Nov. 2, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 4

current issue
archive / search

    Quadcolloquy.edu: International House revisited

    Last May, the Committee on the Future of International House completed a report that thoroughly reviewed the status of International House, which had been slated for closing as a student residence because of low occupancy and deteriorating infrastructure. Despite those problems, the Committee recommended keeping the building open as a student residence, reconstituting its governance and launching a more thorough review of its physical needs and programmatic potential. The Chronicle spoke with Hank Webber, Vice President for Community Affairs and Chairman of the I-House interim board of governors, about what has happened since then and what direction I-House is headed.

    What has happened regarding International House since President Emeritus Hugo Sonnenschein accepted the report of the Committee on the Future of International House last May, and who has been involved in that work?

    By accepting the Committee’s report, the University agreed in June to reconstitute the International House board of governors, find a new, full-time director, plan for the building’s future and study the role of international education at the University. The President also announced that we would keep open the public space of the building and develop a plan to allow as many residents as possible to live safely there while we bring it up to the fire codes of the City of Chicago.

    How are you implementing the Committee’s recommendations?

    Real progress has been made in each area. I-House has remained open to residents with a total capacity of 250. We have made many safety improvements and are in the process of installing a fire alarm in the building. Some of these safety improvements, such as the banning of all smoking in the building, have unfortunately led to some inconvenience for residents. We now have an interim board of governors appointed and an interim director, per the Committee’s recommendations.

    Next year, after a fire alarm is installed, we should be able to accommodate up to 500 students.

    So who is in charge of International House?

    There is an interim board governing I-House that President Randel has asked me to chair. The other members of the board are Edward Cook, Associate Professor in History; Rashid Khalidi, Director of the Center for International Studies; Stephen Stigler, the Ernest DeWitt Burton Distinguished Service Professor in Statistics; John Mark Hansen, Associate Provost and the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor in Political Science; Arthur Sussman, Vice President for Administration and General Counsel; Patricia Woodworth, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and two students who are residents of I-House, Patrick Crotty, a graduate student in Physics, and Ben Urwand, a graduate student in Cinema and Media Studies. This board is primarily concerned with getting I-House through this interim period and in finding a permanent, full-time director who will work with residents on a day-to-day basis. Ed Turkington, Dean of Student Services, is the part-time interim director of I-House. Later this month, the interim board hopes to announce a permanent, full-time director who will manage both the real estate and programming at I-House. My expectation is that next year, the President, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, will name a permanent board of governors who can help position I-House as a major resource to the entire Chicago region and who can develop sig-nificant fund-raising strategies for the building. Facilities Services is now responsible for the building maintenance and upkeep.

    How does International House connect to the International Programs Committee appointed by Provost Geof Stone and President Randel?

    The International Programs Committee is not an I-House Committee. Their work concerns itself with examining the broad issues of the University’s international programs. Chris Faraone, Chairman and Professor in Classical Languages & Literatures, is the chair of that faculty committee, whose concerns are teaching and research. While not an I-House committee, their work is important to I-House, because it will give us an opportunity to see the future of I-House in the wider context of the University’s international academic programs.

    What is happening to the building right now?

    Two hundred twenty–five residents live on the lower floors. When the fire alarm is fully installed on the upper floors, the residents will move upstairs. Then the alarm will be installed on the lower floors, where they now are living. The fire alarm and fire safety changes will be complete in May 2001 at a cost of $2 million. At the end of this quarter, we will reassess opening rooms up to short-term visitors––a program that was put on hold during the fire alarm installation. All the public spaces will continue to be open.

    How many people will be able to live there after the fire alarm is installed?

    There will be a capacity to serve 500 students, but it seems unlikely that this many students will choose to live in I-House. The fall enrollment has been about 350 students the past few years. As the Committee on the Future of International House pointed out in its report, the rooms are small and many of I-House’s major systems are old and will need to be replaced. To improve that, we will need a major cash infusion.

    What is the future of International House?

    I expect that after the fire alarm installation is complete––and after we get real insight from the Committee on International Programs––we can begin a process of planning for the long-term future of International House. In addition, we need to make the I-House programming a major resource to the entire University community, not just residents. Before too long, a major renovation of the building will be necessary, and that will be expensive and require a major fund-raising campaign. I see no circumstances under which the existing building would be torn down.