Reviving 'golden age' of faculty-student interactionBy Jennifer Vanasco
They judge student Olympics, give informal talks and readings, show movies and come to dinner in the residence halls several times a quarter. They are Faculty Fellows, and their involvement in residence life allows students and faculty and senior administrators to get to know each other in more informal ways.
"The fellows program is a fabulous idea, because faculty often seem distant and intimidating to students, and students are sometimes afraid to talk with them," said John Wall, Resident Head of Mathews House in Burton-Judson Hall. "This program makes faculty more approachable."
The Faculty Fellows program, a staple in residence-hall life in the 1950s, had faded away by the early 1990s. With the appearance last spring of the Report of the Committee on the Future of the University House System, however, the program was brought back to life.
The committee, headed by Richard Taub, the Paul Klapper Professor in Social Sciences, recalled "a golden age when faculty were more likely to be found dining with students at lunch time and when faculty were simply more likely to be around."
The committee recommended a structured Faculty Fellows program in which fellows were affiliated with a single house instead of with an entire residence hall, as they had in the past. "Because houses are smaller and more manageable units, faculty members are likely to get to know a larger proportion of the residents and, under the circumstances, to feel a closer personal connection," according to the report.
The new fellows program is overseen by Resident Masters, the faculty members who live in each Residence Hall and provide extensive programming for residents.
"For years we have invited faculty to give talks to Burton-Judson residents, or to join students in our apartment for dinner or dessert. Faculty would come, but students would rarely see them again. They usually didn't have the chance to engage in a real conversation," said Susan Faraone, who with her husband, Christopher, serves as Resident Master of Burton-Judson Courts. "With the revival of the fellows program, we've found a number of faculty members who are eager to engage in this kind of relationship."
Resident Masters invite faculty who have expressed interest in the program, or who seem to relate well to College students. The list is augmented by suggestions from students and residence staff. Current fellows include faculty from a range of fields, including economics, astronomy, English, history and political science. Appointed for a quarter, fellows can be as involved as they choose. For instance, Nicholas Rudall, Associate Professor in Classics and Founding Director of Court Theatre, has given literary readings, and Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School and a scholar of the myths of India, has joined students for dinner at a South Indian restaurant on Devon Street. Other fellows come to lunch at the Residence Halls several times a quarter or participate in traditional House events.
"Fellows facilitate the interaction of students and faculty," said Sherry Gutman, Director of the University House System. "They meet in ways that are both intellectual and social. For instance, faculty may talk of their intellectual interests over dinner, give an informal talk about how they became interested in academia, or attend an event planned by students. It's a valuable continuation of academic life at the University."