Residential College Systems in Liberal Arts Colleges
8 November 2001 (collegiateway.org) — Earlier this year I reported that Middlebury College in Vermont, an institution that would be called a “liberal arts college” in the United States, was the first institution of its kind to be developing a complete residential college system. Each of Middlebury’s five Commons, as these residential colleges are called, has about 400 members, a dean, a body of associated faculty (not yet called fellows), and each will have its own dining hall and common areas. I am pleased to report now that two other distinguished liberal arts colleges are moving along the same path, though they haven’t yet gone quite as far as Middlebury. Bowdoin College in Maine has established a system of “Houses” to promote student-faculty contact, and Union College in New York is likewise establishing a House system to improve the quality of campus life. All three institutions are simultaneously acting to minimize the social influence of fraternities and sororities on their campuses. Although there are no hard and fast criteria for the category “residential college,” I usually look for the more or less traditional and internationally recognized structure of a master, a dean, fellows, and student members, all seen as an independent social and academic society within a larger institution. Middlebury has nearly that structure in place now, and Bowdoin and Union are beginning to approach it. That all these institutions are moving in the same direction is very encouraging—I hope their example will be followed by many more “large” liberal arts colleges in the near future.