Baxter Fellow program adapts to new structure

Eighteen months after instituting the Baxter Fellow program, Campus Life continues to review the system and address concerns about its effectiveness through changes to the application process and advising structure.

Originally created in February 2007, the position was designed to execute responsibilities similar to those formerly managed by House Life Coordinators (HLCs), with the additional role of serving as a liaison between house residents and their Neighborhood Governance Boards (NGBs).

The primary modification to the system this year was the timing of the self-nomination process. In spring 2007, Campus Life solicited applications for the position prior to room draw and assigned Baxter Fellows and their housing pick groups to specific houses and rooms before the campus housing lottery.

In response to criticism that “it didn’t seem fair for Baxter Fellows to not only get their own rooms reserved, but also to take their pick groups with them,” according to Residential Life Coordinator (RLC) David Schoenholtz, the application procedure was moved to after room draw in spring 2008. This ensured that there was “no incentive to [apply to become a Baxter Fellow] for any reason other than interest in the position,” Schoenholtz said.

Since the Baxter Fellow self-nomination and interview process began after the housing lottery this year, some houses received multiple applications from residents while others saw only one or none, forcing Campus Life to extend the interview deadline beyond its original April 27 date.

Most of the positions were filled in response to e-mails sent to house mailing lists through May. In other instances, NGB officers and Baxter Fellows encouraged individual friends to apply. Thompson remains the only house currently without a Baxter Fellow.

The second major structural change to the program comes from within the Campus Life office itself. Last year, four part-time Campus Life Coordinators (CLCs) supervised their respective neighborhoods’ Baxter Fellows and NGBs. As of now, Schoenholtz has sole responsibility for managing the Baxter Fellow program while other members of Campus Life staff are involved in more direct oversight of the NGBs.

According to Aaron Gordon, assistant director of Campus Life, the new organizational scheme fulfills two functions. Last year, students and Campus Life observed that “some [Baxter Fellows] performed at a high level and some performed at a low level, but there was no way to hold them accountable,” Gordon said.

Now, according to Gordon, the Residential Life Coordinator will be better able to define the responsibilities of the position and develop a framework both to guide Baxter Fellows in managing their tasks and to evaluate their successes. In addition, Schoenholtz will be able to take a “more active role with the NGBs, working more closely with them [-] and being an advisor of sorts” on budget and event planning matters, Gordon said.

While former Baxter Fellows agree there is a need to formalize the responsibilities of the position, some feel that reducing the four CLCs to a single RLC may be the wrong approach and in fact will diminish the Baxter Fellow role in unifying residential life in the neighborhood and working alongside NGBs. “There are just so many Baxter Fellows,” said Susan Yoon ’10, the Dodd House Baxter Fellow last year. “The CLCs made it easier to get to know the other Baxter Fellows in the neighborhood.”