Under the auspices of a grant from the Mellon Foundation, a group of faculty, students and administrators met during July/August 2003 to explore the idea of a residential house system at Franklin & Marshall. In addition to meetings on campus, the group visited “house systems” at the University of Pennsylvania, Union College and Middlebury College. They also toured the residence halls at F&M.
This report will not make the case for upgrading the quality or increasing the quantity of residential spaces on campus. We accept that the physical condition of our residence halls must be improved. We also agree that increasing the percentage of students living on campus is a desirable goal, and we know that goal will require the construction of new residential facilities. Rather, this report makes the case that these physical renovations and additions to our housing stock should take place as part of a transformation of our residential environment into a house system.
In the report that follows, we propose and explain the key design features of a house system at F&M, articulate the educational rationale for such a system and offer a transitional plan.
First, we state some key features of the house system we envision; some of these features are explained in detail below.
(1) There is significant involvement of the faculty as a whole and, as appropriate, of other college personnel.
(2) In most matters, each house community is governed by its students, with guidance from faculty and administrators.
(3) The goal of the house system is to support, in an integral fashion, the academic mission of the college.
(4) Each house is composed of members of all four classes, in proportion to their numbers among the residential student population.
(5) In order to achieve the purposes outlined, students will ordinarily retain their house affiliation throughout their four years at F&M. Students who move off-campus would retain their house affiliation and would be encouraged to participate in house activities.
(6) Offices that support the educational mission of the houses will be decentralized to the houses, whenever practical.
(7)The houses will be designed and organized to take advantage of mealtime as a way to enhance cohesion. They may also make use of existing dining facilities for house events. Houses will not, however, include comprehensive dining halls.
Limits of the Current System
At present, students, faculty, and administrators perceive broadly that an F&M education is a finite thing, with well-marked boundaries in both space and time. Students see learning as confined solely to classroom time and obligations. Once those obligations (such as studying for tests or writing papers) are satisfied, students seem to believe that they have fulfilled their requirements (for the day or the week or the semester) and that they can turn to other, unrelated pursuits. Students’ lives are divided nearly completely into non-overlapping classroom and social realms. Once a student has graduated, the four-year contract (and its list of obligations) with the college has been satisfied, and another stage in life begins. We use the word “obligations” very intentionally to characterize what we perceive to be the way students (and perhaps faculty as well) view academics here.
Such a pattern is the antithesis of what a residential liberal arts college should be and is an unrealistic model for students’ future lives as lifelong learners and as members of larger communities. This contractual view of education, we believe, is consistent with the detachment from the college we find in too many of our graduates. They have completed what is required and are relatively uninterested in an ongoing relationship with the college.
The current residential system lacks a seamless interface between life in the classroom and life in the student community outside the classroom. There is little recognition that academic and intellectual pursuits can infuse much of a student’s life and that our mission statement speaks to fostering life-long learning. Increasing competition from media, from computer-based entertainment (which is inherently isolating and individualistic), and from a social life increasingly centered off campus has reduced students’ participation in campus activities outside of their classroom obligations. Students’ voluntary attendance at public lectures and performances is low and decreasing. Students are missing the stimulation and networking that results from informal connections with visitors, alumni, guest speakers, and even from faculty, staff and administrators.
We fear, and suspect, that this situation particularly marginalizes our most intellectually engaged students. Based on information we gathered from visits to other campuses, we believe that a house system may serve those students better, may lessen their dissatisfaction, and may indeed move them from the margins to the center.
Benefits of Faculty Involvement in a House System
One of Franklin & Marshall’s greatest strengths, one that all groups mention without hesitation, is the bonds that form between students and faculty. The ability of our faculty to draw some students into mentoring relationships and the life of the mind has made a lasting impression on generations of our graduates. These opportunities, such as working as a Hackman scholar or taking an independent research course, are not experienced by all students and are more available in some disciplines than in others. Our experience with first-year seminars provides evidence of the value of integrating academic and residential programs under faculty guidance. This program has strengthened intellectual links among students and between students and faculty; links which persist outside the classroom and long after the course is over. We believe a house system, with significant faculty involvement, could deepen and broaden the tradition of such bonds.
One advantage of such a system is that it will enable faculty to do more of the things that they think are important and that come naturally to them. Currently, many of the faculty bemoan the fact that extra-curricular activities that include faculty are highly artificial (e.g. dealing cards at a “Casino Night”). Instead, a house system would allow faculty to meet informally with students in common rooms within their own residence halls, to give or to discuss lectures and performances, to hold book groups—in other words, to interact with students in ways that faculty interact with their peers. That is, we believe that a house system will make it easier and more natural for faculty and students to interact outside the classroom; this ease will not only increase the number of such interactions, but also increase the academic quality of such interactions.
A second advantage of including faculty in a house system is that it expands the classroom: the formal classroom becomes not the sole academic experience, but one of several complementary experiences. A house system creates an environment where students are immersed in learning (sometimes without being aware of it) so that learning becomes an ongoing process, integrated into many aspects of their experience. By expanding the academic environment spatially, we expand it temporally as well. A house system can be a powerful tool for drawing students into activities that add depth to their educations and for introducing them to individuals who stimulate and challenge their intellectual development and who may even open future career paths.
A third advantage, beyond purely academic concerns, is that faculty involvement increases social stability. As faculty affiliated with the house system create a family-like atmosphere, students will feel safer, be more connected to faculty members on a personal level, and have an increased appreciation for their living environment. These improvements should help minimize factors that can negatively impact academic and personal growth.
A fourth advantage relates more directly to faculty members. While the major benefit of a house system to faculty is that student learning will be enhanced, their direct contacts with students in the houses may provide opportunities to foster their own professional and personal development, given the variety of perspectives and experiences our students offer. Faculty often express keen interest in reports on characteristics and learning styles of contemporary students. Faculty members can serve as mentors and role models for new faculty on the college’s expectations for formal teaching and less formal education in the house system, complementing and balancing the guidance provided by the departments on teaching and scholarship.
We are all concerned about barriers on campus and in the residences: socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, etc. The presence of faculty members in a vibrant residential program can help remove such barriers, by bringing together students across different groups.
The house system can, we believe, be an important way to enhance connections between students and faculty (as well as administrators and staff). Such connections are highly valued by liberal arts colleges. Alexander Astin has provided evidence on benefits of such connections, although he did not specifically address residential houses. He found that the extent of student-faculty interaction had strong positive correlations with many outcomes, such as satisfaction with faculty, perception of a student-oriented faculty, quality of instruction, overall college experience, college GPA, enrollment in graduate or professional school, intellectual self-esteem, social activism, leadership, artistic inclination, commitment to promoting racial understanding, attending recitals or concerts, and choosing a career in college teaching. (Astin, A. What Matters in College? San Francisco. Jossey-Bass. pp. 383-4)
We seek to build on existing faculty involvement in the residential program. The house model also provides opportunities to expand the formal curricular links with the residential system, such as advanced courses taught in the house or something akin to the Harvard tutorial system.
We envision various levels of faculty involvement in the houses. Each house should be led by a faculty head (or, as is sometimes the case at other institutions, a couple serving as co-heads). Our committee is unanimous in the view that it is vital for the advancement of the educational mission of the houses that the residences of these faculty heads, located in or near their college house, contain high-quality social spaces where students and faculty can meet. We propose that all faculty be affiliated with a house (we refer to them as faculty fellows), with a reasonably uniform distribution by discipline (in parallel with random assignment of students to houses). Other personnel, such as librarians, coaches, and administrators, could also become affiliated with the houses. We can see advantages of including members of the Lancaster community and alumni in the group of fellows who participate in the ever-broadening educational mission of the houses.
An issue to be resolved is where the faculty head would live, although we do not envision this person living within the house. The location of the faculty head’s residence may change as the system evolves. The committee recommends that the College adopt a flexible approach on this question. Some faculty heads may live in college-owned housing while others may remain resident in their own houses near campus.
A vital role of the faculty head is to catalyze faculty, students, and other fellows to organize a wide variety of events in the common spaces of the houses, so that the houses become foci of intellectual activity on campus. Both programmatic and physical improvements are needed to accomplish this goal; the houses must contain the spaces for the events that will advance the goal of having intellectual pursuits permeate the residential program.
We have seen successful implementation of these efforts in our site visits. We learned that discussions in the residential context are both broader and more varied. In particular, students at Middlebury reported that they noticed and took advantage of the programming organized and promoted by the faculty head (in conjunction with other faculty). Fellows could give informal talks, or moderate a discussion with a guest speaker (invited expressly to the house and residing in special guest quarters, or following an all-campus presentation), or could be involved in film screenings. Faculty can gather with students majoring in a certain subject or with younger students interested in learning about a certain field. Each residential unit could develop its own program in the arts, with programming assistance from faculty and community artists. The stature of the arts on campus could be enhanced if there were opportunities for performances or exhibitions at the residential unit level. Facilities such as music practice rooms could be provided in the houses. Houses should have budgets for lectures and performances (as well as social events) organized by the students and fellows.
When faculty members are involved in students’ lives beyond the classroom, faculty members (according to people we met at Penn) become more approachable. Students are willing to invite faculty to dinner and to participate in residential programs in ways that support the academic mission through less formal contacts in the residential context.
In summary, we believe that a house system with substantial faculty involvement will create an environment in which students view learning as a continuous process, something integrated into many aspects of their experience. We envision that this system could encourage students to spend less time searching for a sense of belonging and more time finding intellectual, community, and cultural outlets for their energies. Faculty members’ natural impulse to analyze, probe, and ask questions and their skill at stimulating discussion can draw students into deeper intellectual engagement and create memorable experiences for students. And these encounters may help faculty members grow personally and professionally. This system could help achieve what we regard as a major unfulfilled part of our mission: having a residential environment that advances the college’s academic goals.
The house plan as we have outlined it depends on significant involvement by members of the faculty. The goal is to make the residential program an integral part of the academic program. Some faculty (such as the heads) will have very significant involvement, while others may have a more modest involvement (see next paragraph). The level of participation may change over the course of a faculty member’s career as his or her interests change.
As we have explained above, many small changes will help establish the role of the houses in the academic program and give faculty members a presence in the houses. For example, faculty can meet their first year seminars in classrooms in the houses, and could, if they wish, continue discussions while enjoying snacks or a meal with students. Advising meetings could take place in the house. Houses could host guest speakers suggested by various faculty members, either for their presentation or in a subsequent informal gathering.
We view faculty participation in the house system as an aspect of the teaching mission of the Faculty and the College. We believe that the current faculty rewards/evaluation system will need to evolve to recognize the type of faculty involvement that will be very important to the success of a house system.
We recommend that faculty who serve as the heads of houses teach one-half of a normal load over the course of their term. We recognize that there will be a significant impact on course offerings, and therefore propose that the department receive a full-time visiting faculty replacement, appointed for the duration of the head’s term (not year by year) and contingent on satisfactory performance. The department and the College will thus have a somewhat expanded teaching roster.
We are also concerned about whether the current system of faculty rewards provides enough incentive for involvement by a broad range of faculty, including the faculty fellows. For that reason, we ask that the Provost charge an appropriate committee of the Faculty to address this issue.
At the institutions we visited, the desire to decentralize student services was a major driving force in the establishment of a house system. Although the decentralization of certain student services may appear to be primarily an administrative matter, we believe that such a change can enhance students’ overall academic experience. It can help them become more informed and reflective decision makers. This change should also help break perceived barriers. For these reasons, we advocate that the house system lead also to a decentralized administrative structure.
Each house should have a dean and additional “generalist” student services personnel; they will assume many of the responsibilities of the Advisement Center. Because they will be responsible for only a few hundred students, these individuals will be able to make early contact with students to provide educational and career information and to provide referrals to the “specialist” personnel. They will be particularly able to provide the general guidance needed by first and second year students. A common thread in exit interviews is that Franklin & Marshall students wished they had learned about various opportunities earlier. By bringing the services and advising closer to the students, we believe these people will be an effective “early warning system”, able to address problems and get students to refocus their attention on their academic pursuits more quickly than at present. We suspect that a considerable amount of time is spent by our present highly specialized student support staff on rather general matters; with a house system we may find it appropriate to have more cross-trained generalists and fewer specialists.
Residential programs, on the other hand, will likely be reorganized into a model where each house operates with considerable autonomy. The house dean will serve in effect as the dean of housing for that residential unit. Each house would also have its own support staff, undergraduate resident advisers, and graduate interns. In turn, the house deans will function as part of the Office of the Dean of the College.
Since residential first year seminar advisers usually function as academic advisers for the first two years, and since these faculty members will be affiliated with a house, this part of the academic advising system will automatically be linked to the house system. In each house we imagine a very effective linkage between the faculty advisers and the dean. There should be further discussion of the desirability of connecting major advising of juniors and seniors to the house system through the faculty fellows affiliated with each house. We see exciting possibilities in decentralizing offices such as the Writing Center; each house could have its own writing tutors. In all these areas we see advantages in bringing the services closer to the students.
Residential programs should enable students to learn how to function as members of a self-governing community. Beyond the self-governance opportunities provided by a well-structured residential life system, a house system enables students to work with faculty on designing programs, budgeting, etc. This feature expands students’ social context beyond age peers to one that resembles the world in which they must ultimately function. Students will manage the houses, establish decision-making processes, distribute the resources of the house, and create codes of conduct. An increasing sense of personal responsibility to the house community should have a positive impact on students’ responsibility for their academic learning. Also, as role models, the upperclass students in each house (especially in a future system in which a larger number of juniors and seniors live on campus) can, by themselves and with fellows, help to pass on to younger students the intellectual and social values we profess.
We have decided not to recommend complete decentralization of dining services (i.e. full dining halls in each house). That model is neither attractive to students nor affordable. We do suggest, however, that attempts be made to develop dining opportunities within the houses. Examples might be a daily continental breakfast or an afternoon tea as well as catered events in the house or the residence of the faculty head.
Physical Features of a House System
We propose that the Franklin & Marshall house system be composed of five to seven houses with about 250 residents each. Students will join a house upon matriculation and generally spend all four years living in the same house. Students who move off-campus will retain their house affiliation and be encouraged to continue participation in house activities. We also recommend that the houses be composed of students with diverse interests and backgrounds because we view houses as places where students can form the kinds of personal bonds that allow them to break out of the cultural comfort zones to which many of them currently retreat.
We also recommend changes in the physical character of our residential facilities so as to facilitate better the social dynamics of the house system. In particular, we propose creating first-rate common spaces in each of the houses. These spaces should include a multi-purpose great room, a kitchen, a reading room, a high-tech seminar room, recreational areas, and a lounge for seniors, and offices for the faculty head, house deans, and related staff.
We also feel strongly that, over time, higher quality and more varied bedroom options must also be developed. Eventually, each house should include doubles, suites and apartment-style units.
We think that the following objectives should guide the design of a transition plan. First, we find the idea of a house system compelling and think that the College should move in that direction expeditiously. Second, we endorse the idea of increasing the percentage of students living on campus. Third, we think it is very important that physical improvements to any residence hall be implemented before we start referring to it as a house. Fourth, it would be desirable for an entire entering class to enter the house system simultaneously.
Satisfying these objectives simultaneously is problematic. The College will not be in a position to build a new house for several years. This fact means that creating common spaces in existing facilities immediately could reduce the number of beds available on campus and the percentage of students on campus. It will also be difficult to renovate enough facilities quickly enough to allow an entire entering class to enter the house system simultaneously.
We recommend the following transition plan, recognizing that as we proceed the details may require changing. The Franklin & Marshall house system should begin in Fall 2005 with the opening of the first two houses. These houses should open with completely renovated or newly built common spaces; a great room, kitchen, offices for the faculty head and house dean, a seminar room and bathrooms with more privacy are essential. At least two more housesshould open in Fall 2006 and all renovated houses should be complete by Fall 2007. We also recommend the construction of a new 250- bed house as soon as is practicable.
The Class of 2009 would be the first to enter the College as members of a house system. We propose that one-half of the Class of 2009 be assigned to the first two renovated houses in the fall of 2005. The second half of the Class of 2009 should be assigned to those residence halls targeted for renovation by Fall 2006, and those students should remain resident in the same buildings to which they were assigned initially.
We do not believe that a house should open with only first-year students in residence. Therefore, the houses that openFall 2005 need to have a combined capacity of at least 450-500 beds. Members of the Class of 2009 will occupy approximately one-half of those beds. Interested upper-class students should fill the remaining beds, with an emphasis on sophomores. By Fall 2006, the College will need enough beds in renovated houses to house the Classes of 2009 and 2010 as well as a number of upper-class students. To achieve 80 percent residentiality, somewhat more than 1400 on-campus beds will eventually be needed.
We believe that a house system will enable the College to enhance the liberal arts experience for more students by attracting them to live on campus for three or four years. In the end a house system it is an integral element of our plan to enhance the quality and intensity of the liberal arts experience.
This report was submitted by The Summer Working Group on a House System whose members included: David Brennan (Department of Economics), Annalisa Crannell (Department of Mathematics), Jon Enos (Associate Provost for Facilities Planning and Information Technologies), Jack Heller (Department of Psychology), Ryan Jones (Class of ‘06), Ryan Mehl (Department of Chemistry), Carl Pike (Department of Biology), Colette Shaw (Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Programs), Katherine Shea (Class of ‘04), Calvin Stubbins (Department of Physics), Ralph Taber (Associate Dean of the College and Dean of Students), and Kent Trachte (Dean of the College).