By Bryce Bower, Co-editor
On Monday, January 8, Thunderbird CEO Allen Morrison, Associate Director General Joseph Carter, and Senior Director of Graduate Student Experience Angela Mitchell, along with Dean of Students for the Downtown campus Dr. Cassandra Aska, hosted a Student Update in regards to the impending move downtown. They had nothing but wonderful things to say about the restaurants in the area, the new building, and the fabled “rooftop swimming pool” above the Sun Devil Fitness Center. The new opportunities inherent in moving downtown in America’s 5th largest city are nothing to sneeze at, but city living comes with a cost. Instead of living on a safe and quiet campus with a couple hundred students—where you can arguably get to know everyone—we will join the 1.615 million Phoenix residents living the busy and impersonal life “in the big city.”
Moving to downtown will put students closer to more learning opportunities and connections with potential employers. The speakers were quick to declare how amazing the new Thunderbird facility will be, all encompassed in a single building that will supposedly capture elements of what makes the current campus so iconic. The presenters were adamant that Thunderbird needs new facilities, which I will not argue with. My issue is with how they presented it. They made us feel like we were ungrateful for this wonderful gift they have given us. But a gift that is forced upon us is no gift at all.
Here’s the problem. We won’t be getting any of the benefits. The class starting in 2021 will be the first to enjoy the new building, while we and the next two years of students are fated for an ‘interim space’. This unfortunate fact is made worse by the fact that no one informed us that there was even the possibility of the campus moving before we applied to Thunderbird. Dr. Morrison told us at the Student Update that plans to move have been in the works for three years. So why weren’t we informed during the application process?
Let me put it another way. Pretend that you need to accumulate 12 pieces of fruit to achieve your goals. Let’s say you agree to purchase 12 apples from a farmer. These 12 apples cost a total of $60,000 and you pay for three apples at a time over two years. After purchasing three apples, the farmer informs you that instead of Fruit #6 through Fruit #12 being apples, they will be oranges. He insists that oranges are much better than apples, as they have more vitamin C. However, you really wanted apples and can get vitamin C from other sources. Would you be upset with this altered deal?
In March 2017, I took a tour of the Thunderbird campus in Glendale, Arizona. I walked from the Pub to the AT&T auditorium. I went from the “Fish” by the pool to the Commons, and I felt that the campus was a perfect fit. I did not tour a “Class A office space”, which is where they have informed us our interim facility will be. Although nothing is finalized and administration is still considering other locations, we have been informed that ASU is in negotiations with the Arizona Center, a shopping center and office complex in downtown Phoenix.
The interim space is where I fear we will slip through the cracks. At the interim facility there will be no space for a Das Tor office, no space for the Global Sounds band to practice and perform, no TEC for Regional Nights, no Pub, no Career Management Center, and no affordable campus housing.*UPDATED, SEE BELOW* But, hey — there will be a swimming pool on a roof at the fitness complex, so that should make up for everything we are losing, right? Granted, they are working on some solutions to these issues and have assured us there will be places for them – in the new building, in 2021.
The Student Update presentation moved rather slowly, and unfortunately only about five people were able to ask questions during the hour-long meeting. My fellow Das Tor editor Amanda Cardini (MAGAM ’19) was one of them, and she presented an issue that is relevant to many T-birds on campus. “I think one thing that makes Thunderbird unique is that a lot of us do live on campus,” she said, “and we are all together—all the time—bonding, doing homework, doing whatever. I would like to see an appropriate housing place found for us.”
Dr. Morrison’s response was, “Actually, today, more students commute to Thunderbird than live on campus. So this has become more of a commuter school than a residential school. We are going to try to capture those needs.” Although I don’t have a PhD, I am certain that invalidating a student’s experience, ignoring what they consider important, and dodging their questions is not the way to win them over. During the first semester of this school year, A and B dorms were completely full, and many rooms in the East dorms were occupied as well. I got to know many cool people very quickly. Dorm life takes the relationships you make with other T-birds to an entirely new level. So far, we haven’t been officially informed of any plans to create this kind of atmosphere in the interim space.
On the topic of dorm life, Isaac Miller, (MAGAM ’19) at one point interjected, “There is going to be a significant difference in [housing] price.”
Dr. Morrison responded, “Not necessarily.” Yes necessarily. I live on campus and I pay $2527 for 4 months housing, which includes all utilities and a $695 meal plan. Therefore, rent is $458 a month here with utilities included. Average rent in Downtown Phoenix is $900 dollars a month. $442 extra dollars a month may not sound like much to some readers, but many current students, myself included, have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. When we planned to come to Thunderbird, we budgeted to live in Glendale – not in Downtown.
The final point I want to touch on, and what Editor in Chief of Das Tor Chris Barton (MAGAM ’18) asked during the Student Update, is this: Why are we pushing this move so quickly? Why not wait until the students who enrolled on this campus finish their degree?
Dr. Morrison had this to say, “The decision is based on hard economics, and the economics of running this school [for the remaining half of the students in 2019] are staggeringly unattractive… The campus will be sold, and proceeds will be used to offset some of the costs for the new facility.” There you have it. They need to liquidate the merchandise before they can sell the store.
Thankfully, the administration helped create a student group to express the desires of Thunderbird students to the administration and let our voices be heard. Many students meet and talk regularly about what they think is important for the new building as well as the interim space, and I look forward to hearing of the progress that will be made. I can only hope that those with the power to make decisions are willing to lend a receptive ear.
Update: As of February 19, Thunderbird Administration has informed us that the members of the CMC will be moving to the interim space, there will be a Das Tor office, and options for affordable housing are being considered by ASU.