Guest policy murky

Ryan Brown, Managing Editor

Pitt-Johnstown’s overnight-visitor policy is about as strict as they come: all post-midnight guests – students and otherwise – are forbidden without exception.

Luckily for lovesick sweethearts and bored friends back home, it’s almost never applied. And, if stirrings in Student Senate are realized, it could be replaced as soon as next fall.

At least one housing official seems to agree the policy should be evaluated.

“It’s one of those policies you really can’t enforce,” veteran Resident Director Bridgette Dawson said. “How would I ever know if you have someone over?”

While the student Code of Conduct never mentions overnight visits, the housing contract – renewed annually and signed by all campus residents – states unequivocally that guests are prohibited from midnight to 6 a.m.

The ban on overnight guests is usually applied only when RAs receive complaints from roommates, Dawson said. If residents agree to admit a guest, housing staff turn a blind eye. In many cases, the RAs themselves admit to hosting friends and loved ones overnight.

And while the liberal stance on enforcement reduces paperwork, it opens the door to awkward roommate situations.

“A lot of people have their boyfriend or girlfriend over,” Dawson said. “That’s where some roommate conflicts come from.”

Other RAs recounted tales of lengthy sibling reunions, less-than-savory guests and friends staying on campus to save rent money.

Some long-term guests go  unnoticed by housing staff for weeks. Housing Director Mark Dougherty recalled a visitor who stayed in his girlfriend’s dorm four nights a week for a month; he was kicked out only when a roommate grew irritated and notified RAs.

“It finally affected her way of life so much that she came to us,” Dougherty said.

In cases of long-term residence, administrators have been pressed theft-of-service charges or demanded back payment based on nightly rates, hotel-style.

Dougherty said that there are rarely more than 10 serious visitor problems per year. But, without a clearly defined process to inform RAs of guests, some in Student Senate have contemplated a shift to a sign-in system common in many universities.

“It’s about accountability,” senator Christian Woo said of his proposal, now under development. “What I’m comparing it to is schools in Pittsburgh.”

At the Pitt-Oakland campus, for example, residence halls include a central desk where guests present ID and sign a time-stamped form. Overnight guests are allowed only if roommates consent, and visits are limited to three consecutive nights.

Woo developed the idea with former senator David Komoroski, who consulted RAs under the auspices of his judicial committee.

“I heard from some RAs that they’d like to know what’s happening in their buildings,” Woo said. “You’d sign a waiver. You’d be responsible for your own behavior.”

Woo hasn’t developed a serious proposal yet, but said he plans to consult Dougherty and other senators in coming days.

Dougherty said he’d be willing to discuss a reworked policy, but can’t act until its backers can address problems specific to the UPJ campus.

“I think there’s a lot of logistics to be worked out,” he said, citing residence halls’ comparatively small size and multiple entry points. “And we’d need to look into whether there’d be liability issues.”

Because housing contracts are revised between school sessions, even successful changes couldn’t be established until at least next fall.

“My feeling is that the policy has been ‘no overnight guests’ for a long time,” he said.

And some in housing and student government say there’s no reason to change the longstanding system. Marcus McGuire, a townhouse RA and senate vice president, said the current policy serves as effective by empowering housing officials to kick out the unruly and keep the well-behaved.

“I don’t think it should change,” McGuire said. “But I don’t think they should start enforcing it.

“We’re all adults here.”