Quinnipiac’s money struggles shouldn’t make commuters feel unwelcome

Daniel Passapera, Contributing Writer

On Feb. 25, Quinnipiac University Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett announced in an email that undergraduate commuter students would be subject to a $90 fee per semester to park on university grounds starting in the fall 2021 semester. It was an act of economic discrimination. In short, it’s Quinnipiac’s subtle way of indicating it needs more money while prioritizing on-campus students.

You would think raising tuition during a pandemic would be enough, but when college institutions such as Quinnipiac are operating like corporations, it doesn’t come as a surprise.

What does amaze me is penalizing a demographic on campus that is already economically disadvantaged. Most commuters can’t afford the luxury of living on campus — which, in hindsight, is probably for the best. They avoid having to wait hours for food, or constantly losing power. Many commuters have lower income than residential students, so implementing this fee or forcing them to live on campus is not a suitable solution.

Illustration by Connor Lawless

Imposing these fees widens the gap in economic diversity, which Quinnipiac already lacks. This institution ranks among the lowest for median family income in the bottom 20%, according to the New York Times. To put it in perspective, out of 2,395 colleges and universities, Quinnipiac came in at 2,362, almost dead last.

Personally, as a commuter student, this decision by the school is disrespectful and makes it hard for me to continue to support the institution. Admittedly, without scholarships or grants, I wouldn’t be here, but it appears those awards will mean nothing if these money grabs continue to occur. My single parent doesn’t work two jobs just to continue to rack up the debt. Hell, I don’t work to accumulate debt either.

It’s frustrating to understand why these decisions are being made for the student body without our input or why these decisions are being made by Ellett. Quinnipiac pays him, yet he still receives retirement benefits from his previous position as senior associate vice president of student affairs at New York University (NYU). Ellett is making decisions as if every student is as financially stable as him.

Ellett has a history of student mistreatment, even having a 40-page manifesto written regarding his tenure at NYU, which highlights many issues.

“The manifesto outlined various issues around mental health, compensation, unionization and general mistreatment in the role,” said Mina Mohammadi, former deputy news editor at NYU’s Independent Student Newspaper.

In response to these accusations that came mainly from NYU resident assistants (RAs) that worked closely with Ellett, he said, “I’m sorry if there are some RAs, whether it is 5%, 20% or 85% (which I don’t believe) of RAs who were unhappy, but what role did they play in the creation of their own unhappiness?”

Here’s a reminder — he “retired” amid this scandal just to get hired by Quinnipiac while still embodying the same demeanor, by saying “while this decision may appear counterintuitive to some” and “this change may not be welcomed by some students …” in the recent announcement. Currently, over 1,100 people and counting support revoking the fee. However, Ellett never asked for input and the narrative that a “few” students would be upset is based upon one’s opinion — his own.

“I have no doubt in my mind that he has convinced himself that he cares about us, but when approached with difficulties about the role, he turns it on its head repeatedly,” said an anonymous source included in the manifesto.

On Feb. 28, Ellett responded via email to commuter students who voiced their concerns. Unfortunately, he deflected and contradicted himself by saying, “Please know that we do very much value the commuter population at QU, and I would agree with you that we can, and need to, do more for our commuters … These changes are all part of a much broader vision to enhance the student experience at QU. And yes, a big portion of that is also deepening the residential experience.” Again, reiterating the point that Quinnipiac focuses more on residential students.

The response also included a draft for plans regarding a “Quinnipiac University Commuter Assistance Program.” Funny how it took angering the community for feedback, although whether or not he uses the response is yet to be seen. Our comments regarding the fee — ignored.

There are still many vague details of which have been left unanswered including, how financial assistance would work if the fee went into effect or what “investments” this will go into to “improve” the student experience. No matter how many times the word “investment” or the phrase “improving the student experience” comes up, you can’t help but wonder where our tuition money is going.

Ellett is not the sole root of all evil, it’s up to the entire administration to be held accountable for approving things like the $90 parking fee for commuters. Unfortunately, this administration began this purge starting with staff in the 2019-20 school year, issuing furloughs and layoffs because its money magically disappeared with its “incredible efforts” to curb COVID-19. Now the commuters are under attack, and it’s only a matter of time before the residential students get a taste of the Ellett NYU experience.

Don’t forget about the apparent $55 million budget deficit of which $45 million was not COVID-19 related. Where did all that money go? Was low enrollment the sole reason for this? I doubt it.

The university would rather focus on residential life than the entire student body’s experience. By doing this, they seek to discredit the work ethic and educational advancements of commuters. As condescendingly stated in Ellett’s email, if it is true that “students who lived on campus had stronger GPAs and an 11% higher retention rate,” that says more about who the school is prioritizing with its education. We, commuters, know we are excelling in our respective majors, but the school clearly doesn’t.

Quinnipiac is completely out of touch with its students. We should be focusing on the important issues. We should be addressing and welcoming LGBTQ students on campus after students committed a hate crime last semester in an on-campus residence. These important changes will make Quinnipiac an inclusive environment for all as well as diversify the campus, its curriculum and more. But the current battle the university decided to choose is parking. That’s where it chooses to keep its guards up — shocker.

A $90 fee compared to other schools within Connecticut isn’t nearly as terrible in its entirety. But when students are the ones constantly funneling money into an institution that clearly doesn’t know how to handle money, or care how much debt we acquire, it all adds up. Focus on the real issues Quinnipiac — get your house in order before you mess with ours.