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Volume CXXXIII, Number 10
November 21, 2003

Faculty questions role in College House system

A recent faculty meeting provided a forum for an intense discussion on faculty's role within the college house system-past, present, and future.

Faculty members-college house advisors and indirectly involved faculty-weighed up the current situation and questioned the role that they advisors play in the College House system.

This discussion, yet another episode in the ongoing dialogue about the function and the success of the College House system, revealed the less-exposed views regarding the houses-the views of faculty.

When the College House system was instituted six years ago in 1997, the system called for faculty involvement, though it did not detail the extent or method of the involvement.

The Commission on Residential Life's interim report-the report which recommended the implementation of the College House system in place of fraternities-said, "Some faculty will choose to develop identities with particular houses and drop in to participate in events, meet students, or share a meal." Currently, each house has a faculty advisor, and more informal interactions between Houses and faculty occur from time to time.

"I have been to a variety of dinners, faculty lectures, and I've met with House officers," Susan Tananbaum, Quinby House's advisor, said yesterday. She added that these interactions occur infrequently. "The total amount of activities I participate in [with Quinby House] doesn't amount to more than three or four things a year," Tananbaum said.

"Students say that they value these informal interactions with faculty, and they want more," Tananbaum said. "But we don't want to throw ourselves at students; we're not just going to walk in uninvited."

Indeed, the desire to be asked to participate in faculty/student situations was pervasive among many faculty members present at the meeting. "Many faculty members talked about the value of a personal invitation, as opposed to a mass email," Dean of Student Affairs Craig Bradley said.

While students say that they crave more informal interactions with faculty and faculty say they are willing to participate in the College House system to foster these exchanges, it seems that hard to initiate situations for informal faculty-student interaction. Professor Ann Kibbie described the difficulty in cultivating faculty-student interactions as a "dual reticence."

Professor Larry Simon said, "students would like to do it, faculty would like to do it, but it's hard to take that initiative and do it."

"It's challenging, it's a structural difficulty," Tananbaum said.

"Perhaps college house advisors can help facilitate that transition, and encourage these sorts of interactions," Simon said.

Simon suggested another difficulty for creating new forums for faculty and students to interact: "Sometimes I wonder, if students are really interested [in faculty-student activities], why is turnout so low? But it's just really hard. Everyone is so busy."

Tananbaum suggested that different types of activities might be one way to increase turnout. "We don't need to mimic what's done in the classroom," she said. I give enough lectures each week. More informal options, like sharing hobbies, thoughts on politics, and other intellectual experiences would be appropriate."

Marc Lucci, President of the Inter-House Council, shared his experiences in increasing faculty participation in the house system. "Helmreich has an event where they invite 10-15 faculty members for dinner; Howell has had professors over for lots of things."

On the possibilities for more House-faculty interactions, Lucci said: "The Houses are a good space-they are comfortable, and I think they have a lot of potential for good faculty events. Maybe the best thing would be to have a group of House faculty advisors and a group from the houses to sit down and brainstorm."

Bradley described the faculty meeting as a "brainstorming session." Perhaps a faculty-student "brainstorming session" is next.

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