The University of Connecticut eliminated its program that monitored off-campus student behavior this summer due to budget cuts. This left Mansfield residents to deal with the “mayhem” of student parties without help from UConn administrators, according to member of the Town/University Relations Committee, Dale Rose.
Over the summer, UConn quietly pulled the “Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services” (OCCSS) program and replaced the department’s staff with a website of rental listings and resources for students.
During a Town/University Relations Committee Meeting over Zoom on Aug. 8, the 11-year director of the OCCSS, John Armstrong, officially announced the department’s closing.
“Last fall of 2022, I lost two professional staff. In the spring of 2023, we had to rehire a bunch of staff…. budget cuts struck pretty hard at the university, and we were unable to fill these two vacancies. [This] led us to come to the difficult decision to … no longer continue with this program,” said Armstrong.
The OCCSS was established in 2007, two years after UConn’s off-campus housing database was created. Under the Frequently Asked Question section of the Off-Campus Housing website, it described its housing as “surround[ing] the University” and “owned and operated by independent landlords or property management companies.” Most available off-campus housing options are single-family homes next to everyday residents of Mansfield.
The decision to dissolve the OCCSS shocked many on the Town/University Relations Committee, including Citizen Representative Dale Rose.
“Frankly, it was a low blow,” said Rose during a phone call interview.
Rose, a resident of Mansfield, described the drastic effects of the program’s closure. During the first five weeks of the Fall 2023 semester, Rose said he’s seen a major increase in student parties: cars parked up and down residential neighborhoods, drinking games continuing long into the night and drunken students walking across residents’ lawns. Rose said it’s gotten to the point that he’s asked neighbors to keep personal logs of how many times they called the police.
“Our neighborhoods are going back to mayhem,” Rose said.
Mansfield Town Manager Ryan J. Aylesworth voiced his own concern over the program’s closure. Aylesworth described the positive impact the OCCSS had on the community of Mansfield, including the hands-on work Armstong did to build relationships between State Police Troop C and students. According to Aylesworth, Armstrong helped troopers identify student housing and initiate interactions between the two parties.
Since students live off-campus, the UConn Police Department has no authority over disciplining students for throwing big parties or violating town ordinances.
“In Mansfield, the CT State Police have primary jurisdiction for investigating any incidents. Occasionally we assist or respond initially if we happen to be closer to a particular incident. Most commonly, the State Police will respond and address any issues in the Town of Mansfield,” wrote Captain Justin Gilbert of UConn PD in an email.
According to two Patch articles titled “Troop C Log: The Latest CT State Police Arrests,” and
“Troop C Log: The Latest Arrests made by Connecticut State Police,” written by Chris Dehnel on Sept. 6 and 26, no one has been arrested in Mansfield for violating town nuisance ordinances over the past month, but Rose insists the number of calls to police has surged.
UConn Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz claims problems between off-campus students and residents have decreased.
“For a number of years, one of the major issues was student conduct off campus in Mansfield, meaning large parties that disrupted neighborhoods,” wrote Reitz in an email, “These issues have diminished in recent years, while other issues, such as housing insecurity and food insecurity among our students have risen.”
Rose fought back against the claim that the need for the OCCSS has “diminished.” “We no longer have a mediator,” said Rose, “[Armstrong] helped find positive ways of working with students and residents.”
While the OCCSS has ended, UConn continues its referral system for off-campus student parties. The Office of Student Affairs has an online form where residents of Mansfield can report unruly student behavior. Reitz said that there are four major sanctions for violating the Student Code of Conduct: Warning, University Probation, University Suspension or University Expulsion.
“Academic consequences drastically exceed anything a police officer would do,” said Aylesworth.
Since the OCCSS’s closing, the referral process remains the same. Still, there is no person to mediate or directly talk to students and residents about referrals, said Armstrong in the Town/University Relations Committee Meeting.
When directly asked how many off-campus party referrals are typically seen within a year, neither Reitz nor Armstrong provided a number. Reitz also declined to talk about “specific cases” due to federal student privacy laws.
Although UConn eliminated the OCCSS, Reitz claimed the University’s approach to off-campus housing is “at the beginning of that process, not the end.”
“The Provost’s Office and the UConn Division of Student Life and Enrollment will develop new strategies and approaches to meet the needs of off-campus students and related issues in the communities where they live,” wrote Reitz.
The Off-Campus Housing website maintains Mansfield nuisance and town ordinances.
Aylesworth described the choice to pull the OCCSS as “immediate,” and gave Mansfield little time to react. While Aylesworth is disappointed with UConn’s decision, he remains hopeful.
“We want students and residents to have a good chance at living together. We are aware of the residents’ concerns, and we are optimistic that UConn will reverse their decision,” said Aylesworth.
“If you were living in Mansfield neighborhoods, you would reconsider [this decision],” said Rose.
While Rose has witnessed more parties in neighborhoods throughout Mansfield, he is optimistic that experiences between residents and students can improve if UConn reinstates the OCCSS.
“I just want there to be harmony,” said Rose.