West Campus is officially complete

Aug. 21 may have seemed like just another Move-In Day. But with Flora Rose House opening its doors as the fifth and final house of the West Campus Residential Initiative, the day marked the official completion of West Campus, making it a singular moment in Cornell's history, said Isaac Kramnick, the Richard J. Schwartz Professor of Government.

"The West Campus Residential Initiative was the university's largest single capital expenditure program and the largest innovative program in undergraduate education since 1865," said Kramnick, who was an early advocate of the house concept and part of its planning since the early 1980s.

Although Rose House was completed last August, it served as a traditional dormitory last year. It now has a live-in house dean, full programming and about 30 affiliated professors. The five West Campus houses accommodate 1,800 upperclassmen with faculty, staff and graduate advisers in small communities that offer intellectual, cultural and social activities and foster peer leadership.

Shirley Samuels, professor of English and chair of the Department of History of Art, has been named dean of Rose House for a term ending June 2012. As residents of the newest house, she and the Rose students have the chance to build on the traditions and strategies developed by other houses, she said. "These include the opportunities to develop community-based classes and to reach across all segments of the Cornell population to include students in the idea of living and learning together."

The sense of community that Flora Rose House has already provided for Samuels and for her daughter Ruth is inspirational, she said. "It gives me great hope for the future of this university as a place of intellectual challenge, cultural diversity and compassionate engagement."

Each of the five houses bears the name of a prominent former Cornell faculty member. Alice Cook House opened in 2004; Carl Becker House in 2005; Hans Bethe House in 2007; William T. Keeton House in 2008; and Flora Rose in 2009. Adjacent to the houses is the new Noyes Community Recreational Center.

The $225 million building project was completed two years early and within budget.

The idea for the initiative bubbled up in the early 1980s, when some faculty members voiced concern that Cornell was losing potentially talented undergraduates to other schools that offered closer interaction between faculty and undergraduates, Kramnick said. "It was a combination of both the sense of needing smaller communities -- that a dining hall with 1,800 students did not lead to community -- and also wanting to provide for a more seamless relationship between the academic life and the academic purpose of the university."

The so-called Kramnick Report, advocating a house system for Cornell, came out in 1984. After years of study, in 1997, then-President Hunter Rawlings unveiled a sweeping seven-point plan to revamp campus housing. Point five outlined what would become the West Campus Residential Initiative. The $200 million project developed from its inception in 1998 to completion this year.

Although Kramnick is proud of the university's accomplishment, he has voiced concern about how West Campus will be shaped in the future. "Faculty by and large shaped the vision and the concept," he said. "I hope, now that it's completed, that faculty will continue to manage and control the system."

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Claudia Wheatley