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COUNCIL 2003-2004 Year-end Committee Report

Committee on the Quality of Student Life

Scheduled for Discussion at Council on September 29, 2004

The committee was charged with five areas of investigation: College Houses, the regulation of student organizations on campus that are not affiliated with the University, undergraduate advising, making residences smoke free, and Spring Fling. We met eight times, and having decided to devote two meetings each to College Houses and advising, and having decided to add an additional topic to our agenda (the hours of food trucks), we found that we could not devote sufficient time to unaffiliated organizations and Spring Fling. We recommend that next year's committee be charged with investigating those issues.

Smoke-free Residences. The Committee heard recommendations in support of an overall ban on smoking in College Houses and graduate residences from Doug Berger (Director of Housing), Phil Nichols (Faculty Director of College Houses), Ilene Rosenstein (Director of CAPS), and (via telephone call to the chair) Evelyn Wiener (Director of Student Health). We were convinced that a partial ban was not practicable and that the present policy (which allows smoking in rooms where all roommates consent) introduces smoke into buildings where it cannot be contained and imposes an unfair burden on non-smokers. We voted to recommend a comprehensive ban on smoking, and shortly thereafter the Undergraduate Assembly made a similar recommendation. We understand that in September 2004 all residences will become smoke free.

Food Truck Hours. At the request of several members of the committee, we took up the question of food truck hours, which we understood were being shortened.  After hearing a report (via telephone conversation with the chair) from Anthony Sorrentino about the rather complex legal and regulatory context of this situation, the committee voted to recommend that the hours of operation not be curtailed.

Advising. After several discussions among the members of the committee, we invited students and advising directors from the College, Engineering and Wharton to meet with us and discuss the current systems of advising, perceived shortcomings, and measures that might be taken to improve the situation. This is a very complex matter, but there was general agreement about the following objectives:

•   Each student should be assigned an advisor who is thoroughly prepared and regularly evaluated.  Students should know to whom they may turn if they have concerns about their assigned advisor. Freshmen advisors could be assigned students who live in the same House, and the advisors themselves could meet and become involved in freshman-oriented activities in that House. 

•   It is important to establish appropriate expectations among students. They bear much responsibility for the shape of their educations, and they should understand that getting advice about an institution as large and complicated as Penn is likely to entail consulting with more than one individual.

•   Online advising tools need to be improved. In particular, students pursuing programs in more than one school should have integrated worksheets.

•   Information about courses should be consolidated, at least electronically, so that one can readily find all of the information about a course, including title, description, instructor, requirements satisfied, next scheduled offering (with place and meeting time when available), and link to syllabus. 

•   Notable weakness was identified in dual and joint degree advising (where demands are high and potential conflicts abound), transfer student advising, and study abroad advising. It was suggested that here, where school boundaries must often be crossed, the House Deans are in a good position to offer support.

•   The College Houses might generally play a more active role in advising, involving affiliated faculty advisors for freshmen, peer advisors, and House Deans and residential faculty.

•   In focusing on freshman advising, it is important not to lose sight of major advising (where large variability was described) and "para-major" advising—which guides students who are investigating majors. The College's new system para-major system sounds promising.

College Houses.  The committee heard reports from Phil Nichols, Faculty Director of College Houses, and from the Undergraduate Assembly committee that drafted this year's UA resolution on the College Houses. In general, we were struck by the importance that the Houses have achieved in their short history. In discussing the issues that are summarized below, the Committee was often able to reach a consensus, but as noted, in some areas there is disagreement—sometimes of a fundamental kind—about the best direction.

We agreed that the College House system must grow to accommodate more of the undergraduate population, thereby reducing the imbalance in numbers that now exists between freshmen and upperclassmen.

New construction should foster intercommunication between and among the various "floors" or "suites" into which the present Houses are subdivided.

Better dining arrangements are essential to promote the socializing among students and between students and faculty that the committee judged to be the heart of College House life. New construction and renovations should include dining rooms for individual houses.

Problems with maintenance and housekeeping continue to undermine the College House experience, demanding too much staff time and deterring students from living on campus.

House Deans are overworked and under supported. In order to organize more programming and free up more time for House Deans to work directly with residents, a professional administrative assistant should be hired for each House.

We agreed that an important and distinctive ingredient of the College House program at Penn was its integration of freshmen with upperclassmen and that the best "freshman experience" included both socialization with other freshmen and contact with upperclassmen. However, we did not agree about many of the specifics for achieving this delicate balance, except for continuing to allow Penn students much freedom of choice.   Freshmen should continue to choose where they wish to live (on the basis of as much information as possible about the Houses, including how many freshmen are residents), and upperclassmen should continue to be given priority if they wish to continue to live in their present House.

We sparred a little over the question of whether the College Houses served primarily social or academic purposes. With little demurral, it was agreed that this apparent conflict was negligible; in an academic community, social activity often supports the educational mission.

For Next Year.  We recommend that next year's committee take up the question of non-affiliated student organizations. We discussed this matter briefly, and heard very sharply divided views about the character of these groups. Their regulation would appear to pose very large legal and procedural problems. We also call for an examination of Spring Fling, an event that continues to reflect both the best and worst aspects of student life at Penn.

2003-2004 Committee Members

Chair: David B. Brownlee, (history of art); Faculty: Ann Brownlee (art hist), David B. Brownlee (history of art), Zoltan Domotor (philos), Laurie Loevner (radiol/med), Arnold J. Rosoff (legal studies), Jorge Santiago-Aviles (elec engr), Diane Spatz (nursing); Graduate students: Kevin Collins (GSE), Jason Goh (Wharton); Undergraduate students: Morgan Mallory (COL'05), Shawn Puri (COL'06), Carlos Rivera-Anaya (COL'05); PPSA: Katherine Lowe (alumni relations), Lynn Rotoli (housing svcs); Ex officio: Robert Alvarez (chair, GAPSA), Terry Conn (VPUL), William Gipson (univ. chaplain), Jason Levy (chair, UA), Philip Nichols (dir, college houses & acad svcs), Ilene Rosenstein (dir, counseling & psychological svcs).



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 5, September 28, 2004


September 28, 2004
Volume 51 Number 5


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