Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My “Dream Sheet” for Improving On-Campus Residential Living



John N. Gardner
President
When I was in the military I was introduced to the concept of a “dream sheet”. This was a form one could complete and submit to request a “PCS”, “permanent change of station”—in other words a move to another duty station. I filled on out. Requested Lakenheath, Britain, Weisbaden, Germany, and Vietnam, in that order. Got Shaw AFB, Sumter, S.C. instead, and then/thus my wonderful career at the University of South Carolina. I believe in dream sheets.
So when one of my  readers asked me for some commentary on improving the undergraduate residential experience,  it made me think of a modified dream sheet—my wish list for kind of hall of residence I might want my grandchildren to live in. Here goes, and not in any order of priority:

  1. One in which there is faculty apartment and a faculty member and his/her family in residence. These are known as “residential colleges” which is not an oxymoron.
  2. One in which new students are not segregated with other new students and instead are fully integrated with older, wiser, students
  3. One in which new students may receive instruction in classroom space in the hall, in sections restricted to residents of the same hall.
  4. And ideally, one in which students participate in learning communities of at least two courses linked together
  5. And one in which students are registered for a first-year seminar with peers from the same residential complex.
  6. One in which the managers of the hall do not report to “Business Affairs” signaling that the institution does not view halls of residences as auxiliary revenue sources. And one that doesn’t even report to Student Affairs. No, I’d like to see the halls reporting to Academic Affairs, out of a central realization that more than anything else these halls are spaces where students have their most  powerful learning experiences.
  7. One in which the resident assistants are well trained and compensated. The most important form of compensation will be academic credit awarded for successfully completing a two term course that combines instruction in principles of leadership and group dynamics.
  8. One in which the RH staff are the first line of defense for suicide prevention and where no student goes unnoticed.
  9. And one in which the RH staff are selected out of a highly competitive process that uses academic merit, at least Dean’s List average, as the most heavily weighted criteria. Why would I want C+ students role modeling for my grandson?
  10. And one in which several nights a week the residents of each section (floor?) the RA’s gather the residents for the equivalent of what I experienced as a camp administrator in the summer of 1970 and was known as a “cabin chat”. Other than making camper safety the number one job priority for each of my ten counselors, their second highest priority was to devise engaging topics for the last required activity of the day: cabin chats, conducted nightly by the counselor. These reflective, soul searching “chats” were by far the most teachable moments for high impact camper development over the whole summer. We need more teachable moments in our residence halls.
  11. That my grandson does not live in what is currently termed “housing”. What a god awful name that doesn’t begin to even remotely suggest the power of the learning and development that goes on within the confines of these educational structures.
So, in conclusion, you say: “Dream on John”……?  I will.