Close interaction with professors, strong living/learning communities, a sense of belonging, sophomores wanting to live in the residence halls. What does this describe? The report of the President’s Committee on the Undergraduate Experience that spells out two things: guidelines for improving the undergraduate experience and the already existing living/learning community of the Residential College.
To many students in the RC, the Undergraduate Report seemed like nothing new; the RC, since it’s founding in 1967, exemplifies one way to incorporate students into a strong community.
Concern has been raised though, that the University and the College of Literature, Science and Arts are singling out the RC for reform. While rumors of an RC hiring freeze are unfounded, many students apparently feel that, in the words of an RC junior, “The RC is like the ugly red-headed stepchild of LSA.”
But in the words of RC Director Tom Weisskopf, “The RC is treated like any other LSA unit.” While that is encouraging when it comes to hiring and funding issues, it is important that LSA administrators recognize that the RC is not like any other LSA unit. The RC should be treated differently, not because it needs special help, but because its exceptionalism can serve as a model to make the rest of the University a better place.
The RC prides itself on its uniqueness. Students live in East Quad through sophomore year. They receive written evaluations to supplement letter grades and have close relationships with their professors. Students are required to master a foreign language and are encouraged to study abroad. Artistic expression is stressed and interdisciplinary classes provide unique connections between academic fields. All these qualities combine to make the RC a worthwhile and unique University environment. However, they also make it easy for people to attach labels to RC students, categorizing them as hippies or freaks.
This stereotype may not be deserved, but the RC is definitely unusual and should take pride in its uniqueness and see it not as a sign of inferiority but instead as an honor. The RC is many of the things that the rest of the University is not. It should be viewed as a successful attempt at establishing an intellectual community that can be applied, in different degrees, to other living/learning communities.
Hopefully, University administrators realize and truly believe that the RC is a vital part of the University. Many RC professors and administrators clearly feel a dedication to the RC and go out of their way to make a comfortable and open learning environment. The University should ensure that it does not intend for the RC to become just another part of LSA. Inadequate representation in student and administrative bodies and recent changes like an introduction of letter grades encourage the fear among RC students that their college is slowly losing out to the homogenizing force of LSA.
But the RC is far from defeated. It continues to provide a working model of the strength of University communities and will do so into the future.