AU Takes Months to Pay Students for Canceling Housing

Originally published by The Eagle on December 26, 2015. 

After months of unfulfilled promises, several AU students have finally received the $500 Visa gift cards the University guaranteed them this summer as a reward for canceling their fall 2015 on-campus housing. The University offered the gift cards in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the residence halls.

The cards were available for student pick up beginning Nov. 24, according to Housing and Dining Programs Assistant Director of Operations Sasha Gamburg, nearly six months after the University’s initial incentivizing offer, and over a month past the expected time of delivery after the add- drop period ended on October 16.

In a June 4 email from Housing and Dining Programs, the University pledged to give a $500 Visa gift card to the first 50 students who canceled their fall 2015 on-campus housing, as long as these students remained enrolled in classes. This message came after a separate email on May 4 that offered students free housing cancellation, thereby waiving the typical fee of 25 percent of the fall housing rate.

“This summer, the University experienced a significant interest in housing for fall semester,” Gamburg said in an email. “Housing and Dining Programs had very limited spaces available to meet that demand.”

Still, Gamburg said, less than 50 students decided to cancel their housing after hearing of the $500 reward.

Saagar Gupta, a School of Public Affairs sophomore, was one of those 50 students to cancel his housing in Hughes Hall, on the community-based research scholars floor. After convincing his roommate that earning $500 each for canceling their housing was worth moving off campus, they both sent the appropriate paperwork to HDP and received an email that confirmed their eligibility.

According to that confirmation email on June 19, signed “Housing and Dining Programs,” his housing cancellation fee would be waived and the changes in room and board costs would be reflected in his Eagle Finance account within two to three weeks. The money would come later, according to the email.

“The $500 Visa gift cards will be distributed during the fall 2015 semester after the final course drop date of October 16,” the email said.

After Oct. 16 passed with no word from HDP, Gupta emailed to ask for an update. Two days later, he received a response that said the department expected FedEx to deliver the gift cards on Nov. 6 and would soon email all eligible students as to when and where to pick them up.

“Unfortunately, the vendor providing the gift cards experienced difficulty shipping the cards to us within the expected time,” Gamburg said.

Though Gamburg did not disclose how many students received the $500 Visa reward, the multi-thousand dollar purchase involved collaboration between HDP and the Office of Procurements and Contracts, Gamburg said. Further collaboration between these offices and FedEx made the situation more complex.

Sam Dumas, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, also kept in frequent contact with HDP after cancelling her housing and receiving the confirmation that she was eligible to receive the reward.

Dumas was already living in an off-campus apartment at the time of the initial incentivizing email, but was also registered for a room in McDowell Hall that she had planned to cancel during the summer.

“I hadn’t canceled it when they offered the incentive, so I was like, ‘Oh sweet!’ because I figured I’d need the money eventually,” she said.

She submitted the proper paperwork and, like Gupta, was informed that the gift cards would be distributed the week of Oct. 16. After that week passed without any correspondence from HDP, she reached out just before Halloween and was told that the cards were on their way. She said she had called HDP every week since then and had never been allowed to talk to anyone besides the front desk receptionist.

“I go there from time to time, too, because sometimes it’s easier on this campus to just go and ask, but it’s always just, ‘They’re on their way, we’ll let you know when you can come pick it up.’ That’s always the answer that I get,” she said in November. “They’ve been on their way for three weeks, how long do they take to ship?”

The students heard nothing more from the department until the start of Thanksgiving break, when many of them had already left campus.

“I definitely expected to have this money, and I was hoping to be able to pay other things off with it so I wouldn’t have to use rent money or utilities money,” Gupta, who worked for HDP this summer, said. “It’s been pretty frustrating waiting on that money.”

According to Gamburg, students were notified that the cards were available for in-person pick up in the HDP office beginning Nov. 24, just before Thanksgiving break.

“Honestly, I did expect a little bit of a delay because it’s Housing, and Dining and they never get anything on time, but at the same time, I was definitely expecting it in October at least, and definitely not in December,” Gupta said.

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