On April 28, 2005 self-described alternative news weekly the Dallas Observer published a story critical of residential housing at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD). The story made numerous allegations about safety, security, maintenance, and business practices within Waterview Park Apartments, the 1,238 unit campus housing facility. Some claims, particularly with regard to business practices and maintenance issues, were also reflected in comments from student leaders, the campus newspaper, and university staff. In response, outgoing President Franklyn Jenifer, with the concurrence of incoming President David Daniel, appointed an independent advisory commission to review the charges and make whatever recommendations were deemed necessary to ensure that UTD provides safe, high-quality housing at a reasonable price to the growing number of students who live on campus.
Advisory Commission Charge and Membership
The Advisory Commission on Residential Housing was charged specifically with conducting a comprehensive evaluation of Waterview, including but not limited to the physical state of the apartments, security, maintenance, contractual/financial relationships and customer/management relations. This evaluation was to culminate in a set of concrete recommendations to the university as to how best ensure that the quality of life within residential housing reflects the same standards of excellence exemplified by other aspects of the academic institution.
Professor J. Michael Coleman, Associate Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, agreed to chair the Commission. Commission members were selected from faculty, staff, and students at the university as well as members of the local community.
Commission Approach and Activities
In order to provide appropriate attention to the complex issues identified in the charge, the Commission membership divided into three subcommittees: 1) Subcommittee on Business Practices; 2) Subcommittee on Maintenance; and 3) Subcommittee on Safety and Security. Each subcommittee was chaired by a Commission member from the community and not the university.
The Commission met monthly between May and August to operationalize the charge, set specific goals, coordinate data collection, and present preliminary proposals. Each subcommittee met numerous times to collect and review data relevant to its individual charges and to refine the recommendations it later made to the larger Commission. The Commission and the three subcommittees based their recommendations on multiple forms of research: collection of quantitative data (including surveys, interviews with students, university staff and personnel from the company that holds the property management contract for residential housing); consultation with external consultants (who reviewed legal contracts and provided benchmarking standards for residential housing); and analysis of UTD housing policies and procedures against those of a number of peer institutions.
Categories of Issues Identified by the Commission
The Commission’s review and analysis yielded a number of issues facing residential housing at UTD. Where possible, the commission tried to detail best practices addressing these concerns. These issues and the corresponding recommendations are organized into four categories: 1) mission and operational philosophy; 2) business practices; 3) safety and security; and 4) maintenance. The specific recommendations and the rationales for them begin in Section II of the report.
In the Wake of the Commission
UTD must 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. This office would: manage the relationship with the Utley Foundation and the property management company; establish measurable performance standards for the operation of residential housing; review management, maintenance, and financial reports; provide procedures which allow for the identification and resolution of conflicts between students and the property management company; and advise the Office of the President on all matters related to student housing. Such an office would also require 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 assist the university in complying with its residential housing mission statement.
Section I – Commission Activities
A. Commission Structure
The Commission decided it could best fulfill its charge by dividing itself into three subcommittees:
The Subcommittee on Business Practices was chaired by Robert Shaw, President of Columbus Realty Partners, Ltd., an affiliate of The Staubach Company. Mr. Shaw’s expertise in commercial real estate, including multifamily housing construction, development, and property management, was vital in organizing the activities of the group. The subcommittee gathered and reviewed an assortment of legal documents outlining the business relationships among the university, the property management company, and the nonprofit Utley Foundation which now owns Phases I-IV. The group conducted interviews with officials of the property management company and university officials, analyzed the financial history of residential housing, and ordered a legal review of all contracts to be completed by an outside attorney specializing in real estate law. This attorney also analyzed the sale of Phases I-IV to the Utley Foundation and the role of the university in the direction and operation of that organization. These reviews and interviews became the basis for the subcommittee recommendations.
The Subcommittee on Safety and Security was chaired by Bill Taylor, Chief of Campus Police and Director of Public Safety at Rice University. Chief Taylor’s long history in higher education law enforcement was vital to this subcommittee’s efforts. The group’s focus was divided broadly into two areas. Through analysis of university crime statistics in Texas and across the nation, its members reviewed whether UTD is comparable to other colleges and universities in terms of criminal activity. A second, and larger, task was to review safety and security procedures on campus, comment on the adequacy of law enforcement personnel and their deployment, evaluate the use of security technology, and identify landscape, architectural, and infrastructure barriers that influence safety and security on campus. The subcommittee interviewed numerous students, staff, and faculty, analyzed results from the residential housing survey, reviewed various internal and external documents related to safety and security, and completed several walk-throughs of campus housing at different times of the day and night.
The Subcommittee on Maintenance was chaired by Sanjeeb Samanta, manager of World-Wide e-Learning Initiatives at Texas Instruments, an alumnus of UTD, past-president of The Student Government Association, and a former resident of campus housing. This subcommittee made extensive use of the data gathered through the residential housing survey, interviewed a large number of staff, faculty, and students, and met with officials from the property management company. The subcommittee also reviewed maintenance practices at other universities that provide private on-campus housing, consulted with outside companies to determine industry standards for apartment maintenance, and reviewed the maintenance records of the property management company operating UTD residential housing.
B. Commission Research, Analysis, and Deliberation Process
The Commission based its review and recommendations on a wide range of activities.
Task Force Meetings and Deliberations: The Commission completed its work in three overlapping phases. The first phase, which began in June, focused on research and discovery of the pertinent information and relevant stakeholders that provided the foundation of the commission’s task. A second phase, which followed in July, entailed the review and analysis of the information collected and a review of further information requirements. During August the Commission met to review and finalize the recommendations to be sent forward to President Daniel. While the full commission met only four times, the various subcommittees met many additional times as they undertook their investigative assignments and completed their reports and recommendations.
Solicited Information: The subcommittees collected information directly from various groups using several different mechanisms:
Document Review: The Commission reviewed a wide range of documents related to campus housing that included:
Consultation: A number of issues required external consultation with individuals or organizations that could provide specific expertise in a particular area.
Section II – Recommendations
Recommendation 1: Mission Statement for Residential 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.”
All decisions and actions of the university regarding residential housing must support this primary mission. All recommendations advanced by this Commission are supportive of this mission and intended to guide the university in ensuring that our residential housing facilities will play a role in attracting the very best college students to campus.
Recommendation 2: Customer Satisfaction as Primary Goal
The primary objective for UTD should be to ensure that residential housing facilities are operated to provide optimal campus housing for its students, with maximizing income to either the Utley Foundation or the university as a secondary, not primary, objective. UTD can accomplish this objective in Phases I-IV by influencing operations and management through its capacity as landlord under the ground lease, as a party to the management agreements, and through its two members of the Utley Foundation Board of Directors. As the owner of Phases V-IX, UTD has direct control over these housing facilities.
Recommendation 3: Establish Operating Standards
Recommendation 4: Create a Performance Monitoring Program
The university should periodically and regularly perform inspections of the properties to confirm that the properties are being operated in compliance with applicable law and under the terms of the agreements. While the self-reporting by the property manager is helpful, on-site inspections by UTD will allow for firsthand analysis and review of issues raised by apartment tenants.
Recommendation 5: Alter Leasing Agreements with Students
Students should also be able to sign short-term leases so that they could live in residential housing for a single semester if they graduate midyear. Upper classmen and graduate students should be allowed to begin their leases in the middle of August, corresponding to the beginning of the academic year, instead of the beginning of August. Students who complete their academic year early in May should be able to terminate their leases at that time instead of having to pay until the end of May.
Individual and short-term leases should eliminate the need for lease transfers and the accompanying fees. The current lease transfer policy has led to substantial confusion in terms of responsibility for apartment damage and has often caused difficulties with scheduled maintenance.
Recommendation 6: Review Deposit and Standard Violation Fines
Students also report a substantial increase in fines for non-conformance to standards for what can be placed on an apartment balcony. UTD must take an active role in determining these standards while remaining sensitive to the fact that campus housing at a university might require different standards than non-campus housing. Students should be given a written warning prior to the imposition of a violation fine.
Recommendation 7: Improve Security Lighting
The building mounted lighting fixtures in Phases I, II, and III should be replaced with new design fixtures similar to the ones used in Phases VIII, VIIIA, and IX. These fixtures would be more resistant to damage and would provide a better distribution of light. The fixtures in the stairwells, at the bottom of the stairs, should be placed a little higher on the wall or covered with a protective shield so they are less likely to sustain damage from persons using the stairs.
The pole lights in Phases I, II, and III courtyards and walkways should be replaced with box fixtures that distribute light more effectively over an area without causing a glare that limits visibility on the other side of the light. The current lighting fixtures are decorative in nature and not designed to enhance security.
Parking lot lights should be added throughout the parking lots for Phases I – VII of the same type and distribution as the parking lot lights in Phases VIII, VIIIA, and IX. These lights, placed at an effective interval in the parking lots, will greatly improve visibility at night making the area less attractive to car thieves and burglars and increasing the safety of those having to move through the parking lots after dark.
Overhead lights on Drives A & H, bordering the apartments, and parking lot H, near the apartments, should be repaired so that they work consistently. In some cases, these lights are not working. Some lights, while functional, appear to be using low luminescence bulbs as an energy saving measure.
Place and use locks on all control panels located in the campus housing complex. This will reduce the ability of individuals to disable lights and alarm systems, as is happening currently. It will provide consistency in the operation of lights and alarm system and reduce the likelihood of someone being injured or killed because of a light or alarm system’s failure to activate.
Install dusk-to-dawn photoelectric controls on all exterior light circuits. This will enable the lights to come on and turn off at the appropriate time of day to provide illumination without having to continuously reset time clocks. It also allows the lights to come on when there is a significant reduction of natural light during intense storms.
The Police Department should conduct weekly lighting surveys of the entire campus to include the Waterview Park Apartments. Patrol officers and security guards could provide the information that could then be compiled into a single report for distribution by the crime prevention officer. The distribution of this report should include the management of the Waterview Park Apartments, the Physical Plant Administration, the Vice President for Business Affairs, the Vice President for Student Affairs, the President of the University, and the Chief of Police. This should increase awareness of lighting deficiencies, encourage timely repairs and provide data for strategic infrastructure maintenance and planning.
Recommendation 8: Improve Emergency Notification Technology
The fire alarms should be updated so they all report to one central monitoring station. The University Police Department should be notified immediately when a fire alarm is activated, and police officers should be dispatched to the location of the alarm. Strong consideration should be given to having in-apartment smoke detectors connected to the building alarm systems so that if they are set off, the entire building is alerted to a possible fire.
Recommendation 9: Remove Vegetation Detrimental to Security
Recommendation 10: Limit Access to Campus Housing
Recommendation 11: Increase the number of Campus Police Officers
Recommendation 12: Reduce Ancillary Responsibilities of Police Officers
The escort services of the University Police are underutilized for a campus the size of the University of Texas at Dallas. The walking-only escorts may have some detrimental impact, both on usage and the time it ties up Police Department personnel. Conducting walking escorts in this manner ensures safety door-to-door. An alternative that would provide escorts in a more timely and efficient manner and would free up police officers for other tasks much of the time, would be the use of a student patrol supported by work study or other grant funds. The student patrol members would receive several weeks of training from the police department and carry radios and flashlights with them on patrol. They could be deployed in the evenings as two-person teams and wear a vest, shirt, or jacket identifying them as student patrol members. Consideration might be given to providing the student patrol with a gas or electric cart set up for transporting persons. This would allow more efficient escort services and still provide door-to-door safety. The radio would allow the student patrol members to report any safety hazard or suspicious activity they might observe and let them communicate with the dispatchers to coordinate escorts. The student patrol would operate out of the police department and would create increased officer/student interaction as a team. Police officers and security guards would continue to provide escorts at times when the student patrol was not available. If implemented, this program would likely generate increased usage of escorts on campus as they would be more convenient and consistently available.
Recommendation 13: Create a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team
Recommendation 14: Conduct an Audit of Current Maintenance Requirements
Recommendation 15: Reorganize Housing Maintenance Program
The university must demand that the property managers establish and maintain a set of standards for maintenance of both the apartment units and common areas such as hallways, stairways, pools, laundry facilities, trash receptacles, parking lots, and grounds. Such standards are commonplace in this industry and readily available. This includes the minimum staffing requirements for maintenance services. The industry standard of one maintenance staff member per 100 units is double the current maintenance staff at our own facility.
All UTD residential housing must be placed on a cyclic maintenance schedule. The property management company must maintain and distribute a schedule of planned and completed routine and emergency maintenance activities that meet industry standards. A uniform, objective, electronic process for the submission, fulfillment, monitoring, and management of maintenance requests should be implemented. Such a system would include an effective evaluation component based on customer satisfaction of the services provided.
The property management company must evaluate the effectiveness of all maintenance efforts and provide this information to the university on a periodic basis to serve as evidence of the quality, efficiency, and timeliness of its maintenance efforts. A complete audit trail of all maintenance requests and responses should be available to the university upon request.
Recommendation 16: Establish and Maintain an Effective Pest Control Program
The property management company must initiate programs to ensure the elimination of insect infestations within apartments. Such a program must be sufficiently comprehensive in nature and occur with adequate frequency to ensure that pest control throughout university residential housing is no longer a problem.
Recommendation 17: Create a Student Housekeeping Orientation
The university should offer a basic housekeeping orientation for all students living in apartments or away from home for the first time. Information should include the operation of appliances, the use of cleaning products, minimal levels of sanitation and orderliness, and standards of conduct within an apartment community.
The university, along with the property management company, should establish and publish minimum standards for apartment cleanliness and sanitation required to maintain an apartment lease. Such requirements would be essential elements of the housekeeping orientation.
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