New U. committee to examine residential life on campus

A new group that will assess the University’s non-academic programs and suggest new initiatives to improve the quality of life at Brown will meet for the first time Friday.

The Committee on the Residential Experience will “evaluate what programs we already have in place … and make recommendations for ways to improve the quality of student life outside the classroom,” said Margaret Klawunn, associate vice president for campus life and dean of student life. The committee is co-chaired by Klawunn and Associate Professor of Classics Joseph Pucci.

The committee was conceived to complement the Task Force on Undergraduate Education, which is currently examining the College’s academic offerings, Klawunn said.

“We thought we should have a companion project assessing experiences outside of the classroom,” she said.

The committee, comprising administrators, professors and three students, will discuss a variety of issues, including student and faculty relationships, advising and residence hall community-building, Klawunn said. The group will also consider the faculty fellows program, which makes professors living in University-owned properties on campus available to students for conversation, advice or a break from studying.

The committee will also study programs at other colleges and universities to develop models that “can be made distinctly Brown,” Klawunn said. One early model discussed by administrators last spring was the Alice Cook House at Cornell University, which integrates advising, living and dining in a shared community space. But when she presented this example to students, “many felt it was too much control for Brown students,” she said.

Klawunn said she expects “very preliminary” recommendations from the committee by January, followed by a more complete study in the spring, when the report will be released for “a campus-wide discussion.”

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry William Suggs, a committee member and the faculty fellow for Keeney Quadrangle, said he hopes the committee “can find out what students are interested in and come up with a bottom-up plan to give students more opportunities to do interesting things.”

“Brown has tremendous number of visitors to campus every month,” Suggs said. “It would be useful to find ways to bring small groups of students and distinguished speakers together. That can be the high point of people’s time at Brown.”

Erinn Phelan ’09, a student member nominated by the Undergraduate Council of Students, called the committee “incredibly important.”

“The focus of the committee is to find … what ways we can make the residential experience better,” Phelan said. “A happy home life means a happy academic one.”

Phelan stressed the importance of student and faculty interactions.

“Many students don’t think they know their professors well enough,” Phelan said. “You have world-renowned professors here that could be a great resource.”