Chapman University President Daniele Struppa (File Photo)

New Chapman head stuns community with revived plan to add students

September 2016

By Daniel Langhorne

Chapman University’s incoming president recently revived a proposal to add at least 2,000 students at its Orange campus over the next decade, angering Old Towne residents and community leaders.

In an interview aired on PBS SoCal, Chancellor Daniele Struppa said Chapman plans to ask Orange to raise its enrollment cap, even though community uproar over the same proposal convinced university officials to pause their application process and create the Neighborhood Advisory Committee in November 2015. Chapman has elbowroom to grow through its existing specific plan, which governs its growth and operations within the city. Approximately 7,900 students now attend the university. Per the specific plan, it is allowed to have up to 8,700. Struppa’s comments sparked a quick reaction from community leaders frustrated by the incoming president saying one thing to residents, and another to the press.

Say what?

“I was really surprised he was publicly saying all of that because nothing has been resolved with the neighborhood issues and growth issues,” Orange Councilman Mike Alvarez said. “What’s the point of the [Neighborhood Advisory Committee] if he’s going to make comments like this?”

The councilman was also troubled by Struppa’s announcement, in late July, that he would step down from leading the Neighborhood Advisory Committee because of his new position as president. He would designate Harold Hewitt, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Chapman, as its new chair.

“Daniele’s got to realize that he has to develop a relationship with the community like Jim [Doti] did,” Alvarez said. “He can’t send his surrogates to smooth things over. It’s not going to work.”

Chapman spokeswoman Mary Platt said Struppa’s interview with PBS was a meet-and-greet introductory talk, in which a wide variety of subjects was covered very quickly.

“Dr. Struppa mentioned student growth, but did not give a timeframe, and residents can be assured that any growth will take place only after the university carefully works with the City of Orange and our neighbor advisors,” Platt said. “Chapman is actively seeking to build more residence halls to house many more students on campus, and appreciates the support of our neighbors and the city in this endeavor.”

Missing the point

Similar comments made on social media by Platt were widely criticized by Chapman’s neighbors.

Jeff Frankel, preservation chair for the Old Towne Preservation Association, said it was inflammatory for Struppa to say that “probably a minority” of Orange residents don’t want Chapman to grow. “I’d like to be optimistic, but in light of Daniele’s interview and other interviews, you have to wonder what’s going on,” Frankel said.

After Struppa’s interview on PBS SoCal aired, some advisory committee members perceive that Chapman has not acted in good faith during the last nine months, while it discussed plans to construct new buildings, enroll more students and address neighbors’ grievances with partying students, Frankel added.

Brian Lochrie, founder of the Neighbors Say No campaign and an advisory committee member, said he appreciates everything Chapman is trying to do to address the problems that exist to-day. The leadership at Chapman seems to recognize the need for more student housing and consequences for bad student behavior, and appears to be working to ad-dress those issues, Lochrie said.

But Lochrie was also disappointed with Struppa’s comments last week.

“Chapman University is located in the center of a residential neighborhood, and packing an additional 2,000 students into family homes in our neighborhoods would be like throwing gasoline on a fire,” he said.

Failure to communicate

Confidence  in  the  committee was shaken earlier this summer when Orange Barrio Historical Society’s Robert Baca resigned from the committee, criticizing university officials for deflecting debate about the serious issues of Chapman’s acquisition of property and student housing.

Among topics the advisory committee tackled are the single-family homes occupied by Chapman students who often host late night parties where, in some cases, hundreds of students congregate. Struppa claimed that the majority of Chapman students “are very nice kids. When you have 8,000 students, even if one in a thousand is misbehaving, the impact is visible,” he said.

Chapman is considering making it mandatory for students to live on-campus for the first two years of college, Struppa explained. “If this were to happen, I would be willing to guarantee to you that the issue of party houses will essentially disappear, because we know, by experience, that students are at their most ex-citable in the first two years,” he said.

The university will ask Orange to approve the construction of a 400-bed residence hall on the parking lot next to the Villa Park Orchards Packing House at Palm Avenue and Cypress Street. The project could open as early as 2019 if it gets the council’s bless-ing.

On campus quarters

The Chapman Board of Trustees’ real estate committee is also considering a plan to demolish the older 140-bed Davis Hall, and replace it with a larger residence hall containing 540 beds.The successor to the city’s re-development agency also owns a piece of vacant land behind Panther Village, near Interstate 5 and Chapman Avenue. Hewitt said the university will aggressively pursue acquiring this property for future student housing, but development on the site is complicated by the presence of a water well.

Chapman’s goal is to house 50 percent of its undergraduate student population, said Jack Raubolt, vice president of community relations, according to minutes of the Neighborhood Advisory Committee. Some committee members, including Frankel and Lochrie, argue that this number is too low, and should be raised to 65 percent or higher.

As Chapman’s 13th presidential inauguration approaches on Sept. 30, the university faces intense criticism from many Old Towne Orange residents. It’s unclear what impact, if any, the events of the past couple of weeks will have on the city council’s willingness to green light Chapman’s plans for growth.

Alvarez noted that any specific plan amendment that proposes an increase in the student enrollment cap won’t get past the city council in this political climate.

“They way I see it, they don’t have the votes,” he said.