one of the former. Her family lives in St. Louis, where she was when she received these emails.
Harvrilka lived in a campus apartment. “I have summer storage so I don’t have to move furniture but I don’t have most of my clothes or things I want to live somewhere for months.”
Students are able to return back to campus if they had been gone during spring break to retrieve their necessities such as technology and textbooks that would help them for classes as well as medication and request an appointment through a link in the second email. As of the time of writing, slots for 15-minute or hour-long appointments are available through April 5; exceptions to this policy may be made on a case-by-case basis.
Morgan Mayberry, a senior mechanical engineering major, opted to move out as much as possible in her on-campus apartment before the deadline.
“I certainly didn’t want the University of Tulsa to be my landlord another second,” said Mayberry. “I called the leasing office of an apartment I had just put a holding fee down for, then I screenshotted the email and sent it to friends on campus, then I texted people closest to me to inform them I was being kicked out of my apartment with barely 24 hours notice, then I called the roommate I had lined up for May to have her sign our lease ASAP, then I called a moving company. That was all in the first half hour.”
While against housing policy, she moved her furniture out that Friday morning and has been slowly moving her things out since. “I would feel degraded if I had to make an appointment with someone to access my stuff in my own apartment, so the grab-n-go approach advised in the email was unreasonable to me.”
Even though Mayberry’s family lives in Tulsa, she decided to move in with a roommate: “I’d like to maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible — for my own sanity. Living out of a suitcase is not in my best interest.”
In the second March 19 email, France wrote that students would be informed about any potential reimbursement for housing and dining charges by April 6. A linked FAQ page tells students to hold onto their residence hall and university-owned Greek housing keys but to return their apartment keys, regardless if they still have things remaining in their residence.
For some, that promise for more information at a later date was not enough.
“The payment we made at the beginning of the semester for our university apartments cannot currently be used for emergency housing during the mess that University of Tulsa Housing has now caused, which puts many students in an unfortunate situation financially,” said Mayberry.
On the whole, Mayberry believed this to be a wrongful eviction.
“Stating that we may store out belongings in the apartment does not mean that we are not evicted,” claimed Mayberry. “Eviction is removing the tenants, and the University is removing the tenants. It is not a ‘strong suggestion’ for me to move out of my apartment if I have no other choice, and I am constantly bothered by calls, emails and unwanted visitors to my apartment until I cave.
According to Oklahoma law, landlords must wait for fixed-term leases to end before eviction without cause. It is unknown if the same laws apply to university-owned dormitories and apartments, as these residencies have no de facto “lease,” but rather a license, and if the pandemic would be a proper cause in the housing license that students sign.
France said the difficult decision to restrict access to housing was made very quickly due to the rapidly evolving situation. “Overall, the process worked well — not perfectly — and we were able to respond to almost all of the exceptions that were requested.”
The housing and dining refund process was shared with The Collegian prior to its public release.
According to the release, “Students are only eligible for housing refunds if they have left their campus residence for the remainder of the spring semester and turned in their apartment key (for those students living in apartments) to the Housing Office. Students who were enrolled in a spring meal plan and have left campus for the remainder of the spring semester are eligible for a dining refund.”
The refund process then states that all refunds and adjustments for residence halls will be effective March 21, dining charges as of March 23 and apartment charges will be based on when residents returned their keys.
How the refund will be sent back to students is based on a variety of factors. First, any outstanding balance will be paid off by the return. Any additional money will be returned via direct deposit or check.
Scholarships will be prorated and no refunds will be given to students with full housing and dining scholarships. For those with partial housing and dining scholarships, scholarships will be adjusted and students will receive a refund for any balance.
The refund process did not detail if students who are no longer living in their apartments will continue paying for their electric bill.
Campus Security will remain on campus to protect students’ belongings. To stay current on campus updates, visit utulsa.edu/coronavirus. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for questions about calculation of housing and dining refunds. For questions about how the refund will be disbursed, email email@example.com.