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Faculty-in-Residence at McKendree University

— Universities that are seeking to improve the quality of campus life but that are not yet ready to create a complete residential college system sometimes implement faculty-in-residence programs. This is a good intermediate step, and it can help lay the foundations for a full collegiate system.

A story by Angie Leventis in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports on a new faculty-in-residence program at McKendree University. Leventis interviewed me for the story, and I’m quoted in the text below.

Dorm mates

Sunday, Jul. 29 2007

Lebanon — Betsy Gordon gets a free two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment for the entire year—utilities included.

The catch? Her neighbors will be about a third her age and she could end up grading some of them.

Gordon, 60, is piloting McKendree University’s first faculty-in-residence program, where a professor lives alongside students to augment their education and gain perspective on student life.

Last month the speech and communications professor moved into McKendree West, an apartment-style residence hall, where she will lead academic and social programs in the fall.

“It just seemed so right for me,” said Gordon, who is living alone in the 84-unit apartment building until the school’s 1,400 undergraduates return in August.

This kind of cohabitation is becoming more common at colleges across the country, including St. Louis University. SLU has had a formal faculty-in-residence for two years, as well as Jesuit priests who live among students to aid their spiritual and social lives.

While the concept conjures up goofy images of professors claiming the top bunk and showering alongside their pupils, most programs have faculty live in apartment-style rooms or housing conjoined to a residence hall (though some universities do have professors who choose to live in traditional dormitories). The model illustrates a return to earlier practices in higher education, said education consultant Robert O’Hara, a former professor at University of North Carolina, Middlebury College and Harvard University.

A century ago, it was a given that professors lived among the student body, especially at women’s colleges, he said. Ivy League schools designed their residence halls to include faculty quarters; professors in that era were seen as instructors in life as well as the classroom.

The structure shifted during World War II and solidified in the 1960s, at which point most professors lived off-campus and most students lived in dormitories. O’Hara said separation of teacher and student was part of a larger industrialization of colleges and universities. More students were attending school, and the institutions were growing larger and more impersonal, he said. Society as a whole grew more stratified according to age, and this was reflected in university living arrangements.

O’Hara sees the faculty-in-residence movement as an attempt to “reconnect the generations.”

At McKendree, Gordon said the role was ideal for her, a single woman with no children who can easily identify with the students in her classes. She’s most interested in retention of older students, especially those who haven’t found a career path or social niche. Her residence hall is about a half-mile from the main campus, and houses sophomores, juniors and seniors

Gordon plans to host book clubs, a film series, dinners at her apartment, as well as classes on life lessons.

She stressed that she’s no mole, no spy: There are resident hall advisers and other staff to administer discipline or enforce rules. In fact, Gordon’s concerned her music might be too loud for her teen and 20-something neighbors.

“I think those who already know me won’t have those misgivings,” she said. “I’m not a judgmental type of person.”

McKendree junior Jenny Mennerick of O’Fallon, Ill., said Gordon has the right personality for the job. Mennerick will be living in McKendree West in the fall for the second time. She said there was less socializing there last year compared to the freshman residence halls.

“There weren’t as many programs as in the regular dorms,” she said. “Maybe with Dr. Gordon there, there will be more to do.”

Aaron Rogier, a senior from Highland, said McKendree’s tight-knit atmosphere lends itself to this type of program. Professors and students are used to seeing one another outside of class, so faculty-in-residence is simply an extension of these relationships.

Braxton Raven, 22, will be a junior at McKendree in the fall. “I don’t think it would bother me,” Raven said. “More connections.”

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