Residential Improvement Committee presents proposal to restructure house presidents’ role

The Housing Committee endorsed an amended, provisional version of changes to the structure and role of House Presidents proposed by the Residential Improvement Committee (RIC) by a vote of 46-8-7 last night.

Chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and Jackson Professor of Religion William Darrow introduced this version of the changes to the Housing Committee. “There was concern that the housing system had lost sight of its goals and philosophy…the desire to recapture the spirit of the system established in the late 1960s without its bureaucratic hassles all congealed into this proposal,” he said.

The proposed policy outlines three primary function of the house president: faculty involvement, house unity and social planning and house management. As all responsibilities will be merged into the house presidents’ job, the current system of area managers to serve as links between the administration and the students will be disbanded.

The largest debate stemmed from the preliminary decision to dismantle the co-presidency in favor of a single house President working in conjunction with a house social chair. The social chairs would be required to be TIPS trained and would be responsible for planning parties.

Many members of the Housing Committee felt that the co-presidency was a good system that does not need to be replaced. Some thought that creating the subsidiary position of the social chair would take social planning away from the House Presidency. In addition, since the proposal states that “the President is ultimately held accountable for the actions of his/her house officers,” some worried that the president would not want to let the social chair be solely responsible for parties.

Director of Housing Tom McEvoy responded that the committee was under the impression that the responsibilities of social planning were draining rather than prestigious. “This group [the present Housing committee] is seen as what we envision the social events group to be,” he said. The proposed changed are intended to create more opportunities for leadership through interaction between administrative offices and the president’s constituents. Once elected, house presidents will receive training in leadership including mediation and TIPS certification.

However, Garfield House President Chris Wendell ’00 said he wants to be free from the administration. “I want to be held accountable by students, not by the Deans, Housing or Security,” he explained.

The Housing Committee finally voted to amend the proposal and to re-instate co-presidents 47-7-7. However, this section was excluded in the version of the proposal approved by the committee.

The desire to promote faculty-student interaction through the housing system is the “biggest, newest change,” according to Phil Swisher ’01, Housing Committee co-President and chair of RIC. Though the exact implementation has yet to be determined, the RIC intends to create positions for 19 “faculty associates” working with a house or a pair of smaller houses, excluding co-ops and freshmen houses. According to the proposal, “the faculty associates will work collaboratively with the House President to facilitate student-faculty interaction and plan events and programs of interest to the house.” Furthermore, each faculty associate will be allocated money to facilitate this programming.

At the meeting Darrow suggested that there $2000 would be given to each advisor to pay for or defray costs of events such as house dinners, movies, plays or trips. He admitted it was impossible to be more precise about this relationship but said that in general it was an opportunity for money to help smaller groups on campus.

According to the new policy, the Housing Committee will be composed of one house president from each campus house, two co-op representatives, two off-campus representatives, one representative from SAC, the Frosh Council President (serving as the at-large first-year representative), and three at-large representatives corresponding to each class. At the beginning of second semester, each first-year house will elect a president.

Another change to the present system is the institution of a referendum at the beginning of spring semester. The house will first vote on whether a new election is necessary and, if so, a new election will be held for which the current house president may run.

The Housing Committee will elect the co-presidents (or a president and vice president) from among those who already have served on the Housing Committee in the spring. They will chair the House Advocacy Group and appoint, upon confirmation of the entire committee, the chairs of the Parties and Concerts groups.

The draft of changes put forth to the Housing Committee evolved from last year’s cluster housing proposal that helped to create the RIC. The RIC is composed of Dean Wanda Lee, McEvoy, Darrow, Professor of History Peter Frost, Swisher, Bert Leatherman ’00, James Moorhead ’00, Carrie Ryan ’00, Mayur Deshmukh ’01 and Kyla Dotson ’03.