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Rawlings issues action plan for Cornell campus housing

Cornell President Hunter Rawlings today (Wednesday, Oct. 8, 1997) outlined a seven-point plan of action for campus residential housing that provides a unifying educational experience for new students, preserves most student choice in housing and continues the current range of housing options. Those housing options include traditional residence halls, program houses, cooperatives, fraternities and sororities and off-campus housing.

Under Rawlings' eagerly-awaited plan, all freshmen will be housed in residences on North Campus as soon as possible. West Campus and Collegetown will be reserved for sophomores, juniors, seniors and a few graduate students. New residential space will be constructed on North Campus, and West Campus will be renovated and improved. Rawlings' plan is a response to the final report of the Residential Communities Implementation Plan Steering Committee (RCSC) issued Sept. 29. That report offered a series of recommendations to improve the existing housing stock and community development programs but did not propose the alternative of housing all freshmen on North Campus.

Rawlings will present his plan to the Board of Trustees at its fall meeting in Ithaca on Oct. 18.

"In addition to a shortage of on-campus housing, Cornell has suffered from a division of its undergraduate student body between North Campus and West Campus (with a third, smaller component in Collegetown)," Rawlings said in his report. "Cornell's gorges are not simply geographical features; they have come to divide the student body socially, culturally, and, to some degree, even racially. . . . Since many students move off campus after the first year, their exposure to the very diversity that Cornell has worked to develop remains limited for their entire undergraduate career."

Rawlings noted in his report (available electronically at http://www.sas.cornell.edu/sas/rescomm) that residential housing has been a controversial topic on campus since Cornell's first president, Andrew D. White, initially opposed setting up dormitories on campus. Since 1966, Rawlings wrote, there have been at least 23 reports dealing with campus housing.

He also noted that despite the widespread interest and concern about campus housing, the university has never been able to provide on-campus housing to all its students. Last year Cornell housed only 41 percent of its students on-campus, compared with Harvard, at 97 percent; Princeton, 97 percent; and Stanford, 91 percent. Only the University of Michigan, among 16 peer institutions, housed a smaller percentage of its students on campus last year.

Rawlings thanked the students, faculty and staff on the 20-member committee "for developing a philosophical framework and a set of goals for the undergraduate experience." He noted that, "Like the RCSC, I am committed to promoting a learning and living environment in which students, faculty and staff respect one another and share values, including 'a belief in the value of education, a commitment to the use of evidence and sound reasoning in the framing of arguments and stating points of view, a commitment to our founder's beliefs that education should include the traditional liberal arts and the more specialized and applied areas of study, thus integrating theory and practice.' "

However, he wrote, the 22 specific recommendations the committee made to address residential issues "while helpful, are limited in scope and incremental in approach. I believe major changes are needed. The RCSC's recommendations, while helpful, do not go far enough. While I support the RCSC's recommendations for upgrading residence halls in order to make them more convenient for students and more conducive to studying, I do not think that they go far enough in fulfilling the Trustees' principle that 'the University has an important interest in assuring that freshmen have the widest possible exposure to the full range of intellectual, cultural, and social opportunities available at Cornell.' "

On the issue of race, Rawlings wrote that it has been a divisive issue at Cornell, as it is elsewhere. But, he added, "Race is more than a program house issue or a housing issue; it is an issue that emerges in classrooms, on playing fields, in service activities and in many aspects of campus life."

Rawlings also noted his regret that the final report had deleted its earlier reference to "promoting integration" across various lines and substituted instead an objective of "promoting meaningful interaction and connection across differences ..." Speaking to this issue, he wrote, "Integration, particularly racial and ethnic integration, I believe to be a major goal of this university, as it is in American society generally. I recognize that some individuals believe that integration implies or even necessarily entails assimilation of minorities into the majority population and the consequent loss of their identity. I believe that all members of the university have the ability and the responsibility to contribute to the shaping of our academic community, and that Cornell should encourage them to do so."

Rawlings wrote that in formulating his plan for residential housing, "I am committed to preserving, to the extent feasible, the freedom of choice that has been and continues to be important to students at Cornell, while also moving decisively to provide a unifying educational experience that will introduce new students to the breadth of the intellectual environment at Cornell and that will enable students to experience the full diversity of the freshman class."

His seven-point plan provides that:

 

  1. All freshmen will, as soon as possible, be housed on North Campus. West Campus and Collegetown will be reserved for sophomores, juniors, seniors and a few graduate students.

     

  2. The construction of new residential space on North Campus will be recommended to the Board of Trustees in order to fulfill its principle of guaranteeing on-campus housing for all freshmen, sophomores and transfer students who desire it.

     

  3. The living and learning environment on West Campus will be improved by making it architecturally and programmatically attractive to upperclass students.

     

  4. In order to accommodate all freshmen on North Campus and provide them with a high-quality first-year experience, every undergraduate residence hall on North Campus, including program houses, must house a substantial proportion of freshmen. The Office of Campus Life and program houses will decide whether to continue to offer housing to freshmen within the context of a general first-year experience. Freshmen may affiliate with but not reside in program houses that Campus Life and the program house agree should either remain on or move to West Campus.

     

  5. The January 1997 Fraternity and Sorority System Strategic Plan will be fully implemented. The plan calls for major changes in the Greek houses and in the way they relate to the academic community. These changes include having a faculty fellow associated with each chapter, co-sponsoring events with other student groups, and encouraging the development of appropriate social behavior and actions that are respectful of the individual, the Greek system and the Cornell community.

     

  6. This residential housing initiative should be fully implemented by 2001, when the new residential housing space should become available. Over the next three years, parts of the plan that do not require completion of new residential housing space will be phased in.

     

  7. Resources necessary to implement this comprehensive plan will not be drawn from other sectors of the university. The Office of Campus Life has always operated under its own separate enterprise budget, and it will continue to do so under this new plan through operating revenues and by securing additional resources from outside the university.

     

The full text of the plan is available in Adobe Acrobat format at http://www.sas.cornell.edu/sas/rescomm

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