The independent panel tasked with reviewing UC Santa Barbara’s proposed Munger Hall dormitory design sent its final report to the chancellor on Nov. 15, outlining significant concerns and issues with the dorm and recommending various changes to its design.
The unique design of Munger Hall — a proposed nine-story dormitory set to hold over 3,500 students in individual 7-by-10-foot bedrooms, most of which will lack real windows — has been a source of controversy for over a year.
In its 202-page final report obtained by the Nexus, the panel listed a slew of concerns related to health and safety, psychological distress, unnecessary energy consumption, an unworkable lack of parking, “no credible path for students to feed themselves” and a “prison-like design.”
The Munger Hall project team responded to the panel’s findings in a Dec. 19 letter sent to Chancellor Henry T. Yang. The project team said they would consider adding windows and vents in student suites — the common area connecting each cluster of eight student bedrooms — where possible, but left the bulk of the panel’s concerns unaddressed.
“We are exploring additional potential modifications to the design based on feedback that we have received from our community, as well as the recommendations from the panel,” the project team said in the letter, adding that any further changes could pose a “meaningful challenge” to the university’s goal of adding 3,500 beds in the coming years and would “require thoughtful consideration.”
Following an Academic Senate Town Hall in November 2021 that heard a number of concerns with Munger Hall, Yang approved the Senate’s Executive Council request for an independent panel to review the project.
The panel assembled in April 2022, chaired by Professor of Economics Henning Bohn and 12 other members, including professors, alumni and former Associated Students (A.S) President Yuval Cohen.
From May to September 2022, the panel analyzed the Munger Hall project in a series of Zoom meetings and in-person work sessions, hearing from the project team, student groups and several other presentations that assisted the formation of their final recommendation.
Only two members of the 13-person panel declined to endorse its final report. Sue Wilcox, a retired entrepreneur and Joel Raznick, Chief Communications Officer at NEFT Vodka — both UCSB trustees and major donors — disagreed with the general tone and statements made in the report.
The concerns of the report centered around “the physical safety, psychological well-being, and comfort of the student residents, concerns include the proposed building’s small and windowless bedrooms, windowless suites, extraordinary population density, lack of a dining hall, potential for COVID transmission, impact on the environment and campus culture, vulnerability to a changing climate, and safety during emergencies and evacuations.”
Without significant modifications to the existing design, it would be “unwise for UCSB to proceed,” the panel concluded. In its meetings with the Munger Hall Project Team, the panel found the team’s “statements downplayed or overlooked these concerns in ways that left the Panel unconvinced.”
The panel drew data from a survey conducted by A.S. in November 2021. Out of 4,176 student respondents, 29% of students fully opposed the project, 69% opposed the project but maybe would lend support to a re-designed dorm and only 1.4% supported the design as is at the time of the survey.
To remedy the concerns presented in the report, the panel recommended five changes: adding windows to each bedroom suite and to as many bedrooms as possible, increasing bedroom size, reducing building mass and population density and supplying each suite with kitchenette devices.
The 2010 Long Range Development Plan — an agreement reached between UCSB and local governments — dictates the development of campus expansion. The plan includes an agreement that UCSB must add 5,000 undergraduate beds by 2025. Approximately 1,500 have been added thus far, with Munger Hall’s 3,500 beds expected by UCSB to fulfill the remaining requirement.
The panel, however, concluded that it’s unlikely the university will be able to provide its 3,500-bed requirement with this building alone and that Munger Hall “violates multiple plans and policies articulated in the 2010 LRDP,” including building and parking requirements.
The report said UCSB would need to amend the 2010 LRDP for Munger Hall to meet its requirements — repealing height restrictions, limits on building gross allowable square footage, reducing the environmentally sensitive habitat area buffer and reducing minimum parking requirements.
UCSB would also need to formally replace the existing planned development of “200 faculty, staff, and/or family housing on that site,” included in the LRDP as a part of the university’s now-scrapped plans to construct traditional student and staff apartments on the site.
The panel took issue with a lack of transparency in the early stages of the project leading up to its announcement. UCSB administration unveiled the dormitory’s design to the public on July 27, 2021 — the first time community members, county agencies and elected officials were made aware of plans for the project, which by then was well over five years in the making.
The university’s initial announcement was met with strong community backlash. Hundreds of students marched in protest of the proposed dormitory and county officials, and elected leaders voiced concerns with the project.
No mention of changes to the planned artificial windows in student bedrooms — the single biggest point of ire voiced by opponents of the project — was given in the Munger Hall project team’s response letter.
“The recommendations in the report offered by our campus experts and the feedback we have received across the campus community these past several months – both positive and critical – are essential to the ongoing planning process as the campus works to create housing options where generations of UC Santa Barbara students can thrive for decades to come,” the letter read.
Prior to the project team’s response, it had been announced that two residential floors and 1,000 bedspaces had been cut from the project — which once stood at 11 stories — due to the Federal Aviation Administration disallowing a building of such a height at the proposed site.
The panel operated with an incomplete knowledge of how the proposed dorm will be funded, leaving it unable to draw conclusions related to the dorm’s construction costs.
The dining situation in the dorm — which would see sets of 63 students all share a single kitchen area — is viewed by the panel as “unworkable due to mess, food theft, dish and cookware removal, crowding, and social pressures.”
Over a month after the report was delivered to Yang, the chancellor responded with a Dec. 19 letter to the Executive Council of the Academic Senate, thanking the panel for its work and committing to further engagement with the campus community on the project.
“Our campus community is extremely grateful to the Munger Hall review panel for their diligence, commitment, and hard work in conducting an extensive review of the Munger Hall residence project,” Yang wrote in the response letter. “I have asked the project team to conduct a thorough review of the report recommendations.”