President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Four-Year Residential College Program Planning
October 23, 2002
One of Princeton’s most distinctive characteristics is its closely knit and integrated residential community. All freshmen and sophomores, and all but a handful of juniors and seniors, live on campus, and within the next year or two more than 75 percent of our graduate students will be living in University housing. Our faculty are encouraged to live close to campus through mortgage programs with geographic boundaries. We view the residential experience as a central element of our educational program.
Both anecdotal and systematically collected evidence tell us that while our current arrangements for residential life work very well for many students, they do not work well in all respects or for all students. We know that freshmen and sophomores, for example, give very high marks to the residential college system but would like additional opportunities to interact in residential settings with juniors and seniors. We know that some percentage of juniors and seniors (we believe about 25 percent) are very pleased with the current arrangements for upperclass residential life, but that a comparable percentage expresses deep dissatisfaction with the two options currently available, membership in an eating club or independent living. Most of our juniors and seniors fall someplace in the middle: they manage well enough under the current arrangements, but they would be interested in additional options for enriching their residential experience. The Frist Campus Center was one response to these concerns, and its enormous success demonstrates how much it was needed.
Finally, we know that an even higher percentage of graduate students is interested in University housing and that some significant number of graduate students would like to be more fully engaged in campus life. We are about to construct several hundred additional units of graduate student housing near the Lawrence apartments and we undoubtedly will be adding additional housing at other locations in the future.
The expansion of the undergraduate student body and the creation of Whitman College present rare opportunities to improve residential life for many of our students. Last spring, the Trustees decided that Whitman and two of the five existing residential colleges would be four-year colleges and that each of the four-year colleges (Whitman, Mathey, Butler) would be paired with one of the three remaining two-year colleges (Forbes, Rockefeller, Wilson). Last semester Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel and Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson convened a committee made up of students, faculty and staff to consider how this system should work. The committee’s report, presented to the Trustees in September and available on the Web, recommends a variety of ways in which this kind of system could dramatically improve the quality of residential life at Princeton.
The committee envisions residence in the colleges for some juniors and seniors and some graduate students, and continued affiliation with a college for all undergraduates (either the college they entered as a freshman or one to which they would move after sophomore year). This would permit better integration of freshmen and sophomores with juniors, seniors and graduate students; early exposure of underclass students to the distinctive features of upperclass intellectual life; increased opportunities for student leadership in the residential setting; development of an on-campus social life incorporating undergraduates from all four classes as well as graduate students; more effective interchange between students and faculty members; and enhanced advising and support for all undergraduates.
Affiliated upperclass students would continue to make their principal dining arrangements elsewhere, but would have a continuing relationship with college deans and directors of studies and access to college programs, facilities and a limited number of meals. Non-departmental academic advising, career counseling, and other advising activities would be centered in the colleges for all students.
The relationship of most upperclass students to a college is deliberately described in terms of affiliation rather than membership because the relationship is not exclusive and is a matter of individual choice. For these students the colleges would complement, not compete with, other places where they may eat and live. But for some cross-section of upperclass students, we believe that living in the four-year colleges would have exceptional appeal.
In general, each of the four-year colleges would house approximately 400 freshmen and sophomores, 100 juniors and seniors and 10 graduate students. Each will be paired with a two-year college that houses approximately 475 freshmen and sophomores. Entering freshmen will still be assigned randomly to one of the six colleges, and at the end of sophomore year each student will be able to choose whether to live in one of the three four-year colleges.
The committee offers specific proposals covering advising and staffing, housing, dining and programming to implement this new residential plan. I urge you to read the report, which is being discussed this fall with the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments, the Graduate InterClub Council, the Alumni Council’s Executive Committee, the Faculty and the Council of the Princeton University Community.
Early in the 20th century, reflecting on the success of Princeton’s new preceptorial system, Woodrow Wilson told the Trustees that “Our new methods of study require as their soil and indispensable environment a new social coordination. . . .” He thought it was important to bring together students of all four years in a residential community and to promote integration of the academic experience into residential life. The Princeton of the early 21st century is a far more diverse community, and one of our goals is to allow our students to derive the fullest possible educational benefit from their residential experiences. The Four-Year Residential College Program Planning Committee has provided us with an inspired blueprint to help achieve this goal.