Faculty voted unanimously to approve a two-day extension of the University’s first-year orientation program during the first monthly faculty meeting of the year Tuesday. The extension will take effect as a pilot program for academic years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022.
In previous years, move-in day, which marks the first day of orientation, has fallen on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and orientation has continued until the Tuesday before classes begin. This four-day schedule makes the University’s orientation the shortest out of 11 peer institutions cited in the motion to change the start date of undergraduate orientation. Under the new schedule, orientation will begin on Thursday before Labor Day weekend.
According to the motion, presented at the meeting by Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01, the idea to extend the program came from a survey conducted annually about students’ experiences during orientation. In 2018’s survey, students said they felt overwhelmed and rushed during the four days before classes started.
In an interview with The Herald, Zia said the old schedule was “very compressed and can be a stressful introduction to our campus.” Having both advising meetings and pre-registration just one day before the start of classes can create a lot of anxiety for students, Zia added.
Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Dean of Students Koren Bakkegard told The Herald that the old schedule didn’t allow students to complete some “very basic tasks,” such as unpacking their rooms and making friends, before classes started. She said it was important that the new schedule create “a much smoother, more coordinated ... arrival and transition for students.”
Zia said that the extended orientation will also give students more time to talk to their Meiklejohn Peer Advisers, Residential Peer Leaders and other students about the classes they intend to take. Pre-registration, which previously occurred on Tuesday before classes began, will now start on Friday and stay open all weekend, allowing students “a great deal of time when they are in the registration environment,” Zia said.
The new schedule will also make orientation more convenient for faculty and staff, Zia said. Events that require the most in-depth participation from faculty and staff, such as advisor meetings and First Readings seminars, will now occur on Friday and Tuesday respectively, meaning faculty will not have to come to campus during the long weekend.
The weekend will now be reserved for residential activities, according to Bakkegard. She said that many of orientation’s more serious events aren’t allotted enough time under the current schedule. Mandatory programs like “Building a Culture of Consent” and “Sharing Our Stories,” during which new students learn about sexual assault on campus and diversity, happen late at night, which she said doesn’t allow sufficient time for reflection and discussion. Holding these events during the weekend will ensure that students will “really have more time to engage in these conversations.”
Zia said that the new schedule will be built largely around residential units, meaning smaller groups of students living near each other will also attend orientation events together. He hopes to “connect the advising structure to (the) unit structure,” which will help create smaller communities of students over the orientation programs, Zia said.
Also in the faculty meeting, President Christina Paxson P’19 affirmed the University’s commitment to helping the struggling Providence Public School District. She announced that the University will collaborate with PPSD on professional development for teachers, tutoring and helping build new learning spaces, but that the administration is still waiting to hear from PPSD about exactly which schools they will work with. Paxson also outlined the University’s plan to give scholarships to PPSD students to attend University summer programs, as well as a possible partnership with the Community College of Rhode Island to create a pathway for CCRI students to gain access to the University.
Paxson also announced a search for a new artistic director for the Brown Arts Initiative. This new director will work with students and faculty in the arts on programming for the new Performing Arts Center. Paxson said she hopes to hire someone for the position by summer or early fall.
Provost Richard Locke P’18 also announced a search for a new Dean of the School of Public Health. Dean Bess Marcus will finish her term June 30 and will return to the Public Health faculty. Locke is forming a committee to conduct a national search to fill the position by the end of the academic year.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Dean Bess Marcus finished her term this fall. In fact, Dean Bess Marcus will finish her term June 30. The Herald regrets the error.