40 years later, RC still epicenter of academic creativity
In 1967 enrollment at the University reached a record high as conflicts over the Vietnam War, the draft and civil rights spilled into crowded lecture halls across the campus.
Recognizing the need to respond to the turbulent times and create smaller classrooms within a large university, a group of faculty launched a bold experiment. They carved out the Residential College within LSA, selecting 200 students from a pool of 1,600. The RC became the University's first four-year living-learning community located in East Quad.
But unlike many experiments of the era that were blown away by the winds of change, the RC became an enduring epicenter of academic creativity. On Thursday, Oct. 18, the RC is launching a four-day celebration of its 40th anniversary with lectures, lunches and a circus.
"This is an opportunity to celebrate a unique and vibrant educational space for the liberal arts on this campus," says RC Director and history professor Charles Bright. "With hundreds of alumni returning for the weekend, we will have an opportunity to reconnect and reflect on four decades of accomplishments. In showcasing the careers of our graduates and their films, music, poetry, art and creativity, we also seek to reconnect with the original principles that have underwritten this innovative, experimental program."
From the beginning, boundaries between teachers and students were blurred and students were given a larger role in shaping their education. The interdisciplinary curriculum emphasized language and communication skills, creative arts and social activism. Students received written evaluations instead of grades until 2001.
Although the character of the RC has changed to meet the demands of today's students and enrollment has grown to about 1,000, the collaborative approach to education has remained a core principle.
"The Residential College's 40th anniversary is a chance to celebrate one of the best examples of living-learning education in the nation," says LSA Dean Terrence McDonald. "The RC is committed to undergraduate teaching, interdisciplinary scholarship and close collaboration between faculty and students. The design of the RC as a living-learning environment that immerses students in a creative exploration of multiple disciplines encourages a lifelong passion for learning and responsible engagement in the real world. Because of this vision, the RC is as relevant to today's generation of students as it was when it was founded in 1967."
Robert Linn, a junior at the RC studying urban planning, history and economics, is the third member of his family to attend the RC. His sister, Emily, who graduated in 1999, studied photography and art history. His brother, Andrew, who graduated last year, studied computer design.
"The RC allows students a greater degree of academic freedom to follow their passions," says Linn, president of the RC camera club and manager of the RC's Halfway Inn, a student café in the basement of East Quad. "It allows students to pursue nearly any field of study, while offering a diverse pool of classes and programs that supplement nearly any academic field."
Jeff Scott, a 1982 RC graduate who is now president and managing director of Campbell-Ewald, an advertising and marketing firm in Detroit, says the college provided a foundation for his life.
"At the RC, I learned to read, write and think critically, Scott says. " Everything since has hinged on that."
Katherine Hilboldt Farrell, a 1979 RC graduate and president of Katherine's Catering in Ann Arbor, appreciates the freedom.
"From music theory and performance to baking haiku pots in the courtyard, we were encouraged to find new talents and experience them with our peers," she says.
As part of the anniversary celebration the college has announced two gifts.
A $1 million donation from LSA alumnus Kenneth Keene and his wife Janet will fund the renovation of the RC theater that will be renamed The Keene Theater in recognition of the gift.
Professor emeritus Donald Brown, a co-founder of the RC and longtime professor of psychology, and his wife June, have donated $100,000 for need-based scholarships.
"We are not wealthy by any means but we do want others to have the chance to learn and experience what the RC has to offer," he says.
For a full listing of anniversary events open to the public go to www.rc.lsa.umich.edu/rc40.htm.