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Friday, September 24, 2021

Fuchs promises replacement graduate living, students demand more information

Graduate students protested the demolition of Maguire Village and University Village South

Edward Ke Sun, 30, a PhD candidate for architectural history, theory and criticism at UF, colors a sign that reads “UF Don’t Tear Down Maguire & UVS Village” on Friday, April 9, 2021. Sun protesting to raise awareness about UF’s plan to demolish three out of the five graduate student housing complexes in Gainesville.
Edward Ke Sun, 30, a PhD candidate for architectural history, theory and criticism at UF, colors a sign that reads “UF Don’t Tear Down Maguire & UVS Village” on Friday, April 9, 2021. Sun protesting to raise awareness about UF’s plan to demolish three out of the five graduate student housing complexes in Gainesville.

With a vow to turn the university administration’s focus to graduate students, UF President Kent Fuchs said no graduate students will be displaced following UF’s plans to demolish three out of the five graduate and family housing complexes on campus.

Fuchs attended a Graduate Student Council meeting April 7 to address the needs of graduate students, who asked for answers and explanations regarding the future of their living situation. This was the first time Fuchs was invited to and attended a graduate meeting in his six years serving as UF president, he said. 

There are no established plans so far, but Fuchs told students the university will work with one of two temporary solutions to match the capacity of the two graduate housing buildings being torn down. 

The first option is to provide graduate living space in other buildings on campus, such as one of the new complexes to be built by 2023 for undergraduates, following UF’s master plan, which is a 10-year facility and construction plan. The second option would be to work a public-private partnership, in which the university contracts with a private company to provide living accommodations to students. Both of these options are temporary solutions to ensure graduate students aren’t displaced and their needs are met.

“Certainly no one is going to be displaced,” Fuchs said. “We may offer them a different place on campus, but they are not going to have to sign a lease outside the university.”

Fuchs said both Maguire Village and University Village South need to be demolished due to irreparable damage in the buildings, and the campus plans are likely to continue. He hopes to replace those buildings with an “equal number of apartment units.”

Another priority of Fuchs’ is to keep rental rates lower than what students would find for a similar apartment off campus, he said. Rental rates for graduate housing are expected to increase by 4.5% in July due to rising operational costs, UF spokesperson Cynthia Roldan said.

The specifics of UF’s plans to replace graduate complexes and the estimated rental prices are yet to be determined, Fuchs said.

Fuchs agreed with graduate students in that he and the university have focussed on undergraduate students recently, something he previously acknowledged in the March Board of Trustees meeting. He said UF had been working hard to raise its position within national rankings, which are majorly measured through the undergraduate experience. 

“If we are really going to make progress as sustained, we need to now begin to shift our focus to the graduate level and professional level,” he said.

More than 10 graduate students gathered Friday outside University Village South, on the corner of 34th Street and Hull Road, to protest against the demolition of the buildings.

Bobby Mermer, co-president of UF’s graduate labor union, protested to bring awareness to the importance of graduate and family housing.

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Mermer, along with several other protestors, expressed his skepticism toward the university’s statement that Maguire Village and University Village South are beyond repair.

“We want an independent inspection of the inhabitability and the structural soundness of Maguire and UVS,” he said.

Mermer further called for transparency from the university regarding its housing plans. He said UF never provided him with complete reports demonstrating the conditions of the buildings, and therefore is not convinced that demolition is truly needed. 

“UF used to be a public institution ran as a public good. And now, they're running like a corporation,” Mermer said.

Esteban Rodofili, who was among the protestors, worries that any alternative off-campus housing provided by public-private partnerships would not be affordable to working graduate students.

The 29-year-old Ph.D. candidate said that even though? graduate students are glad to work for the university, the pay is much lower than what they would get elsewhere in the workforce.

“We also need to live, and we need not to be rent burdened,” Rodofili said.

Contact Carolina Ilvento at cilvento@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @CarolinaIlvento.

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Carolina Ilvento

Carolina is a second-year journalism major with a minor in sustainability. In the past, she covered stories and events for WUFT, and she is now reporting on Student Government for The Alligator. Carolina loves to do yoga and go to the beach whenever she isn't writing.


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