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Deans Consider Moving All Undergrads to West Dorms

Thomas R. Karlo -- The Tech
An administrative committee is considering a plan to renovate Senior House for graduate housing.

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

An administration committee is developing a plan for consideration that would move undergraduates currently residing in east campus dormitories to current graduate and new undergraduate dormitories on the west side of campus, officials say.

"Undergraduates would be better served if they all lived on the west side of campus, and concentrated undergraduate activity in that area," said Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

Smith has directed the high-level Strategic Housing Planning Committee to "look very seriously at the idea of having all undergraduates live on west campus," he said. "It seems to me it would be a good way to have a more cohesive student body."

The committee is chaired by Robert M. Randolph, senior associate dean in the UESA office.

According to a source who spoke with a committee member, the committee's plans call for renovating Senior House and East Campus as graduate dormitories within three to five years.

Randolph said that he "can't guarantee" that undergraduates would be living in Senior House next fall.

The committee member indicated that the committee's first priority is the plan to renovate East Campus and Senior House and address graduate housing issues, the source said. Only after those issues were resolved would new undergraduate housing be considered, the source said.

The committee is also reevaluating the use of Walker Memorial, Randolph said. A possible new use of the facility is a graduate and international student union, he said.

Not a policy making committee

According to Smith, the committee is concerned solely with gathering information about possible residential restructuring options and will not make any final decisions. Some combination of the senior administration officers will formulate final policies on the matter, he said.

The committee is made up of "operational people, not in general the policy makers, nor do they include the kind of representation that one would look for in a policy group," Smith said.

The members of Randolph's committee are Director of Special Services Stephen D. Immerman, Associate Director of Planning Robert K. Kaynor, Director of Housing and Food Services Lawrence E. Maguire, Senior Architect for Physical Plant Susan R. Personette, Director of the Campus Activities Complex Phillip J. Walsh, and Associate Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Margaret A. Jablonski.

The committee was formed by Vice President William R. Dickson '56 in September, Randolph said.

Senior House discussed

Renovating Senior House to eventually house graduate students is among the restructuring options being considered by the committee, Randolph said.

However, the committee's plans call for renovating both Senior House and East Campus, according to the source who spoke with a committee member.

"Senior House is in need of substantial upgrading and should be high on the priority list," said President Charles M. Vest.

Smith pushed for discussion of the renovation because he did not want to "wait around for another decade before we did something about Senior House," he said.

Renovation of Senior House has "been talked about for at least 20 years in one way or another," Randolph said. Any renovations suggested by the committee would "not exclude it from housing undergraduates," he said.

Future housing should be able to be "utilized in a variety of ways," Randolph said.

Displaced undergraduates from Senior House would possibly be housed at Ashdown House, currently a graduate dormitory on west campus, Randolph said. Ashdown is not ideal for graduate housing but may be better suited for undergraduate housing because its suite format is similar to some undergraduate dormitories, he said.

"Ashdown is architecturally well configured for undergraduate housing," Smith said. "I thought it would be an obvious place to house undergraduates."

Problems with Senior House

Every fall, many students and parents of students assigned to Senior House, which typically has a low popularity in the housing lottery, "react quite strongly about Senior House," Smith said.

However, it is unclear as to what extent the complaints are the result of the run-down building or the "Sport Death banner and other accoutrements of Senior House culture," Smith said.

"Dormitory cultures are important and ought to be treated with care," Randolph said. However, the committee also needs to consider "the whole totality of the community" when formulating restructuring plans, he said.

The restructuring plans do not typically account for the residential culture "because cultures tend to shift and change," Randolph said.

"Student culture is fleeting and is developed organically by each generation as it comes along," Vest said. "It can't and shouldn't be dictated or designed. Hopefully one's culture isn't determined solely by the structure inhabited."

Student, faculty involvement

The committee's work to date has not been public, Smith said. "Whenever you're doing that kind of strategic planning you really don't want to publish those kinds of scenarios," he said.

"I don't want to keep anything secret, but I believe that a lot of campus discussion about changes would not be useful unless we could reasonably identify potential means to finance them," Vest said.

"I think it's perfectly reasonable as you are investigating alternatives" not to make the information public, Smith said.

The source who spoke with a committee member said that the committee member indicated that the current work of the committee should not be discussed with the general undergraduate population.

Students and faculty should be involved in the decision making process once the information gathering stage is complete, Randolph said. "You don't do anything on this campus unless you build a consensus," he said.

"I would be very surprised that the senior administration would make any decision [regarding dormitory renovations or overall residential restructuring] without a full and open consultation with the faculty and the students," said Professor of Physics Robert L. Jaffe, chair of the faculty.

The administration will take the advice of the faculty, students, and alumni when making a final decision, Jaffe said. However, the administration would have the final say in the ultimate decision, he said.

Following the Randolph committee's report, a policy committee would probably be formed which would look at the issues, Jaffe said. The policy committee could conceivably finish its work within the time of one semester, he said.

Ramy Arnaout, Anders Hove, Jeremy Hylton, and Sarah Y. Keightley contributed to the reporting of this story.