Auction on College Crescent6 October 2016
On Monday 29 August, the Whitley College community’s biggest fear came true as we received news from the Council that our affectionately nicknamed ‘Donut’ had been sold not to Melbourne University, as we had wished, but to Global Student Accommodation, a for-profit international corporation.
The Council communicated via email details of the sale to the community. Notably, that Whitley College “will continue to operate in its current form as a Residential College of the University of Melbourne until the end of 2017”.
The Council was pleased that Global Student Accommodation “intends to retain the historic building known as the Donut”. However, given the Council’s track record of ambiguous promises, we as a community are far from pleased.
If you’ve walked past our funky exterior, you may know Whitley as ‘that ‘60s jail with palm trees’ or ‘that donut-looking place’. Whitley is by no means the largest, the most prestigious or the most well-known college, but it provides an invaluable community, particularly to rural and international students in need of a supportive base in a new home.
Margie Welsford, the College Warden, expressed her disappointment at the Council’s decision, accusing them of having “such little regard for the people who live and work here, the parents who trust their sons and daughters to the care of the college and those who have lived and worked and made their home here during the last 51 years”.
The Council’s most recent decision has followed a drawn-out process which started in September 2014 when members of the Council announced at a formal dinner their plans to cease the residential college’s function at the end of 2016. Olivia Stocks, 2015 President of Whitley, explains that they cited poor maintenance of infrastructure and the college “straying from the original vision” as the reasons for this decision.
Briana Ellis, former Secretary and senior student, remembers that the Council members only stayed briefly after the dinner.
“They did not see the full extent of reactions that occurred following their departure, with ex-residents from a range of years immediately rushing back to the college, joining staff and students to grieve.”
Only weeks after this announcement, the Council released another statement informing the community that discussions regarding the closure were in a state of temporary suspension. According to Stocks, “It was promised that the Council would meet further and keep the Residential College informed”.
However, this promise was not kept. Despite a meeting between the Council and members of several student leadership teams, the community was met with little information on the future of Whitley.
Just over a year later, in October 2015, the Council released a third statement, communicating their intent to find a new owner for the college. The Council specified that they were working to “achieve a preferred outcome: attracting a new owner who is intent on preserving the residential facility and giving recognition to its valued status within the community of University residential colleges”.
Our community clung to this information and with what now seems naïve enthusiasm, we celebrated this announcement over in Princes Park with glow sticks into the night.
Whitley and the Intercollegiate Council circulated a petition addressed to the Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the University of Melbourne, imploring them to take action and prevent Whitley’s closure. Despite the University’s interest, they were not the highest bidder. It seemed that the ‘preferred outcome’, at least for the Council, was based not on the continuation of Whitley as a residential college but rather on what they could get for the Donut.
Many students have decided to stay on for the final year, which will balance the likely small numbers of incoming students. As for the staff, our Residential Leadership Team will be looking for new positions and homes, as will our residential tutors. Administration, cleaning, IT and kitchen staff will be out of a job at 2017’s conclusion.
The night when we learned that Whitley had been sold also happened to be a 21st, which we always celebrate together. For the birthday boy, Caleb, Whitley has been a family affair. He’s the fourth sibling of his family to attend the college and his sister-in-law was a former President. As we all cried, intermittently stuffing cake in our mouths, we realised the tremendous impact this place has had on so many people and mourned for the experience that will be denied to future generations.
A person’s home is their castle. Its importance might not be understood by the world but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the family inside the castle. And if anyone thinks this family won’t keep fighting, they’re dreaming.