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Report calls for changes to undergraduate housing system

A task force report on undergraduate housing calls for fundamental changes to the system across the board, from housing configurations and assignments to staffing and academic support programs.

Provost Condoleezza Rice discussed the proposed changes at the Faculty Senate on Thursday, Nov. 13. The report was released earlier that day by Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education, who chaired the Task Force on Residential Programs and Student Housing for Undergraduates.

At the senate meeting, Rice also addressed faculty concerns regarding parking and the graduate student housing crunch. Parking will inevitably will have to move farther away from campus buildings, she said.

"We're going to have to get accustomed to systems that really do have cars out in more remote locations and then bring people in by people-movers or by bicycle or foot into the center of campus," said the provost, who added that members of the campus community should also refrain from parking in multiple locations on a given day.

Responding to senate discussion on the shortage of graduate student housing on campus, Rice said a group of administrators has been meeting since the summer to come up with short-term and long-term solutions to the problem.

Task force recommendations

Most of the task force's recommendations focus on ways to forge stronger links between the academic curriculum and residential life, Saldívarsaid.

"We say that we are a residential university and we also say that we have a residential education program," he said. "So the intent here is to really make residential life live up to what we would like it to be."

Proposed revisions include:

  • Creating a freshman/sophomore residential cluster.

  • Concentrating first-year students in residences with a "critical mass" of freshmen.

  • Adding more all-freshman houses to meet student demand.

  • Providing incentives and support structures to get more faculty to become resident fellows.

  • Differentiating residential programming to meet the special needs of underclass and upperclass students.

  • Simplifying the housing assignment process and the draw to make them more equitable.

The 16-member task force of faculty, staff, students and one member of the Board of Trustees held weekly meetings from December through June; conducted a student survey; sponsored several town hall meetings with students in the residences; and reviewed comparative information on housing and residential programs at other universities.

"The task force found that Stanford's undergraduate residential programs are not by any means in crisis," Rice told the members of the senate. "But it is a system that is more than 25 years old and it needs to be modified to respond to the significant curricular and other academic initiatives that have reshaped the undergraduate education at Stanford over the last several years."


Rice charged Saldívar and James Montoya, vice provost of student affairs, with evaluating, prioritizing and implementing the proposals. They will be supported by a team composed of faculty, students and staff from residential education, the housing office and undergraduate advising. Academic oversight will be provided by the Committee on Undergraduate Studies, through its standing subcommittee on residential education and advising.

"I want to stress that these recommendations are really, we think, quite exciting and potentially quite fundamental," Rice said, "but there's still a great deal of consultation and discussion that needs to go on in the university community about them before any of them would be actually implemented."

Housing configuration

Following the lead of Stanford Introductory Studies, which focuses on the first two years of undergraduate study, the task force has recommended a pilot program to test the feasibility of creating a college learning community for freshman and sophomores.

"The point is to mimic in the houses what we have done in the academic program," he said. "We have recommended the creation of two-class housing because those first two years offer a foundation for students that they can then use as a stepping-stone to the third and fourth years."

According to the task force report, the proposed freshman/sophomore "learning community" would be housed in a building or cluster of residences, such as those available in Sterling Quadrangle of Governor's Corner or in Lagunita Hall. The goal of this pilot program is to integrate learning in the classroom and in the dorm and to provide first- and second-year students with guidance to help them make optimal use of the pre-major years. The program could begin as early as next fall, Saldívar said.

Formalized links would exist with particular freshman and sophomore seminars and with the new Introduction to the Humanities course through weekly supplemental study group discussions. Other ideas include having residence-based, 1-unit mini-courses offered by faculty, service-learning courses offered in conjunction with the Haas Center for Public Service and freshman orientation courses offered by student affairs staff throughout the year.

This proposal is not without controversy, Saldívar said.

"Some students have felt that to keep sophomores with freshman in effect prolongs their adolescence of the year of initiation that freshman year represents and that the second year really should be a movement out into the upper class ranks," he said.

Another concern voiced by some students is the potential effect it could have on fraternities, sororities and the Row houses. "The task force understood that we are working with a system," Saldívar said. "When you tinker with one part of it, it can have effects all along the system. That's why we proposed a pilot program."

Other suggested revisions include adding more all-freshman housing to meet student demand, instituting an ongoing review of academic, ethnic and focus theme houses, and reconfiguring dorms as necessary to create more flexible study and seminar space.

Residential staffing

Several of the recommended changes to residential staffing are intended to attract more senior faculty to become Resident Fellows (RFs).

According to report, of the 33 RF positions currently available, only 12 are held by senior faculty; of the 31 residences housing freshman students in either all-freshman or four-class configurations, there are only five RF's who are senior faculty; and of the nine all-freshman houses, only two are currently staffed by RFs who are senior faculty.

The task force found that the low rate of faculty participation in the RF program at Stanford differs greatly from the situation of faculty in equivalent positions at other residential universities such as Harvard and Yale.

House "Masters" in these schools hold positions of great respect that are eagerly sought by senior faculty members, the report states. They live in spacious, "even sumptuous," living quarters and usually receive summer salaries, varying degrees of course relief or sabbatical credit, and substantial funds to support academic and intellectual programs in the residences.

Currently, RFs at Stanford receive the indirect benefit of housing and dining privileges in the dorms to compensate for their service. "In sum," the report concludes, "it is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that in contrast to the situations at other universities there are both direct and indirect disincentives for faculty to serve as Resident Fellows at Stanford."

To help remedy this situation, the task force has recommended that RF living quarters be reviewed and upgraded as necessary; that RFs be compensated for their work in the dorms with summer salary support and other incentives, such as sabbatical accrual credits and programmatic funds; and that a differentiated compensation structure be established to take into account the added responsibilities of being an RF in an all-freshman or freshman/sophomore residence.

Alterations to residential staffing are recommended to free RFs to concentrate on the scholarly aspects of residential education. The addition of graduate students or postdoctoral fellows as Resident Tutors, for example, could help relieve some of the crisis management that RFs currently handle, the report states.

Residential programming and advising

Another set of recommendations focuses on differentiating residential programming to meet the needs of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors.

One suggestion is developing a Residential Honors Program that would offer academic support in the residences to students engaged in honors research work.

On the advising front, assigning academic advising related to formal degree requirements to non-faculty academic advisers or professional staff is suggested so that faculty advisers can expand their role as mentors.


Marisa Cigarroa

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