Presidents propose major redefinition of role

The House Presidents’ Council recently unveiled a host of reforms that recast the role of a house president as a social coordinator and facilitator of dorm life. In an effort to dovetail with other ongoing reforms to residential life, the house presidents worked with representatives from College Council (CC) and the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) to evaluate and remodel the position of house president. The new role – that of “House Coordinator” (HC) – adds increased responsibility and commitment to a beleaguered leadership position on campus.

While HCs are not uncommon at other schools, such dorm-affiliated social roles have little precedent at Williams. A selection committee composed of Housing Committee members and general all-campus respresentatives will choose HCs. Successful applicants will receive payment equivalent to half a teaching assistant’s salary for the full year’s work.

Rob Sica ’03, co-president of the House Presidents’ Council, said that some administrators and groups actually wanted the salary, which would be about $450 per semester, to be higher. However, recognizing the unpaid position of Junior Advisors (JA), the house presidents felt that the $900 total figure would be appropriate. HCs will enter a separate housing draw upon selection and receive first room pick in the house in which they will work.

The HC role can be likened to that of a Junior Advisor (JA) for non-first-years, although the JA system will not be affected by this new change. Once picked by the selection committee, HCs must be present on campus in late August to go through a period of training before students arrive.

Although details of the training still must be worked out, Sica said that the increased rigors of the revised “house president” role will benefit houses on campus greatly as HCs learn more about providing a support structure for students.

“[Co-council president] Healy Thompson ’03 and I thought residential leadership had to come about,” Sica said, which is one reason why the social chairs committee and housing committee separated after last year. “[We asked:] how can we make [house presidents] more effective than they are?”

The first change that the house presidents considered was moving house elections to the spring, which would allow house presidents to enter the new academic year and start planning events immediately. With house unity largely dependent on the success of house activities in the first few weeks of school, it is important that HCs are prepared to start planning events even before the year officially starts.

“I think having the HCs [available] at the beginning of the year serves two purposes,” Thompson said. “They’re the best people on campus and – more importantly – you have someone who has received training and can start planning events from the get-go. They already have snacks being planned and other events.” The number of students that HCs represent will also be reduced. Currently, house presidents can have as many as 100 constituents, depending on their house. The new HC system will have a ratio of about one house coordinator per 30 students. That means that large houses such as Mills and Prospect will have a number of HCs to better assist students.

The training Thompson and Sica envision, which was proposed after the spring elections, also serves a number of purposes. Noting the difficulty that house presidents have in planning events, Sica said that the training – with the addition of the CUL’s Community Life Coordinator (CLC) proposal – will provide a solid base by which HCs can organize their houses. The job will include attending meetings, choosing a faculty associate who will attend some house functions, scheduling educational and community service events and planning social events with other houses. HCs will not be involved with party planning, which falls under the jurisdiction of a house’s social chair. Sica said that the current social chair system, in which social chairs are chosen by house election, will remain in place.

Working with the CLCs will be an integral part of the HC job. “CLCs can work out anchor-affiliation lunches, but they can also sit down with the HCs and say ‘let’s get these [anchor-affiliated] houses together,’” Sica said. “Houses just don’t do a lot together. . .but we feel support structures are needed to help the HCs.”

Sica expects that regardless of when the anchor affiliation system proposed by the CUL is finally implemented, CLCs and HCs will stand independent of the overall success of the CUL’s proposed housing system. “The CUL proposal is vast. Not everything can be put in place next year, but this can,” Sica said.

The process for actually selecting HCs has been roughly laid out, although there are some details still to be solidified. According to Sica and Elliot Morrison ’04, Mills housing committee representative, students will fill out application forms which will be evaluated by three separate committees. About five students will comprise each committee; of that number, three would be current House Presidents Council representatives and two would be selected from the general student body.

The catch to applying for an HC position, however, is the house presidents’ plans to limit which classes can apply for different houses. For instance, by looking at historical trends, the committee will probably determine that only seniors are eligible for the major row houses, since those units typically house a majority of seniors. Likewise, Mission houses will be open only for rising sophomore HCs. Houses that have a good mixture of classes, such as Fitch and Prospect, will likely be open to any candidate.

Once selected, an HC, depending on his or her year, will enter into an independent lottery to determine housing picks before the general campus draw. A junior chosen to be an HC in senior year, for instance, will enter a lottery for row house housing, plus a number of additional dorms.

Once the HC lottery is complete, HCs will choose their housing and be assigned to a row house before the regular campus draw. The HCs will have the ability to choose three other students to pick in with.

Nancy Roseman, dean of the College, has not seen the proposal for the housing draw system yet and could not comment. However, she did say that both she and Morton Owen Schapiro, president of the College, support the vision that house presidents have for the housing coordinator position.

However, many students have voiced concerns over the changes to the house president system. At last week’s CC meeting, a number of representatives expressed concern over who will be on the selection committee. Thompson claimed that both time and background information on the role of the HC are limiting factors in deciding who can be on the selection committee. As the House Presidents’ Committee has been discussing the job for so long, its members believe that they are familiar enough with what the HC role entails to choose students from the applicant pool.

As for the issue of HCs having salaried positions as well as first pick in their respective houses, there is the possibility that students may apply for benefits of the job (a top pick and money) rather than for furthering student interests. Morrison said that the selection process, however, should weed out a lot of would-be scammers.

“First pick into a house is sufficient compensation for a HC, especially in [the plan’s] rookie year,” said Will Allen ’02, a former JA and current at-large CC representative. Allen believes that a salary should be considered only if the job turns out to be more strenuous than expected.

“[The payment will] compensate the HC for the training and weekly meetings when a HC could be working another job,” said Caitlin Stashwick ’02 in defense of HC payment.

“[The council] does not want to have a student on financial aid pass up this position,” said Morrison.

Roseman supported the proposal by stating “what [the House Presidents Council] is proposing is not at all unusual, but exists at many, many other institutions.”

In addition, while Roseman likes the proposed changes, she also knows that revising and reviving a system such as that of the house presidents takes experimentation, which brings both failures and successes.

“Developing these positions and figuring out how they will work best in the context of Williams is going to take time,” Roseman said.

“The important thing is that we keep an open mind and recognize when something is not working and then have the guts to admit it and change it. . .if we make a decision about how the HC room draw works, and then realize there are problems or is a better way to do it, we’ll change it,” she said.

According to the house presidents, letters soliciting self-nominations for the HC positions will be sent out shortly. Applications will be reviewed by the selection committees and students will be notified of the committees’ decision before spring break.