It is hard to escape the news that something is going on with respect to Community House -- something very odd. Not only are the current and prospective House residents and staff concerned, but large numbers of students who have lived in Community House over the past four years are as well. Normally, the process of collegial discussion and consultation provides the channel for the open expression of disagreements and their resolution. Now, for the first time, it appears that I am involved in a process in which there are few signs of either collegiality or consultation -- and, quite frankly, I don't know why. In order to try to stimulate the type of open discussion and review that has always prevailed at Penn, I think that it is time that the residents of Community House and the Penn community are provided with answers to the questions that have been raised in The Daily Pennsylvanian and elsewhere. Why was the Community House assistant dean of residence forced out of the house dean review process? After working with Diana Koros in Community House for four years, I feel that I have a reasonably good sense of her strengths (and weaknesses). Nonetheless, throughout the entire review process, I have never been asked to provide any information about Koros' performance. Nor, for that matter, were any of the house residents or staff. One argument is that the house dean position is entirely new and requires altogether different qualities than the ADRs. But even this argument does not hold water since, even in the charge to the review committee, it was clear that experience in Penn's residences was a central element of the review. As I was told by the chairperson, the intent was to "bend over backwards" to ensure that the current job holders had every opportunity to go forward to the next step in the review process. The result: Other internal candidates were put forward with only a Bachelor's degree and, in one case, only one year of experience in residence at Penn. What is of concern here, however, is just how Koros could have failed to make the "cut" -- since she has four years of experience in residence and very strong academic qualifications (dissertation status, seven years as a teaching assistant for Women's Studies and the departments of Regional Science, Political Science and English, plus extensive advising experience in the College and the house). What I have been told by three members of the committee is that Koros had "all of the necessary academic qualifications and residential experience" and that she was "smart and articulate" but lacked "other qualifications." When I asked what those "other qualifications" were, however, I was told only that the committee's work was confidential. Confidential or not, Koros is the current ADR, and I would expect that I am entitled to information that could affect the house -- all the more so since I also learned that no malfeasance, like the types of financial and morale problems that existed when I became faculty master, was even suggested. I now have only questions and a belief that several members of an otherwise excellent committee were allowed to use the committee to meet their own needs rather than those of the house residents. In the absence of collegiality and consultation, the questions about Koros' status thus remain unanswered. Why does it appear that Community House is opposed to the new college house plan? This question is particularly vexing since Community House has been one of the strongest supporters of the new program. Indeed, in a plan prepared by a house committee in December 1996, we proposed many of the same changes for Community House as were proposed this past September in Al Filreis' plan. Our plan called for the formation of Benjamin Franklin College House from the existing Community House units and Butcher. Already we have instituted an essay as part of the application to the house; designed the house educational program; provided extensive academic support services; implemented a house dining room; recruited upperclassmen as residents; designed University-wide programs such as PennWatch; and implemented comprehensive house-based governance procedures. Interestingly, virtually all of the Community House initiatives were guided by Koros. If anything, the house residents and staff believed we were in the vanguard in our support for the college house plan. Those concerns the house had with the new plan for the residences stemmed, almost exclusively, from what we felt to be arbitrary decisions that had been made entirely without consultation. These include the ratio of RAs to GAs -- which forced us to use both RAs and GAs exclusively for floor support rather than use GAs to develop the house educational programs -- and the almost complete absence of attention to the special needs of those houses that would continue, in the near term, to house freshmen. Community House may not be a "first-year house," but, at least for next year, more than 90 percent of the residents will be freshmen. Surely, collegial discussion and consultation could have easily remedied these concerns. But to date, no member of Community House has received invitation to participate in any of the planning discussions -- not even its faculty master! The question should thus be restated as: Just who is it that wants it to appear that Community House is opposed to the new college house plan -- and why? Why has Community House been singled out for this "special" attention? Or rather, Why has Community House been the subject of all this controversy? It is true that the house has always prided itself on its independence, but then so have Hill, DuBois, Modern Language and Van Pelt. It is true that the house has been known for creating new educational programs and initiatives that have at times been at odds with the leadership of residential living. It is true that the house students, staff and faculty leadership have often been outspoken with their concerns with respect to the extraordinary level of micromanagement which has been exercised toward the house. But if I read the Brownlee Report correctly, this is precisely the goal of the new residential program: to create strong, independent houses with educational programs dedicated to the support of the students' educational needs. Certainly, from all that I have been told (which, admittedly, is very little) the recent controversy with respect to Community House has not focussed on any concerns about the house educational programs or the dedication of the students, staff and faculty. If anything (at least judging by the applications to the house and the enormous number of calls we have received from parents wanting to know how new students can secure a room in the house), Community House is well-known and well-regarded as a place to live, learn and develop a community of friends -- perhaps the residence of choice for freshmen wishing to live in the Quad. Again, I must point at the absence of collegiality and consultation for an answer; at least at this point, no member of Academic Programs and Residence Life, the Residential Faculty Council or the administration has approached me (or any of the house students and staff) to discuss any specific concerns or misgivings with respect to the house. My point here is thus very simple. As with most issues concerning the design and implementation of educational programs, there are often differences of opinion and style. Academic tradition holds that these differences should be resolved by both collegial discussion and review and consultation with the administrators responsible for the operation of the University's educational programs. Over the past year, I have repeatedly asked to engage in this process. But without such collegiality and without the opportunity for consultation, all that remains is speculation, rumor and innuendo. My interest is in seeing Penn's standards of mutual respect and collegial support re-instituted with respect to the decisions about Community House. Any less will leave all of us only with suspicions and a belief that our single most important initiative for all of Penn's undergraduates has been tainted from the outset.Comments powered by Disqus
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