Revamped Orientation recommended by U. committee

Proposed changes include required summer reading and shorter schedule

By
Thursday, January 25, 2007

First-years entering the University should have mandatory summer reading and a shorter Orientation, a University committee recommends in a report released today.

The Orientation review committee, which was created in mid-October 2006, calls for a new Orientation schedule that would begin later – during Labor Day weekend – and require that the first day of classes be pushed back a day to the Wednesday after Labor Day.

But the University’s academic calendar is part of the faculty rules and regulations, so any change requires a vote of approval by the faculty. University officials intend to seek such approval at a faculty meeting Feb. 6.

In order for administrators to implement the new Orientation schedule this year, the faculty must approve the calendar change at the Feb. 6 meeting, said Interim Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Russell Carey ’91 MA’06. If the faculty rejects the proposal on Feb. 6, the new Orientation schedule would not be in place until 2008 at the earliest.

That vote is the biggest hurdle facing implementation of the committee’s recommendations. Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron acknowledged that the faculty vote is crucial in determining whether extensive changes could be implemented this year, but she declined to speculate as to the likelihood of the proposal’s success.

In its report, the committee recommends reducing the number of days of Orientation programming prior to the beginning of classes from six days to four and extending some events to the first weekend after classes start, which the report calls “First Weekend.”

Other changes recommended by the committee, which comprised administrators, faculty and students, include reducing the number of mandatory class meetings from four to three and improving administrative coordination of the Orientation program.

In devising its recommendations, the committee focused on three areas of concern: the length and scheduling of Orientation, its academic content and the required class meetings.

The recommendation for a compressed schedule responds to concerns about the length of the current Orientation schedule, which University officials say leaves students with too much downtime.

Administrators say past Orientations have been marked by problems with alcohol consumption and sexual misconduct, and the report expresses hope that a more condensed Orientation schedule would reduce such problems.

“We know consistently that Orientation is one of the high-risk times in terms of EMS calls,” said Director of Health Education Frances Mantak, a member of the committee. “That’s always been a concern, and it’s one of the things we talked about in terms of whether or not to shorten Orientation.”

Concerns about alcohol consumption and student conduct were “definitely an undercurrent underneath a lot of the suggestions,” said Matt Bauman ’10, a member of the committee.

The new “First Weekend” – the first weekend after classes begin – is also intended to create more structured time during a traditionally troublesome period, Carey said.

The report also recommends that the class meeting dealing with sexual assault be placed earlier in the Orientation schedule.

According to the report, another benefit of moving the beginning of Orientation to Labor Day weekend is that it allows parents to bring their children to Brown and attend Orientation programming for parents without interrupting the work week.

The academic character of Orientation would also change with the new summer reading requirement and planned small-group discussions about the assigned book to be held during Orientation. Strengthening the academic nature of Orientation was of particular interest to Bergeron.

Although the report sets a plan to sharpen the academic focus of Orientation programming, the committee acknowledged that incoming students may not be enthusiastic about the reading requirement. “We need to carefully think about how to sell this idea to the incoming class,” the report says. “This initiative will be ineffective if a significant proportion of the class do (sic) not read the book.”

Bergeron said there was “no guarantee” that students would do the reading, but she expressed confidence that students would be engaged by a multifaceted and compelling text. “The way to try to ensure engagement has to do with good pedagogy,” she said. “It has to do with coming up with the right angle.”

The report recommends that the faculty Convocation speaker selects the required book for incoming first-years and suggests that an alumni group covers the cost of the books.

The report stops short of recommending a day-long seminar program, which had been proposed by Bergeron. The committee also considered adding a writing requirement. Though no consensus on the writing initiative was reached, “a key part of the discussion of writing concluded that Orientation did not present good opportunities to evaluate writing,” the report states.

To reduce the number of class meetings, the report calls for eliminating the gathering currently known as Class Meeting I – traditionally held on the Main Green the Wednesday before classes start as an Orientation kick-off event – in favor of a new welcome ceremony on the Sunday afternoon of Labor Day weekend.

The class meeting dealing with the academic and non-academic codes and alcohol and drug safety would be shortened by 30 minutes and focus less on University regulations if the committee’s recommendations are adopted. The committee did not call for changing the format of the other two existing class meetings, which cover sexual assault and diversity.

Some of the strongest language in the report addressed the current management and organization of Orientation, saying that it is “inefficient, confusing and largely works on an ad hoc basis” and that Orientation has “unclear and perhaps inadequate support staff.” However, the report does not go into much detail about these concerns and does not propose solutions.