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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

Update on Vanderbilt University’s Residential Colleges

— Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, one of the leading private universities in the United States, committed itself four years ago to the creation of a complete residential college system. Vanderbilt today issued an update on the progress of this work, and the text of their public press release appears below.

Vanderbilt is hewing quite closely to the Harvard-Yale configuration in its college system, with a distinct geographical area for the first-year students that is separate from the residential colleges proper. While in general I don’t recommend the segregation of freshmen, there can be persuasive arguments in favor of it under specific geographical circumstances. It looks as though Vanderbilt is making excellent progress, and I have no doubt that when future generations look back, the history of the campus will be divided into “before the colleges” and “after the colleges.” And the students and faculty who grow up under the collegiate system will find it hard to imagine what the “before” time was like.

Living and learning at Vanderbilt University to undergo major transformation

Construction begins on College Halls at Vanderbilt this spring

NASHVILLE , Tenn.—The undergraduate experience at Vanderbilt University will undergo its most significant transformation in a generation as construction begins on College Halls at Vanderbilt, a residential college system designed to create the most vibrant living and learning environment in higher education.

College Halls at Vanderbilt will bring together students, faculty and staff in smaller, community settings within the larger university. Select faculty will live in apartments located in the college halls where students will live in a more intimate residential setting than the traditional college dormitory. Each college hall will feature student-driven programming designed to promote intellectual exchange and leadership development. Areas for dining, study and informal gathering will enhance the living-learning atmosphere.

“Vanderbilt is already a stellar place for undergraduates. Our students have unparalleled opportunities in the classroom and through their social lives. Our challenge now is to stitch together this rich tapestry to meet the needs of the students of the future. College Halls at Vanderbilt will do that,” said Vanderbilt University Chancellor Gordon Gee.

“The evolving nature of Vanderbilt students—each entering class has increasingly higher levels of academic achievement and is more racially, culturally and socio-economically diverse than ever before—demands that we provide them with a sense of belonging and community.”

“Our students need and expect regular interaction with faculty and each other in order to build the community, character and leadership that we foster here at Vanderbilt,” said Nicholas S. Zeppos, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

The first phase of College Halls at Vanderbilt, which will be known as The Commons, will bring together all first-year students in a community of 10 residence halls to be known as “houses” located on the Peabody College campus. Five existing residence halls will be converted to houses and five new houses will be built. A tenured faculty member will serve as dean of The Commons and each house will be managed by a faculty member or student life professional in residence.

“The College Halls initiative is so important for Vanderbilt,” said Martha Ingram, chairman of the Board of Trust. “Creating the Commons, which will be a cohesive, nurturing, challenging community for the talented women and men who come to Vanderbilt, has to be our highest priority.”

Construction of The Commons began this spring. Renovations to the existing buildings are scheduled to be finished by fall 2007. The Commons is expected to be complete by fall 2008.

The Commons represents a $150 million investment by the university with the funds coming primarily from bond proceeds, philanthropy and internal sources.

Currently, Vanderbilt’s first-year students live in three areas across campus. University officials believe The Commons’ neighborhood atmosphere will foster closer ties among first-year students.

“First-year students are trying to figure out where they fit in a university community. We believe the active engagement with their peers, early informal interactions with faculty, their partnerships with student life professionals and social and academic programs offered at The Commons will go a long way in establishing friendships and a foundation for learning that will last during their time here at Vanderbilt and throughout their lives,” said David Williams, vice chancellor for student life and university affairs.

Once The Commons is complete, university officials will develop plans to build up to seven college halls for upperclassmen. Each college hall will house approximately 400 students representing a cross-section from each of Vanderbilt’s four undergraduate schools—Blair School of Music, College of Arts and Science, School of Engineering and Peabody College of education and human development.

The Commons also represents Vanderbilt’s largest construction project on the Peabody campus since the university merged with the formerly independent teacher’s college in 1979. Officials hope that the initial investment of $150 million in housing, dining and support services will improve services and spur private development on the far eastern edge of the campus, which adjoins the Edgehill and Music Row neighborhoods.

The term college hall has significance in Vanderbilt’s history. Kirkland Hall, which currently houses the university’s administration, was the only campus building when Vanderbilt first opened its doors in 1875. The building has had several names over the years—including College Hall from about 1905 until 1937, when the building was named for James T. Kirkland, Vanderbilt’s second chancellor and longest serving chancellor in the university’s history.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2016