Source: Approved Designs for the Munger Graduate Residences, view from Main Street from the South Quad.
Much to the dismay of Ann Arbor residents and UM students alike, Blimpy Burger had to officially shut its doors in late August. The parcel of land that Blimpy Burger used to sit on, as well as adjacent parcels of land, is to be used for a new graduate dormitory. The project is the gift and brainchild of Charles T. Munger, whose $110 million donation included specific design stipulations for what is to be called the Munger Residence Hall.
While the $185 million project ($75 of which will be funded by lease revenue) aims to attract graduate students to UM, current students are not so sure about the efficacy of the project. In a poll of graduate students, 96% (of the 233 that responded) said they would not live in Munger. This is largely due to the fact that preliminary monthly rent projections are set at roughly $1,000 per month. Although these may decrease (so that they are competitive with the surrounding market), graduate students usually opt for more affordable housing.
Aside from price concerns, graduate students are uneasy about the communal aspects of Munger’s design. With each set of seven individual bedrooms, there will be seven private bathrooms, a large common kitchen, common recreational rooms, and a common furnished dining room. Understandably, graduate students fear that this blueprint is too similar to undergraduate dorms. Given that most graduate students are in their 20s or 30s, such a living arrangement seems unappealing—especially if they can rent a single apartment off-campus for less.
Although this seems to be a social engineering project that is being wasted on non-interested 20-30 year-olds, similar projects have worked before. Munger funded a graduate housing project at Stanford, which has been fully occupied since its completion in 2009. Although Stanford’s building only has 4 bedrooms per unit, their graduate housing ranges from $1322-$1679 per month (which is competitive with the surrounding market).
Munger recognizes that spending a huge sum of money on a new residence hall does not seem economically prudent, but he has extremely valid reasons to believe that it is indeed a sound investment. For one, a top-notch graduate dormitory is a selling point for UM as it tries to recruit top students. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Munger spoke of “the fatal un-connectedness of academic disciplines” and described this un-connectedness as a “pernicious evil.”
Communal kitchens, dining rooms, recreational rooms (including a fitness center and track) are all geared towards making the building into an intellectually engaging community. Graduate students often speak of how their student body is isolated from one another, and Munger Hall aims to promote both academic and social collaboration.
The relocation of Blimpy Burger is certainly hard to forget, but the plan makes sense as a selling point for UM graduate programs and as a way to promote cross-discipline interaction. The 96% disapproval rating (from just a small fraction of the graduate student body) is something to consider, but perhaps once plans begin to materialize students will gain interest.
Still, lofty rent projections and very high disapproval ratings are worrying. Richard Saccone, president of Rackham Graduate School cited that the preliminary rent projections of $1,000 are far beyond what a typical graduate student is willing to pay. The average rent price in Ann Arbor is a fuzzy figure since there is such a wide range to choose from—there are luxury apartments, older apartments, studios, shared houses, etc. Often these options are less than or around the $1000 mark. Given such a wide buffet of housing options, it seems almost impossible to imagine a graduate student opting to live in an expensive social experiment when more peaceful, familiar, and affordable options are readily available.