Students welcomed by 'chaos'

The Baltimore Sun

In what has become a back-to-school ritual, more than 120 Morgan State University students showed up for the first day of classes yesterday and discovered they were temporarily homeless.

Throughout the morning, scores of irate parents and students overwhelmed the residential housing office - which had yet to assign them dormitory rooms.

"I'm going to pull him out of here, bottom line," a visibly upset Ron Hargrove said of his son Matthew, a sophomore. "There's no reason why we have to be going through this kind of stuff. It's just chaos in there."

The turbulent scene in Morgan's Harper-Tubman Hall was reminiscent of last year, when the university overbooked its dorms and caused a housing crisis for dozens of students, sending about 65 of them to hotels.

About half of the affected students this year were freshmen. By last evening, a campus spokesman said all 122 students had been assigned rooms.

It was the third time in four years that students have arrived at the historically black public university in Northeast Baltimore to find they had no assigned housing. But school officials said that, unlike in 2004 - when Morgan had to convert dormitory lounges into makeshift bedrooms - there were enough dorm rooms available this year to meet demand.

The problem, officials said, lay with students and parents who neglected to complete housing paperwork or who didn't pay their bursar bills on time.

"Every year at about this time, we run into the same sort of situation, where some parents who may not be aware of exactly what the process is didn't know they had to apply for housing or had to pay by a certain date," said college spokesman Clinton R. Coleman.

"I understand this is an inconvenience for freshmen who perhaps did not have the kind of guidance that was necessary," Coleman added, saying that the university might need to improve its communication with students.

He said Morgan is particularly vulnerable to bureaucratic delays because most students receive financial aid, many from multiple sources, which both increases paperwork and leaves many students unable to pay their bills if they fail to complete aid applications on time.

Those explanations didn't sit well with parents and students, nearly all of whom insisted they had reserved campus housing with $200 deposits or had already paid their housing bills in full.

"As soon as I can, I'm transferring out," said sophomore Arion Long, 18, of Upper Marlboro. She said she had already paid more than $3,100 for the fall semester's housing bill but was told she still didn't have a room.

The housing hassle was just one symptom of a disorganized campus management, Long said. "It's too much, it's overwhelming," she said.

Her political science class yesterday morning was so overbooked the professor left early to look for a bigger room. "I actually had to walk down the hall today and get a chair," Long said. "And then I was sitting in the hallway trying to listen to what the teacher had to say."

The housing issues yesterday were especially discomfiting to students arriving from out of the area. Latasha Harrison, 17, a freshman from Philadelphia, said she showed up to the housing office expecting the room for which she had paid a deposit and was told "nothing's available."

"They're just telling us we got to come back, stay with a family member," Harrison said. "But we're not from here. It's crazy. It makes no sense."

As the strained housing office started to find rooms for the displaced students, some changed their tune. "I finally have a place to stay," beamed Long, exiting Harper-Tubman Hall at 12:30 p.m.

But Ron Hargrove said he was not able to get a room for Matthew before they left campus yesterday, and said that at 5 p.m. there were other families still waiting in the housing office.

Despite his frustration, Hargrove said he had decided to stick with the university because of the faculty in his son's Honors Program. "The staff there is very sensitive and very responsive, and they go the extra mile for their students," he said.

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