The University Record, March 14, 1994

Hartford hopes to expand living-learning communities

By Mary Jo Frank

Residence halls are loud and energetic places where a lot of intellectual pursuits happen—often after midnight, observes Vice President for Student Affairs Maureen A. Hartford.

Speaking to LS&A faculty last Monday about how residence halls relate to the University’s academic mission, Hartford said students who appear to enjoy the richest intellectual experiences outside of class are the 1,000 or so who are part of such living-learning communities as the Residential College, the Pilot Program, the 21st Century Program, and Women in Math and Science.

Hartford hopes that by fall 1996 living-learning communities will be available for all of the almost 10,000 students who live in residence halls.

That is one of the recommendations expected to come from the Task Force on the First-Year Experience, reported Hartford, a task force member.

Acknowledging the 1996 deadline would impose a tight time frame in which to work, Hartford said the Office of Student Affairs hopes to learn what works in existing living-learning community programs and incorporate those elements into an expanded program.

One possibility is to have each residence hall focus on a theme that could be addressed by students from multiple disciplines. Possible themes include the environment, performing arts, community service or issues facing urban communities.

A key to creating and sustaining a University filled with living-learning communities will be faculty involvement, Hartford said.

Although he likes the idea of residence halls organized by themes, Department of English Chair Robert A. Weisbuch said students have told him they prefer living with students with a variety of intellectual interests.

Hartford agreed that putting all English majors or all College of Engineering students together would not be desirable.

Residential College Director Herbert J. Eagle said the Residential College has a diverse mix of concentrators. He suggested clustering varied interests with some kind of minimal thread of connection.

The Residential College is a four-year experience, in which students are required to live in East Quadrangle for two years. Eagle says he thinks any proposed new living-learning program should include opportunities that last longer than one year.

The University is constrained when it comes to offering multiple-year living-learning programs to all students because the residence halls can accommodate only 10,000 students, said Hartford, who described some of the University’s residence halls as “fairly dreadful facilities.”

She cited South Quadrangle, which houses 1,361 students, and Bursley and Markley as being too large. Living-learning communities within the large residence halls could provide students smaller groups to which they can relate to intellectually, according to Hartford.

Honors Program Director Ruth S. Scodel noted that 200 students—or about one-half of LS&A’s Honors students—chose to live in Honors housing. She predicted that the University could lose good students who would not want to be forced into a living-learning community.

Hartford said one of the challenges facing the University is to offer enough choices to appeal to a variety of students.

Hartford also talked about residence hall libraries, cable television and residence hall staff training:

  • Libraries in the residence halls, staffed by library science students, is a wonderful concept. Hartford would like to see the role of residence hall libraries expanded so they become access points to the information superhighway.

  • Installation of cable lines in residence halls should mean more than watching music videos for 24 hours a day on MTV. Hartford explained that plans call for four U-M cable stations. LS&A, Intercollegiate Athletics, the School of Music and Student Affairs each would control one station.

  • Housing Division hires a large number of students to work as paraprofessionals, as resident assistants and directors, Hartford noted. Hartford would like to see more staff training, including Department of Psychology courses, provided to these paraprofessionals.