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21st CENTURY COLLEGE HOUSES Final Report of the Working Group

Last spring, we published "Choosing Community," a report that proposed the establishment of residential communities in Penn's undergraduate residences. The committee of faculty, students, and administrators that made this recommendation was appointed by the Council of Undergraduate Deans and chaired by Professor David Brownlee of the Department of Art History.

After the Council of Undergraduate Deans reviewed and accepted the "Choosing Community" report, we created a technical team to work on an implementation plan for the communities. The team has produced a plan that is driven by the objectives articulated by faculty, students, and staff throughout the three years of discussion of the "communities" aspect of the 21st Century Project for the Undergraduate Experience.

The objective set forth by the 21st Century Project was the creation of an intellectually dynamic, varied and rich living experience for undergraduates. Faculty and students also consistently articulated a desire for a greater sense of community, enhanced faculty-student interaction, improved facilities, better staff support, and a high level of choice and variety within the residential system.

With these objectives in mind, we asked the team to recommend ways to create a tangible change in undergraduate residential living by fall 1998. We asked them to preserve the successful models of change created in the last two yearssuch as the computing support-in-residence model and the library assistance modeland to keep the system simple, straightforward, and flexible. Over the past few months, the team has looked carefully at every residential building, analyzed the finances of the residential system, and refined the original recommendations to fit the facilities we have in place today.

The team has shown us how we can begin to transform the residential experience of Penn undergraduates along the lines envisioned in the original report of the Provost's Council on the Undergraduate Experience. We are convinced that the implementation report that they have presented to the Council and the administration will enable us to establish the new system in fall 1998.

--Stanley Chodorow, Provost
--John Fry, Executive Vice President

Report of the Residential Communities Working Group

The Provost and Executive Vice President established this Working Group in April 1997 and asked it to recommend a strategy for implementing "Choosing Community," the report of the residential planning committee (Almanac April 29, 1997), in September 1998. They directed us to build on the strengths of established programs and make efficient use of existing resources.

The group brought to its work the lessons gathered from a long history of planning and intensive consultation with students, faculty, and staff. We began with a four-day retreat at the Wharton Executive Education Center late in April and continued to meet throughout the summer and into the beginning of the fall semester.

The Working Group is convinced that we have the capacity to create 12 residential "College Houses" (we adopt Penn's well-established nomenclature for these communities), encompassing all existing undergraduate residences, and that we can establish them by September 1998. We believe that this can be accomplished in a manner that will immediately and significantly enhance the undergraduate experience of our students.

We are also certain that this work will successfully inaugurate a campaign of even greater improvements which can be achieved over the next decade, supported by the University's planned capital and deferred maintenance programs, the outline of which has been shaped by the Biddison Hier Report and a systematic architectural survey of residential buildings.

We agree with our predecessors that Penn's residential system can be used more effectively to create the supportive academic community that is essential to a great university. We have accordingly examined existing facilities, personnel, and programming with the aim of maximizing their use, while also identifying areas requiring additional resources. We recognize that the diversity of existing conditions will impose a measure of variety on the various Col-lege Houses. Most of these variations strengthen the system, providing students with an attractive variety of residential options. It must be noted, however, that a few significant deficiencies must be corrected before September 1998, and there are other only slightly less unsatisfactory conditions, notably in the un-renovated sections of the Quad, which await remedy in the near future.

The central element of this report is a synoptic table (placed at the end), showing how facilities and personnel can be deployed in September 1998 to create 12 College Houses. This pattern of deployment uses what we already have with efficiency and judiciously identifies a few areas for immediate capital expenditure and increased personnel.

The written report may be considered an explanation of the table and consists of three sections, devoted to program, residential and dining facilities, and personnel, followed by a summary of financial implications and a list of next steps.


Academic programs in residence have a significant tradition at Penn, including a residential faculty program recognized nationally for its strength and excellence. (Some 200 faculty have lived in residence at Penn since the opening of the first College Houses 25 years ago). The present proposal takes advantage of this legacy of innovation in co-curricular programs, which have been designed collaboratively by students and faculty in the residential setting, and makes the programs available to all undergraduates.

Each College House will, of course, develop its own particular activities, as defined by the interests of its members. The 1998-99 residents of the College Houses will bear the responsibility for developing their inaugural program plans. However, essential elements of academic support and support for co-curricular activities will be uniformly available throughout the system.

The "Wheel" Project, sponsored by the Residential Faculty Council in cooperation with departments and programs in the undergraduate schools and the office of the VPUL, will be expanded to serve all 12 College Houses. It currently provides residentially based support in mathematics, information technology and computing, writing, and library research; the planned enlargement of the program will include languages, the arts, and other core academic areas. The "Wheel" system depends on strong res-idential faculty, graduate students, and staffthe academic infrastructure for each College House recommended by this plan. The residential computing support project, currently serving the existing First Year Houses and College Houses, has shown that such full-scale academic support can be provided cost-effectively in fully staffed College Houses led by the faculty, and is either not possible, or too costly, to attempt in residences with no academic mission or staffing.

While the undergraduate schools will remain solely responsible for curriculum, instruction, and academic advising, College House Deans and other staff will now serve as local points of referral, directing students to school-based programs and also to the services provided through the office of the VPUL, including campus resource and service centers, student affairs programs, and co-curricular activities. College Houses will be able to develop collaborative re-lationships with the schools and the office of the VPUL in support of programming initiatives.

The major costs of academic support and counseling services will continue to be funded as at present, largely by the distribution of existing central resources. These include school-based programs, realigned for delivery through the residences (like the present Math and Writing Advising programs); other "re-structured" central services (such as the present Residential Computing Support Project); and the services provided by the office of the VPUL, which can be to some degree decentralized (e.g., study skill development and tutoring).

The local cost of other College House programming (including some work-study staffing, mini-courses, theater series, concerts, and other social activities) is also to be supported as at present, through a nominal house Program Fee that will continue to be augmented by monies from the office of the VPUL.

Residential and Dining Facilities

The capacity and specific configuration of our present residential and dining facilities exert a strong influence on the proposed size and number of College Houses. We have striven throughout to minimize immediate capital costs and avoid reducing the number of rentable rooms. The proposed College Houses will include all the physical components that were identified in the "Choosing Community" report, including lounges, seminar rooms, office space, study centers, recreational facilities, etc. Accommodation will also be provided in each College House for the recommended minimum staffing level of a Master, Faculty Fellow, College House Dean, and teams of Resident Advisors (RAs) and Graduate Associates (GAs). Recognizing that each College House will have unique needs (as well as a unique environment), the actual configuration of these facilities will vary.

Common Space. In planning the residential buildings, a highly critical consideration has been the most effective use of the large amount of existing common space. The presence of one suite of common space in each of the three High Rises has determined the number of College Houses that we propose for them. The three resulting College Houses are larger than we consider ideal, but they provide a satisfactory infrastructure within which we may implement tangible change by next September. A similar analysis of the Quad has led us to propose four College Houses there, centered on the four existing suites of common facilities and sharing them out as equitably as possible. The badly needed renovation of Butcher, Speakman, and Class of 1928 will offer opportunities to make significant improvements in these arrangements.

Staff Apartments and Offices. Except in the High Rises, sufficient staff apartments and offices already exist, although one of the apartments required by Ware College House is located in the adjacent Goldberg House. In each High Rise, three apartments and a simple office suite must be created. This is the only immediate capital expenditure requirement in the residential buildings.

The Present College Houses. The present College Houses will be little changed. However, in order to maximize the efficient use of administrative staff and common facilities, we recommend nesting the Modern Languages Residential Program in an enlarged Van Pelt College House (Van Pelt Manor and Class of 1925) and redefining the boundaries of Ware College House and the First Year Houses in the Quad as follows: Community (to include Thomas Penn, Cleeman, Magee, Ashhurst, McIlhenny, Warwick, Ward, Chesnut, and Butcher), Ware (to include Lip-pincott, Carruth, New York Alumni, Memorial Tower, Morgan, Wilson, Bodine, Morris, Class of 1928, and Speakman), Spruce (to include E.F. Smith, Coxe, Rodney, Bishop White, Birthday, Mask and Wig, Provost Tower, and Graduate) and Goldberg (to include Brooks, Leidy, Franklin, Foerderer, McKeon, Baldwin, Class of 1887, Craig, Baird, Fitler, Hopkinson, and Smith). This plan has the advantage of providing renovated common spaces for the residents of those residential sections of the Quad that will remain unrenovated in September 1998.

Accommodation for Graduate Associates and Resident Advisors. The number of graduate students holding staff appointments in the undergraduate residences will be increased by about 50 percent, and the number of undergraduate RAs will remain about the same. No modification of rooms will be required.

College House Dining. We believe that communal dining is an essential feature of successful residential programming, and while we recognize that the specific nature of food service is likely to evolve to meet changing tastes, we judge that none of the suggested changes obviates the need for each College House to have its own dining space. The assigned dining room of each College House will also be available for House activities outside the dining hours.

King's Court/English, Stouffer, and Hill College Houses. These will continue to dine in their integral dining rooms.

The Quad. The shape of the four College Houses in the Quad has been adjusted insofar as possible to match the existing dining rooms in Stouffer Commons and provide at least 60 seats for every 100 residents. One of the larger Stouffer Commons dining rooms will be divided into two spaces to meet these needs.

The Super Block. The configuration of most of the Super Block College Houses is similarly shaped by 1920 Commons, where Du Bois, Van Pelt, Harnwell, and Hamilton (HRN) will be assigned dining rooms, with separate eating areas also provided for the several language tables of the Modern Language Residential Program. In adopting this plan, we judge that fewer than 60 dining seats per 100 beds is acceptable because many of those dining in Class of 1920 Commons will live in apartments with individual kitchens. However, even with this concession, Harrison College House cannot be accommodated, and we recommend that its Rathskeller be refurbished to create the largest possible dining room. This is the only significant immediate capital expenditure for dining.

Housing and Meal Contracts. We believe that it will not be necessary to require meal contracts or establish a residence requirement in order to insure either the development of community feeling or the financial viability of the program.

Signage. While holding capital costs to a minimum, we recommend that a new and comprehensive signage system be instituted for the College Houses, with a uniform iconography adopted in other media (print, the Web).


Effective staffing is essential to the success of the College Houses, and a full complement of Master, Faculty Fellow, Dean, GAs, and RAs must be assigned to each. In order to deal with the special circumstances of several of the College Houses, we have slightly adjusted the "Choosing Community" report's staffing recommendations: (1) the High Rise College Houses should be assigned sufficient RAs and GAs to place a staff member on every residential floor; (2) successful staffing patterns should be maintained in Stouffer, Van Pelt, Du Bois, and Hill, where additional Faculty Fellows and/or GAs eliminate the necessity for RAs. (In Van Pelt and Du Bois, the staff serves special program needs, and in Hill the current system of GA staffing is literally "built" into the architecture.)

Most of the needed personnel can be found by reassigning existing VPUL staff lines, although there are some attendant additional costs.

Resident Faculty . One additional Master and three new Faculty Fellows will be needed. This will increase the annual budget for dining and parking, and moving expenses and the master's leave/research fund will have to be amortized over three years.

College House Deans. The reassignment of VPUL personnel lines will pay for nine of the 12 Deans.

GAs. Room and board support packages must be provided for 35 additional Graduate Associates. We believe that this cost can be mitigated by integrating this form of support with the fellowships awarded by the various schools, thereby both increasing the schools' fellowship resources and integrating the College House system with the interests of graduate education. The several schools will define for themselves the mechanisms through which their students participate.

Overall Costs

First-year capital costs associated with this project will be $700,000. This can be funded through the capital reserves of the housing system, and there are also development opportunities. Reallocation of existing resources effectively reduces additional personnel and program expenses from over $1 million a year to $680,000.

By extending the present $70 program fee across the residences, costs are further reduced to $525,000. (A majority of undergraduates in University housing already pay this fee, which supports programming.) The University will pay this remaining expense for the next three years.

Next Steps

Implementation planning will involve existing house councils and student and faculty residential leaders. Masters and Councils must also be appointed for the new College Houses so that they may join in this work, which includes inte-grating the 21st Century "Wheel" Project with the new plan. A full complement of 12 College House Deans should be in place by July 1, 1998. First-year capital projects must be initiated immediately, and the support of the University's development office should be enlisted. The University should begin to chart the implications of the new College House system for its large deferred maintenance program for the residences.

David B. Brownlee, SAS (chair)
Valarie Swain-Cade McCoullum, VPUL
Christopher Dennis, VPUL
Al Filreis, SAS, RFC
Larry Moneta, Campus Services
Steven Murray, Business Services

Twelve College Houses in September 1998

College House Beds Dining (seats/%) RAs GAs Deans Masters Fellows
Community 505 Stouffer 1 (400/78) 14 8 1 1 1
Du Bois 204 1920-2 (120/58) 0* 7* 1 1 2*
Goldberg 345 Stouffer-2 (212/62) 10 6 1 1 1
Hamilton (HRN) 809 1920-3 (476/59) 12 11 1 1 1
Harnwell 755 1920-1 (340/45) 12 10 1 1 1
Harrison 865 Rathskeller (200/23) 12 12 1 1 1
Hill 541 Hill (412/76) 0* 17* 1 1 1
Kings Ct/English 400 KC/Eng (233/58) 10 6 1 1 1
Spruce 302 Stouffer 2 (188/62) 8 5 1 1 1
Stouffer 131 Stouffer B (87/66) 0* 5* 1 1 1
Van Pelt 277 1920-2 (160/57) 0* 10* 1 1 4*
Ware 444 Stouffer B (313/71) 12 7 1 1 1
Total Proposed: 5717 3141/55 90 104 12 12 16
Total Now: 5717 2941/51 105 70 7 11 13
* preserves present staffing level

Return to: Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, October 14, 1997, Volume 44, Number 8