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SOU students keep tuned to virus-related updates

When Mike Hinrichs heard that Southern Oregon University would go remote-only for the final term of his daughter’s freshman year, as a response to the spread of COVID-19, he thought it was the right decision.

“I don’t think they really had much choice,” he said. “I think it’s insane to do anything even remotely thinking you’d want any students to return to Ashland until this crisis is on the downward curve.”

As students began to trickle back home for spring break, which was extended for an additional week, Hinrichs, like many other parents and students, kept a close eye on updates from the university. The campus community has been tuned in to the changes affecting areas ranging from remote instruction to the various fees to attend the school.

Hinrichs’ daughter, Hanna, was not planning to return to campus or her suite in Shasta Hall for the spring term, except to move out. But last week, a March 19 update left Hinrichs with particular concern about the state of that expense.

“Students living in Shasta and McLoughlin halls have leases with a third-party owner of the buildings,” the message from SOU President Linda Schott said. “We are attempting to discuss options for your lease with the owner of the buildings, and will get back to you as soon as we have more information to share about their expectations for the remainder of your leases.”

That means, for now, whether Hinrich will have to pay the $2,893 it costs him to lease the suite for a term when Hanna won’t be on campus is hanging in limbo until the owner of SOU’s two largest residence halls, Collegiate Housing Foundation, tells the university what options its lease-holders have if they don’t want to return to campus.

“To say at this point, ‘we’re in negotiations’ — it’s kind of scary for us,” Hinrichs said. “Because money’s tight right now.”

Joe Mosley, spokesman for the university, said that the school isn’t expecting an answer from Collegiate Housing Foundation for another week or so.

“Our communications with CHF are ongoing, so it’s hard to say right now what the consequences of breaking a lease might be,” he said. “We expect to know more by the end of spring break.”

Hinrich’s bill, however, has a due date of April 3, the last day of the extended spring break. But because of SOU’s decision to waive all late fees for the spring term, the father isn’t likely to incur extra charges for holding off on the payment until he gets some clarity, according to Mosley.

Two phone calls to Collegiate Housing Foundation went unreturned this week.

For its part, SOU has allowed students living in the residence halls it owns to break their leases without penalty, Mosley said.

But the outcome of leases for rooms in Shasta and McLoughlin halls, which are collectively called Raider Village, has a bigger impact, as they house a significantly larger population of students.

As of March 9, 402 students were living in Shasta Hall, with another 266 students in McLoughlin.

By comparison, the university-owned Madrone Hall housed 90 students, with the Applegate section of the university-owned Greensprings Complex housing 67 students.

Mosley said University Housing hasn’t yet had a large influx of requests to move out for spring term.

“I do know a lot of our students intend to stay in the residence halls for spring term,” he said. “We haven’t had a huge rush of students leaving.”

While other colleges and universities, including public universities in California, have opted to allow only students with outstanding needs or no other place to go to remain in dormitories, SOU isn’t placing such restrictions on its residence halls.

Hinrichs isn’t comfortable with that arrangement.

“It’s kind of scary for me having my daughter go up there and move out,” he said. “From my perspective, I wish that could all be delayed.”

Jennah Diaz is one of those students with tentative plans to return, though she’s a little nervous about life in the residence halls while the infection is still circulating.

“That’s a lot of students around each other in pretty close proximity,” she said.

But the junior psychology major relies on her job contributing to a research project on campus to provide income.

Her other job, working at The Hawk, the on-campus dining hall, evaporated as the facility transitioned to takeout only.

“I’m working to pay off my bills and these loans,” Diaz said.

But if her research job also falls through for the upcoming term, Diaz said she’d consider not coming back. She’s also unsure of how easily she’ll be able to leave her Southern California home at the end of next week, as the state remains under a shelter-in-place order.

If she doesn’t go back, she said, “It would really be a problem to still have to pay for the dorms.”

Her room in McLoughlin Hall costs $3,783 per term. She had lived off-campus previously but moved back into the dorms this year because she could room with a friend and it was a convenient option, she said.

Diaz didn’t know when she signed the lease, she said, that her dorm was owned by anyone other than SOU. It could have been in one of the “get through it, too long to read” documents she signed in her housing portal, she said, but she wasn’t sure.

“It was just really surprising,” Diaz said. “It’s kind of annoying that we don’t know how much power and control they have.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneA student returns to campus Wednesday after picking up lunch in between Shasta Hall and McLoughlin Hall at SOU.