Meet OSU’s New Head of Housing and Dining

larsonNew Blood
Oregon State University welcomed a new executive director of Housing and Dining Services last month, and we had a chance to speak with him. Dan Larson has worked with the university for 15 years (two as a graduate student), and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his new position.

With the construction of a new residence hall underway, and larger volumes of students requiring housing on campus due to the first year live-on policy that started this past fall, Larson has a lot on his plate, but he still plans to continue improvements to the student housing environment. UHDS will be focusing on “programs that promote retention and persistence, resident satisfaction and academic success. In addition, we will continue to make investments in our existing facilities, such as roof and window replacements, as well as interior upgrades,” according to Larson.

Healthy Food Availability
The dining programs at OSU were heavily criticized in our previous reporting (see: OSU Food: Why Hide the Healthy Stuff?) for a lack of healthy options available to students in the dining halls, as well as the department’s attempts to talk their way out of it without the aid of any real data. Previous executive director Rich Turnbull was interviewed for that piece and the results were damning, most notably his seeming inability to accurately quote the average price of apples, let alone be forthright about the reasons for food price disparities.

But now it appears Larson is taking a proactive approach towards increasing student education on healthier items, as well as working to increase dietary options on campus.

“Through labeling, education, and advertising, we are working to help our guests become more familiar with their food options on campus and the importance of healthy nutrition. We are developing new recipes and menus to cater to an increasing expectation for healthy options and dietary restrictions. In addition, we have begun planning a new restaurant offering that will be focused on local, organic cuisine that will also offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, which we intend on delivering by this next fall,” he says.

Where’s The Money?
Food issues aside, another problem Larson will be tackling is the cost of student housing at Oregon State University – something that is widely regarded as a huge problem. Costs are an average of $877 a month (including double and triple rooms), and that’s not even including the meal plan. For that kind of money, one could rent a sizable apartment elsewhere in town. As long as they aren’t a first year student, in which case that option doesn’t exist as of last year when policy was enacted that required those students to live on campus.

When questioned on costs, Larson indicated that the housing costs at OSU are mid-range compared to other PAC-12 schools, but stated that UHDS is “committed to access and affordability for OSU students.” He went on to explain that UHDS will “continue to review pricing models that offer choice of price and amenity, such as continuing to offer triple rooms that are significantly less than double rooms, while ensuring continued investments are made in support of our mission. Housing on campus includes a full dining program and residential education staffing designed to facilitate students’ transition to the university.”

It should be noted that UHDS does not receive state funding or student fees, it’s an auxiliary that supports itself from housing & dining fees alone to manage its budget, including facility renewal and service delivery.

Goals for Improvement
Larson has goals for his tenure that include encouraging a healthy community for students to live in.
“UHDS represents a community of deeply committed professionals and student leaders who are focused and dedicated on delivering programs and services with significant impacts on the student experience and success at OSU. UHDS will continue to focus on programs designed to enrich our resident’s university experience, deliver services that are responsive to customer needs, and invest in our buildings so our facilities are safe, healthy, and engaging,” Larson says.

In the past, reporting from this paper has often been critical of UHDS and a dissonance between its policies and student needs. Hopefully this new administrative appointment will allow UHDS to retain its mission and goals, while initiating changes in a positive direction for student needs.
We look forward to the improvements and will continue to monitor the new UHDS regime for results.

By Candy Smith

CORRECTION: A previous article in our Nov. 14 issue indicated that OSU’s first year live-on policy did not allow exceptions for veterans or non-traditional students; this is incorrect. The college does indeed allow for exceptions as this policy applies only to students who are full-time, first-year students who have enrolled at OSU within one year of high school graduation.