Complaint filed after student loses housing

by Beacon Staff • September 12, 2007

Joanna Arpie should have been attending her first classes as a print journalism major at Emerson College this week. Instead, she's enrolled at the University of Connecticut and fighting to hold Emerson accountable for abruptly revoking her on-campus housing last month.

Arpie's family has submitted a complaint to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education and sent a letter to Senator Edward Kennedy reprimanding Emerson for informing Joanna via a phone message that her bed had been given away two weeks before freshman orientation began for nonpayment of her bill.

"I know ultimately that I am to blame for not complying with the regulations," Arpie said. "However, I feel that it was just bad ethics displayed by the school. I was basically thrown out on the street."

Dr. David Arpie, Joanna's father, said the Board agreed with the family's complaint, calling Emerson's actions "irresponsible," although it could not confirm its position, citing its confidentiality policy.

The college mailed its response to the board on Sept. 6, according to Christine Hughes, vice president and general counsel of administration and finance. She declined to comment on the response. If the board is satisfied with the college's response, it will dismiss the complaint. Otherwise, it can refer the case to the Attorney General's office.

If the Attorney General's office receives what it considers a valid complaint, it will attempt to arbitrate between the college and the complainant.

Arpie claims the college called her a week before the Aug. 1 housing deposit deadline to remind her to pay. But since her $30,000 loan had been approved and the college had been notified that $15,000 was to be disbursed Sept. 5, Arpie thought her balances were covered.

She says she never received a bill for the balance of $2,500, which cost her a bed in the Doubletree Hotel. She admits she could have checked over her financial records more thoroughly.

The Arpies maintain Joanna lost her bed because Emerson accepted too many freshmen this year.

"Of course I freaked out and immediately called to find out what was going on," Arpie said. "I was told I no longer had housing; it was literally already given to another student and there would be no way for me to obtain on-campus housing."

Director of Housing and Residence Life David Haden declined to comment on Arpie's situation specifically, citing the confidentiality of the matter. He said his office works with Undergraduate Admission to set aside the number of beds needed for freshmen based on anticipated incoming student enrollment numbers.

This year, however, more than 130 students will be housed in the Doubletree and Coutryard by Marriot Boston Tremont Hotels.

According to the Office of Academic Affairs, there were 727 incoming freshmen last fall and 846 this year.

"We make the commitment to house all incoming first year students who meet deadlines for application, deposit, and account payment," Haden said in an e-mail to The Beacon.

Arpie said Emerson claims to have sent her an e-mail about the unpaid balance in late July, but she denies receiving the notification. She said she was first made aware of the balance when she received the phone message telling her she'd already lost her housing. She then offered to pay the balance immediately in order to regain her housing but was told it would not change her status.

Dean of Students Ronald Ludman declined to comment on the matter.

Brianna Arpie, Joanna's sister and a sophomore at Sacred Heart University, said in the report her sister was "disappointed and stressed" when she found out that she would not be able to attend Emerson.

"She is a straight-A student and deserves to go where she wanted to, but now she cannot," Brianna wrote. "How Emerson College handled this situation was unjust and unfair."

After losing her room at Emerson, Arpie called UConn, where she had also been accepted, and received housing, a meal plan and her class schedule within days, despite the university's May 1 housing payment deadline.

Pamela Schipani, director of housing services at UConn, said a larger school would be more likely to have the space to accommodate last-minute incoming students.

Regardless of the result of the report Dr. Arpie said he feels Emerson needs to be held accountable for its mistake.

"The total lack of concern and empathy for Joanna's situation, from [President Jacqueline Liebergott], who was unavailable to speak with me, to the dean of housing, was staggering," Dr. Arpie said. "I think the school owes my daughter an apology."