NY Times Profiles Cornell Residential Colleges

July 29, 2007

The New York Times published a piece today on the growing popularity of residential colleges around the country. It was given a clever title – The Residential Collage. Taking the center stage is none other than Cornell University’s own West Campus Residential Initiative.

It presented an interesting history of the project:

The West Campus Initiative at Cornell is emblematic of how residential life shapes a campus. It began under Hunter R. Rawlings III, the university’s president from 1995 to 2003. Mr. Rawlings arrived to find what he called “a divided campus.” The dorms then on West Campus, undistinguished buildings popularly known as U-halls, were located near many fraternity houses, and tended to attract white suburban students interested in a “pre-fraternity experience,” Mr. Rawlings says. Most minority students gravitated to the dorms on North Campus. Seeing an opportunity both to cross-pollinate the campus and to provide incoming students with greater supervision during their first year, Mr. Rawlings herded all the freshmen to North Campus. Then he embarked on the West Campus project, which he saw as a way of combating another tradition at Cornell — very hard work offset by very hard partying.

Missing from the article completely are Lehman and Skorton, but let’s not get distracted. It gets better:

“It had become clear that there was a 4:30 p.m. cutoff at the university, after which many students entered an intellect-free zone,” says Mr. Kramnick, who was named the first vice provost for undergraduate education in 2001. Cornell, he adds, prided itself on giving students independence in their choice of housing, “but for some students, better students who were looking for more intellectually oriented living arrangements, we didn’t have it.”

Also missing from the story are any real student opinions:

Indeed, interviews with a dozen students at Cornell would indicate that in loco amicus is thriving. They don’t think the West Campus houses have changed campus life – not yet – and most students see them not so much as a new learning philosophy as a snazzy new place to live.

Out of that dozen, only two make it into the article. Both were West Campus residents last semester.

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