The University Record, September 17, 1996

Task force proposes expansion of living-learning programs

Classes in the Residential College sometimes meet outside, this one on the lawn and gardens of East Quadrangle.

Photo courtesy of University Housing

By Deborah Gilbert
News and Information Services


The Living-Learning Task Force, appointed in July 1995 by Maureen A. Hartford, vice president for student affairs, has proposed that the University add to its existing Living-Learning Programs, such as the Residential College and the 21st Century Program, to accommodate the entire freshman class, beginning in 1998.

The task force proposal also recommends that participation in the programs be voluntary. However, "the goal should be to develop and effectively articulate the value of the programs so that the `norm' at Michigan is to be a member of a living-learning community during one's freshman year," the proposal notes.

"The proposal is intriguing and we hope that it will spark considerable dialogue in the campus community," Hartford says. "We have been developing a number of programs in recent years to enhance the first-year experience. The Living-Learning Task Force proposal is an important component to consider in the overall context. Universities across the country---also grappling with improving undergraduate education---are watching as we engage in this discussion," she adds.

"Our general goal is to connect first-year students more directly to the excitement of what faculty are doing at Michigan," Hartford explains. "Typically, first-year students are not connected to an academic field or discipline, so faculty are not as likely to embrace first-year students---to bring them in and show them what a university and research are all about. Living-learning programs could accomplish that."

It won't be easy to implement the programs, she notes. "One challenge will be to engage a variety of faculty and staff, from both academic affairs and student affairs, who will establish partnerships and be in it for the long haul." Another will be to keep the programs cost-neutral.

"The combined program and facility recommendations have potential for greatly enhancing the undergraduate experience at the U-M," says William J. Zeller, director of housing and chair of the task force, who notes that the "divorce" between college students' academic and social lives has become a national concern in higher education.

"I think these programs have tremendous value," adds Robert E. Megginson, associate professor of mathematics and a member of the task force. "It is easy to get lost in your first semester on a campus of 36,000 students. New students will be able to meet other students with some similar interests right away.

"They also will be connected with the academic departments much more quickly ... I think students would enjoy these experiences and that the U-M could become a national leader in this regard very soon."

Despite the belief that living-learning programs would be highly advantageous for first-year students, the task force noted that some faculty and students have expressed concern that students who wanted to pursue independent interests might be hampered by being in a thematic program.

The recommendation that participation in the programs be voluntary rather than mandatory was made in response to that concern, Zeller says.

The task force suggested that 11 interdisciplinary thematic programs be offered in fall 1998. Each program would include staff from University Housing as well as faculty and staff from a range of schools, departments, offices and centers. About 20 percent of each living-learning community would be made up of returning upper-level students who would provide mentoring.

If established, each program would revolve around a unifying theme or experience and provide a stimulating intellectual environment that the report says encourages students "to explore ideological and personal differences" and form relationships with other community members and faculty.

All programs would be required to offer technology and study skills workshops and provide collaborative learning opportunities and study groups, as well as small classes and language tables.

In addition, the task force suggested that a "First-Year Community Center," which would include dining and socializing facilities for students on "the Hill," be developed in the area around Palmer Field. The vacated dining rooms in each residence hall would be converted to classrooms and program offices.

The proposal also suggests that the University explore constructing another dining center between South and West Quadrangles, which would serve the students in those halls and in Barbour-Newberry. The University also might consider building a new residence hall on the parking lot next to the Thompson Street parking structure, according to the report, which also would be served by the new dining center.

Students in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program took advantage of Recreational Sports' challenge ropes course to build community.

Photo courtesy of University Housing

Living-Learning Program themes under consideration

New Programs:


Invention and Creativity (Bursley Hall)


Society and Health (Couzens Hall)


Science and Mathematics (Mosher-Jordan Hall)


Gender and Leadership (Stockwell Hall)


Democracy and Diversity (South Quadrangle)

Existing Programs:


The Residential College (East Quadrangle)


Honors Program (Barbour-Newberry or Mosher-Jordan)


Women in Science and Engineering (Mosher-Jordan Hall)


The 21st Century Program (Mary Markley Hall)


Lloyd Hall Scholars Program, formerly the Pilot Program (Alice Lloyd Hall)


Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (half of Mosher-Jordan or both Barbour and Newberry halls)

The task force recommended that advisory boards for each program be appointed this academic year to consider and revise the proposed themes, if need be, and plan the curriculums and activities.