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2000 Freshmen in One Building Complex is a Bad Idea

[] — Arizona State University is constructing a new dormitory complex for freshmen, and one of the university’s donors, who is helping to underwrite the project, has suggested that imposing curfews on the residents might be a way to ameliorate the “party school” image of ASU. Education reporter Emily Gersema writes in the 29 January 2006 edition of the Arizona East Valley Tribune:

Millionaire couple Ira and Mary Lou Fulton have donated millions to Arizona State University since President Michael Crow took over a few years ago, making them the school’s leading donors and a powerful influence over the institution.

Through gifts totaling $160 million, the couple not only hope to support the creation of new services and programs—they also want to help the university shed its reputation as a “party school” and become, instead, a national leader in education and research.

The Fultons are aiming to ensure that transformation by drawing in top researchers and professors—and by instilling a strong work ethic in the freshmen.

In an interview with the Tribune, the Fultons said they’re especially interested in the idea of having a curfew for freshmen living in new dormitories, called the McAllister Academic Village [“village” is the current silly marketing name for a dormitory complex —RJO], that will open at the Tempe campus this fall. By 2007, it will house nearly 2,000 freshmen.

“One thing we hate worse than anything is ‘party school,’” said Ira Fulton, one of the Valley’s leading home developers and a member of the ASU Foundation Board of Directors. “The freshmen are not going to be allowed to be contaminated by the other students.”

Mary Lou Fulton added: “We want the families of the students to know that (education) is what they’re going to get there.”

These are admirable goals. But putting two thousand eighteen-year-olds in one building complex—two thousand eighteen-year-olds with no knowledge of the campus, no knowledge of the surrounding community, no local friends, no college experience, no established social structures to plug into, and in many cases with very little direction their lives and living away from home for the first time—is this going to create a stable community? It is more likely to create anxiety, alienation, and chaos. And even for those students who do, by the end of the year, succeed in creating some semblance of a community within this huge population—what will the university do for them? It will rip them out and start all over again from nothing.

Gersema called me last week to ask my opinion of the curfew proposal. I said I wasn’t aware of any public universities in this day and age that have curfews for residents, but that I found the planned segregation of this many freshmen in one place to be much more worrying.

Curfews are rare at public universities, and more typical of private religious colleges, said residential life expert Robert O’Hara from Vermont. But they’re difficult to enforce because students often are involved in off-campus jobs or activities, he said.

Brigham Young University, a private Mormon school in Provo, Utah, has dormitory visiting hours until midnight during the week and until 1 a.m. on weekends.

The Fultons aren’t alone in wanting a curfew for ASU freshmen. Some students and parents also want that restriction, ASU officials said.

To offer several choices, administrators plan to divide the new dorms into communities. One will be for freshmen studying business, another for those in education studies and a third for students focused on “healthy living.”

This is the well-intentioned but educationally unsound “theme hall” approach. Is it realistic to expect incoming freshmen to already know their majors? And what ever happened to the value of diversity? Theme halls are antithetical to liberal education.

Among the strengths of a residential college system is that it integrates, rather than segregates, and that it brings new students into a stable, pre-existing community that lights their way ahead.

O’Hara, who spoke from his Vermont office, said that if ASU wants to ensure students stick around their entire undergraduate careers without running into trouble, the university should mix freshmen with upperclassmen in the residence halls, creating mentorships that could lead freshmen to make better life choices.

But what to do in the short term with massive industrial universities like ASU that have more than 30,000 students is not at all clear. It took more than a generation to create these institutions, and it will probably take at least that long to fix them.

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