Duquesne University president apologizes for ‘libertine’ remark
Duquesne University President Charles Dougherty wrote an apology to students Friday amid a firestorm of criticism over his comments about the “libertine” lifestyles students pursue in off-campus housing.
Dougherty, who will retire in June after 15 years at the helm of the Catholic university, made his controversial comments at a town hall meeting with faculty members Tuesday. He attributed a 304-bed vacancy in campus residence halls this fall to the attraction off-campus housing holds for upperclassmen.
“They flout the state liquor laws, and they live a libertine lifestyle that is not allowed on campus,” Dougherty said.
“Libertine” is defined as someone who leads an immoral life and is mainly interested in sex.
The Duquesne Duke, the school’s student newspaper, called Dougherty’s comments “offensive and inaccurate.”
“The primary reason to move off campus is price. Price, price, price,” the newspaper editorialized.
Dougherty did not respond to a call for comment, but university spokeswoman Tammy Ewin said the president’s comments were taken out of context.
However, in a written apology to Student Government Association President John Foster on Friday, Dougherty took responsibility.
“I made the point that life off campus allows for greater access to alcohol, sometimes in violation of state law. It also allows for behaviors that we cannot accept on the campus of a Catholic university. We know these things from multiple reliable sources,” Dougherty wrote.
“I did not mean to imply that every student who moves off campus does so for these reasons or for either of them. I know this is not true. And I apologize to anyone who took my remarks to imply that I believe this.”
Students on the Uptown campus pointed out that room and board, which ranges from nearly $4,700 to $7,300 a semester, on top of tuition and fees ranging from $33,778 to $41,216 a year, is more than many can bear.
“It was really kind of a slap in the face. I lived on campus for three years, and I moved off for financial reasons,” Chloe Nosal said.
The 21-year-old senior from Greensburg said finding lower-cost housing in the South Side helped ease the financial burden on her family.
“You want to be proud of your university and you want to know that it is proud of you, but that doesn’t sound like it is the case,” Nosal said.
“I live off campus because it’s cheaper, not so I can have sex and drink alcohol every waking moment,” said Michael Conte, 20, a junior who lives in a South Side apartment with two friends.
Conte said he and his roommates each pay $500 a month in rent, “a small fraction” of what he would pay to live on campus.
“It’s more convenient to live on campus, but it’s also more expensive. I think the president is out of touch with students,” said Nick Santini, 20, a junior who lives in the 20-story Brottier Hall.
Many universities require freshmen to live on campus; Duquesne requires freshmen and sophomores to live in dormitories.
The university, which posted enrollment of 9,757 last fall — down from 9,984 in 2013 — has campus housing for 3,961 students, meaning there is room for less than half its students.
The jump in vacancies in university housing this fall happens just three years after Duquesne opened a $38 million, 380-bed suite-style residence hall. The university said it built the dorm in response to demand for on-campus housing among upperclassmen.
University spokesmen did not respond to inquiries about the loss of income because of the vacancies. But using figures from the lower end of the housing cost spectrum, where room and board is nearly $5,000 a semester, 304 empty beds could create a hole of $3 million a year in Duquesne’s budget.
Christopher Pujol, 21, a senior who grew up in New Kensington, was among those disappointed with Dougherty’s comments. Pujol said he took out loans to attend Duquesne. He cut his living costs by about half when he got an apartment with several friends, he said.
“The majority of us work and have internships. We’re just trying to get by and get an education. I think all of the students who live off campus should be a little angry. You can’t just take a word like ‘libertine’ and put it on a couple thousand people,” Pujol said.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Tom Fontaine contributed to this report.