We — and here I mean administrators — need to do a better job explaining what the so-called 4/2 Commons plan gives in the way of educational benefits. Yes, we should certainly explain how the new plan will address student concerns about housing inequities, and enable juniors and seniors freer choice in selecting rooms and roommates. But we also need to be clear that the changes we are pursuing in the 4/2 plan go beyond traditional res life concerns. Lest anyone think this plan resembles a product recall — and the end of the Commons — they should read more carefully President Liebowitz’s outline of the program. The ideas presented on his blog show the 4/2 plan moving the Commons in new educational directions by building on current successes and encouraging experimentation in some key areas.
The most important principle at work in the plan is the idea that our residential arrangements should reflect the evolving needs of students. Freshmen and sophomores would live together in their Commons because they will benefit more from the educational support and advising available to them there, while juniors and seniors would be free to live elsewhere since their intellectual and social agendas are more advanced.
Two changes in program spin off from this principle — one fairly modest, the other more ambitious.
First of all, we would like to house every First Year Seminar by Commons. Currently, 75% of our fall seminars are Commons based, while none of our February seminars are (this is due to the difficulty of housing Febs in class-sized clusters). Moving to 100% participation would enable all first-year students to profit from living and learning with their classmates.
The second idea we are considering is a sophomore year experience that would extend the sense of community developed during the first year. The Faculty Heads would be responsible for developing this program, and it might consist of a series of lectures, symposia, or public service projects that give sophomores a shared experience. Initially, this idea was touted as a way of addressing the academic “drift” in the sophomore year, the fact that many students have not yet latched on to a major. But more recent discussions have pushed this program beyond the academic realm. For instance, one great idea for a sophomore experience that has emerged from Ross Commons would have students working on barn-raising projects at local farms.
The combined effect of these two programs — and others — would be to provide the Commons community an intellectual and social cohesion that it now lacks. Both programs would be residentially based, and the connections forged during the first two years would give students good reason to push off for their junior and senior years, and return to home base.