Students at American University are protesting a plan to convert a dormitory into an international living center, with academic, cultural and social programs for American and foreign students.
The university now uses one floor in another dormitory as an international floor for foreign students.The new proposal calls for expanding that project into an international living center at Leonard Hall, combining sleeping quarters with a program that would include guest speakers, language training laboratories and other international activities.
According to the university plan, the center would remain open during vacations to provide housing for students from abroad. The center would be occupied by about 40 percent foreign and 60 percent American students.
Leonard Hall now houses 350 undergraduates. More than 200 of them crowded into the South Lounge of the dormitory last Thursday to protest the plan.
The students' protest and the university's announcement of the plan came about three weeks before the students draw lots for housing for the 1979-1980 academic year.
Under the university's original proposal, the dorm's top two floors would be converted for use by the international center in the 1979-80 academic year. Eventually, all of Leonard Hall would be used for the center, by converting it on a floor-to-floor basis.
But after listening to more than four hours of student arguments last week, school officials came up with a compromise-pending approval by university Provost Richard Berendzen-that would effect only one floor in the next academic year.
Under the compromise, only the eighth floor would house international living center participants. Gradually as non-center students leave Leonard Hall, other students interested in joining the program would take their place, said R. Bruce Poynter, assistant provost for student life.
But even the compromise seems bound for student disapproval, Poynter said. Leonard Hall was chosen because it would be the cheapest dorm to keep open year-round. The plan also would change the dorm's co-ed composition. Men and women now live on alternate floors; under the new plan, men and women would live on each floor.
Students claimed the international center would destroy the community of the dormitory.
Craig Fetteroff contended the proposal would destroy that closeness.
"The rights of the majority of students here should not be ignored," he said. "We pay $7,000 a year to attend this school." Fetteroff's comments drew aloud applause from the students.
Students also said an international living center would "ghettoize" foreign students.
Iranian student Sajjod Ahrabi agreed. Foreign students have enough difficulty learning English, he said. Placing them in an environment with other foreign students would make it even more difficult to pick up language skiss and learn about American culture.
The plan would also violate students' "squatters rights" some members of the audience said. Traditionally, if a student lives in a dormitory room for one year, he or she has the privilege of staying there the following year.
But Poynter said the university has made "no commitment that anyone has the God-given right to the same room year after year."
The students contended that the plan places the future needs of foreign students ahead of the needs of current undergraduates.
"The priorities of the univerisity are screwed up, making leaps and bounds in new programs for foreign students here," said Pattie Preztunik, newly elected president of the Student Confederation.
But according to Poynter, the survival of American University hinges on developing "creative academic programs, such as the intenational dormitory, worthy of attracting new students."
Poynter said he expects the present foreign student population, which makes up 13 percent of the undergraduate enrollment of 5,000 to grow to 20 percent of the undergraduate enrollment over the next 15 to 20 years. Converting Leonard Ahll into an international living center would accommodate the needs of those foreign students, he said.