November 11, 2003

Alice Cook House Set to Open in Fall 2004

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The Alice Cook House is scheduled to open for the Fall Semester of 2004 as the first stage of the West Campus Residential Initiative. Though most students are aware of the flurry of construction that is ever-present on the West Campus landscape, they may not know about the equally fast progress that is being made behind the scenes on the programming aspect of the WCRI.

“The spirit of the program is that there will be a lot of student leadership and involvement in bringing into the house what the students are interested in,” said Edna Dugan, assistant vice president for student and academic services and West Campus council co-chair.

The Alice Cook House will have space for about 360 students, who will live with about six graduate resident fellows and one House Dean. There will also be about 30 faculty fellows who do not live in the House, but have continual involvement there.

During the planning stages for the WCRI, Jean Reese, project leader, Residential Initiative, said, “We looked at what’s being done at Yale, Penn, Duke, the University of Chicago, Michigan and Harvard in thinking about our model for the WCRI. Many of those schools have an active presence of faculty in their housing programs, but some of them also have a four year requirement to live there. Cornell is different in that there is no requirement.”

Prof. Ross Brann, near eastern studies, who will be the first dean of the Alice Cook House, said, “We came up with a program that we think stays true to Cornell’s tradition of egalitarian values and choice for students. We’re expanding the choices available to students after the first year to create a living-learning environment that would be faculty led and student run.”

“We’re building something that will extend beyond the campus setting. This seemed to be a natural extension of work that I’ve been doing on campus since I came here. I’ve been involved with lots of students groups as chair of my department. It seemed to be a way of expanding that commitment from academic work on campus to a living-learning committee,” Brann said.

The remainder of the Alice Cook House staff will be chosen during the rest of the academic year. “We have received applications for assistant dean positions, but we haven’t started a search committee for that position yet,” Reese said.

The last day for graduate students to apply to be graduate resident fellows was yesterday. “Those [positions] will be decided in December,” Reese explained.

“The graduate resident fellows will be working with undergraduate students to be somewhat mentioning positions from their places in the law school, the business school, or Ph.D. programs — so that undergraduates who are interested in those programs can approach them in a small community environment to learn more about those career paths,” Dugan said.

“They will also work with undergraduates to do programming in the house. Undergraduates could partner with the graduate residents to bring in programming — for example, a play or film where the graduate resident has better contacts or expertise than the undergraduate,” she added.

“The predominant interests of the houses will be determined by the residents. We hope that there will be a wide variety of student interests, so that if a group of students wants to put on a play, they’ll have the facilities to do that; and if they want to start a stock-picking club, they can work with a Johnson School student to do that,” Dugan said.

Though the house dean and the graduate resident fellows will hold leadership roles in the Alice Cook House, the governing structure of the House is designed to be student-led. “We’re hoping that very early in the year a house council will be established to get things underway, and so that the house will be largely student-run,” Reese said.

A feature of the house that will change the manner in which visiting speakers or guest professors interact with students is the guest apartment that will be in each of the new houses. “When Janet Reno is visiting Cornell the next time, or John Cleese or Jane Goodall — instead of staying at a hotel, they will be living at Cook House, at the guest suite. They will, at breakfast time, pop into the dining room for a cup of coffee and sit with students,” said Issac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate affairs.

“The new model is that when they are here for a week they come to dinner and sit with students spontaneously, not prearranged — because John Cleese rolls out of bed at 8:30 [a.m.] and sits with some students who are talking about the news yesterday, not about the lecture he just gave. That’s emblematic of what the house represents,” Kramnick added.

Kramnick believes the biggest change the House system will bring is to affect the way students and faculty view one another. “Every faculty member at Cornell knows the sadness of the senior in the fall of their senior year, coming to me, and saying, ‘Professor Kramnick, you don’t know me very well, but I was in this class of yours, and I need two professors to write me a letter of recommendation for … some school or program. I know you don’t know me very well, but could you write me this letter?’ My hope is that by 2010, nobody who has been through the house system will have to go through that again. When they come to the fall of their senior year there will be at least one professor in their major field who can write them that letter.”

Kramnick hopes that this relationship will be developed gradually through the house system. Students and faculty will be able to see each other outside the academic setting.

“Cornell students are wonderfully bright, energetic people who bring dimensions utterly unrelated to the classrooms. Faculty will understand who they’re dealing with — their creativity, their thoughtfulness