RICHARDSON, Texas (Sept. 2, 2005) — University of Texas at Dallas President Dr. David E. Daniel today ordered maintenance inspections of all 1,238 units at the Waterview Apartments, said he would create an Office of Residential Housing at the university and pledged to ensure that residential living areas at UTD would be “operated to provide high-quality campus housing for students.”
Daniel also enthusiastically embraced the Advisory Commission on Residential Housing’s suggested mission statement for campus housing: “The University of Texas at Dallas offers residential facilities for students to provide a desirable, safe, secure and economical living environment that attracts students to the campus and enhances their collegiate experience.”
“As president,” Daniel said, “I will take all necessary steps to ensure that UTD fulfills this mission and offers an excellent residential housing experience for our students.”
The commission, chaired by Dr. Michael Coleman, associate provost and dean of undergraduate education at UTD, presented the 16-page document to Daniel on Thursday, precisely the date, Sept. 1, that he had requested when the panel was created last May in response to student complaints and charges made in the news media.
The meticulously crafted report includes numerous recommendations and covers everything from the creation of a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program to improved leasing arrangements to pest control to the need for the aforementioned mission statement for residential housing.
Although the most sensational allegations raised by the media about Waterview had involved crime at the apartment complex, the commission concluded that “maintenance of individual apartments and common spaces is the most severe and chronic problem facing residential housing” at UTD. In fact, the panel repeated a conclusion it had drawn in the interim report it presented in early July – that the UTD campus, including Waterview, was “a safe environment in comparison to other major universities and far safer than the larger community.”
Even so, the commission, guided by its Subcommittee on Safety and Security, chaired by Bill Taylor, chief of campus police and director of public safety at Rice University, added some new recommendations to the ones presented in the interim report.
Daniel embraced all of the recommendations on safety and security made eight weeks ago. They were:
- Upgrading and expanding the lighting at Waterview and in the parking lots at the housing complex
- Installing emergency call-box phones both inside and outside buildings throughout Waterview
- Hiring seven additional UTD campus police
Moreover, the president also pledged to implement an additional safety improvement that was not mentioned by the commission in the interim report. He said he would create a “police presence” at the apartment complex by establishing and staffing a security office there.
In its final report, the commission added some very specific safety and security recommendations about such areas as campus lighting, emergency telephones, landscaping, fire alarms and vehicular access to the apartment complex, but the panel focused to a much greater extent on two areas it had not addressed in the interim report, maintenance and business practices.
The commission suggested that the university begin at the most rudimentary level – by forging a mission statement. “UTD lacks a mission statement that specifies its goals for residential housing. . . ,” the report says. “Such a statement would provide the scaffolding necessary to organize the university’s efforts towards excellence in residential housing and provide benchmarks by which to judge the effectiveness of policies and procedures used to manage and monitor student residences.”
In its apparent frustration with UTD’s lack of a sense of mission or even discernable lines of responsibility or a chain of command with regard to Waterview, the commission called on the UTD administration to create an Office of Residential Housing “headed by a staff member given the responsibility and authority to coordinate the overall management of the university’s obligations to student housing.” Among other things, the office would “establish measurable performance standards” and advise the President’s Office on all matters related to student housing. The office also would manage the university’s relationship with the property management company; review management, maintenance and financial reports; and set up procedures that allow for the identification and resolution of conflicts between students and the property management company.
“I think this is an excellent idea,” said Daniel, who assumed the UTD presidency on June 1. “From the beginning, I have had trouble getting a handle on who looks into the mirror every morning and says, ‘I am responsible for Waterview.’”
The panel also called for the creation of an advisory committee composed of the “various stakeholders in campus housing as well as experts in commercial housing, property management and real estate law whose function would be to support the new office and to assist the university in complying with its residential housing mission statement.”
The Coleman Commission was particularly critical of the lack of a culture of customer service at Waterview and the lack of any semblance of maintenance standards. The panel cited cases of students being told to choose which maintenance problem they wanted addressed when multiple problems existed.
“Improvements in residential housing maintenance must begin with an understanding of current maintenance needs,” the report said. “UTD should contract with an independent agency to thoroughly review every apartment in residential housing. . . . The results of this audit should become the basis for a thorough and systematic plan for intervention and, ultimately, a preventive maintenance program.”
The commission also implied that the student residents of Waterview were treated with as little consideration on leasing issues as they were with regard to maintenance. Among other things, the panel recommended that students be permitted to sign short-term leases, that leases be structured to reflect the academic year, that lease transfers between students be eliminated, that deposit and fine procedures be reviewed and that the property management company be held accountable.
The commission said that the purpose of its recommendations was to “ensure that the quality of life within residential housing reflects the same standards of excellence exemplified by other aspects of the academic institution.”
In addition to the Subcommittee on Safety and Security, the commission was composed of a Subcommittee on Maintenance, which was chaired by UTD alumnus and former Student Government Association President and Waterview resident Sanjeeb Samanta, currently manager of World-Wide e-Learning Initiatives at Texas Instruments; and a Subcommittee on Business Practices, chaired by Robert Shaw, president of Columbus Realty Partners, Ltd., an affiliate of The Staubach Company.
President Daniel said he would carefully review all of the panel’s recommendations and would take whatever actions necessary to make UTD’s residential housing as “attractive and affordable as possible.”
Daniel noted that the commission’s assessments and recommendations were both broad and deep and touched many aspects of the university’s operations, from business practices to security to residential life. He said it would take time to absorb all of the recommendations fully.
Daniel thanked Dr. Coleman and the 11 other commission members for their “hard work, dedication and commitment to the thousands of students who live at Waterview now and who will live there in the future.
“These men and women have made an enormous contribution to this university, and the entire UTD family is in their debt.”
To view the final report in its entirety, please go to http://www.utdallas.edu/news/waterview/
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 14,000 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.