October 1, 2001

University Residential Plans Move Forward

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Early last Saturday morning, members of the West Campus Council Conference gathered at Robert Purcell Union to discuss the progress made towards Cornell’s new housing system.

The project has been in the works more than five years ago, when the first policy statement was submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval. Since that time, the committee has made much more advancement on their vision.

“Indeed, today we are heading down the pathway we envisioned in 1996,” said Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student affairs.

The vision includes renewing and revitalizing Cornell’s commitment to undergraduates. To do this, West Campus will be remodeled into a house system for 2,000 upper class students.

The architectural firm of Kieran Timberlake Associates has been hired to complete the project by 2010.

Part of the vision, which became a reality this semester, included housing all freshmen on North Campus in order to help them develop a sense of togetherness as a class.

“North Campus was a starting point,” Murphy said. “One month ago we opened on time and on budget with 550 new beds, a new community commons seating over 600, and an opportunity for all freshmen to live together and see they are part of something greater than the 20 students they live with.”

According to Murphy, the more difficult task was finding a way to transform West Campus into an attractive environment for upper class students.

“It’s important to have an option to stay on campus,” said Dan Grossman grad a member of the West Campus Council Conference. “It shouldn’t be a last resort. It should be cool and different and not an absence of everything else.”

Grossman spent his undergraduate years at Rice University, where there is only one housing system.

Grossman’s perspective provided the committee with fresh ideas and helped incorporate ways to “hand students the key to their own freedom” and allow them to feel like they “own their space,” Grossman said.

Also holding seats on the committee are representatives from Yale University, Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania to provide insight into how the housing systems function at their schools.

“I’m glad to see that Cornell is taking the time to research its initiative by working with universities who have already implemented these programs so we can see their pros and cons,” said student-elected trustee Khary Barnes ’02.

“I think this was a worthwhile conference,” said Jean Reese, residential initiative project leader. “It was timed just right because we have begun to develop specific ideas for the houses. The other schools differ from Cornell in that some have requirements for housing but there were a lot of commonalties that we can all benefit from.”

The plans for the house system on West Campus include five “houses” to be named after deceased Cornell faculty. Out of the 350 students living in each house, the University hopes to achieve a mix of 75 percent sophomores, 15 percent juniors and 10 percent seniors.

According to government Prof. Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education and council chair, when the sophomores living in the new residential communities move off campus, they will remain affiliates of the house be invited to return for meals and other functions.

The new living quarters will be presided over by Cornell faculty, have an assistant dean to supervise administrative functions and house teaching sessions in seminar rooms for large lecture classes.

Graduate students will live in the houses as resident advisors and a guest suite will house visitors. In addition, each center will have its own dining facilities and recreational area.

According to Kramnick, the reason Cornell undertook this initiative was to “enhance the intellectual mission of the university in general,” Kramnick said.

“This residential initiative is the single most important way to enhance the advising of students,” said Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin. “We need to provide more forms of intellectual exchange [between faculty and students], while simultaneously bringing faculty together to get familiar with each others’ work.”

In order to help bring this dream to reality, Martin herself plans to teach a class next semester.

“The residential community is made up of many different communities,” said Murphy. “It is important to remember that because each part is critical, but it is also important to think about the Cornell community.”

According to Murphy, the initiative is an attempt to build a dynamic program that will link faculty with students in order to balance the broad Cornell community against its individual parts.

Cornell is also looking to refine its Greek system and make it come alive once again as a more attractive housing option.

“We are undertaking an effort to bring the reality and values [of the Greek system] back together again through a formal assessment process of each house each year,” she said.

According to Kramnick, the demand for improved student housing has increased since the late 1980s.

“Our peer institutions have all recognized the importance of residential life in attracting the best students,” Kramnick said.

Archived article by Rachel Einschlag