STONY BROOK, NY — Stony Brook University abruptly shifted gears on a school policy that left many students unhappy. The policy would have had them continue paying for their housing even if residence halls were forced to close again due to the coronavirus pandemic. A petition was launched Wednesday arguing students should not bear the brunt of the cost should dormitories be shut down. The university changed its tune Friday.
"In the event that Campus Residences terminates housing due to public health concerns, the University will offer a fair and reasonable reimbursement of the housing fee for impacted students as appropriate and based on information available at that time," the university said a statement to Patch.
The updated information, which supersedes any prior communication, will be added to Stony Brook's 2020-21 housing addendum.
The original school policy said residents will "continue to remain financially liable for their space even if the residence halls have to close" in the fall 2020 semester. This led to a petition titled "SBU residents should NOT be financially liable if residence halls close due to COVID-19," made by It was addressed to the university, President Maurie Mclnnis, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Richard Gatteau and other departments. More than 3,500 people signed it as of Friday.
"Why should students be forced to pay thousands of dollars for a space they cannot live in?" Jubaed wrote. "For many students, housing and meal plans are the most expensive part of overall semester costs. Having to pay for them when they will not be used makes no sense. COVID-19 has presented millions of Americans with extreme and unimaginable financial hardships. It is cruel and unfair to refuse reimbursement of housing and meal plan fees in the middle of a global pandemic."
The petition has not been updated as of Friday afternoon following the university's response.
In an initial response to the petition, Gatteau sent an email stating the policy that would have had students continue paying for housing in the event of a COVID-19 shutdown is "being put in place at most colleges and universities this fall."
"We feel badly about charging students if the halls are required to close due to a spike in COVID (which we hope will not happen), but we cannot offer refunds again since our residence halls have mostly fixed costs — for example, a large portion are personnel costs which are year-round costs," Gatteau wrote.
The university's goal is to keep housing open for the full year, but caution needs to be exercised in the event coronavirus cases increase, Gatteau wrote.
Students were not expecting a full refund, Jubaed said. However, they did expect a "reasonable" refund.
"We pay the university thousands in order to live there, and if we are not able to do so, we should not have to pay the same amount to cover unnecessary personnel. If this unfair policy is being put in place at 'most colleges and universities' but not all, Stony Brook University should lead by example and do the right thing."
The Stony Brook student body called upon the school to not hold residents financially liable if dorms must be closed again, reimburse housing and meal plan fees in the event of a shut down, and provide a "reasonable refund to cover the remainder of the semester" if COVID-19 cases spike, Jubaed wrote.
The housing intent form is due July 28, and Jubaed implored students to not sign the form until the policy was changed.
"We do not expect you to go far beyond, but instead expect you to meet the bare minimum of human compassion and empathy," Jubaed wrote.
Stony Brook closed on-campus housing in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. Room and meal plan costs were prorated for the rest of the spring 2020 semester and applied as a refund or credit, according to the school.
"We understand that the university lost a lot of money during the Spring 2020 semester due to coronavirus, but this is not a reasonable or fair solution for that," Jubaed wrote.