Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Four: A Plan


A. Introductory Essay

The people of the United States at this very time have several pressing community problems. One of these is the increasing separation of generations accompanied by the isolation of most of us from a truly healthy life together in family, work and community. Because of increasing size and increasing demands upon it, the college or the university is experiencing an agonizing divorce of individual and community life. WPI has an immediate opportunity to attempt a solution to part of this problem.

The planning model presents an academic program in which the individual student's responsibility for his intellectual growth is emphasized. In this chapter a campus environment is described in which the student's potential to be an adult in society could be more fully realized.

It is not possible to create the perfect environment. But, as some of us have been trying to listen to our students, we have heard that as faculty, staff, and alumni we have in subtle ways been neglecting our students as human beings. We have, it would seem, been treating them as objects to be put through our training mill, as if some magic would occur in the mechanical process. There is ample evidence that this indictment is true. While no one has expected that we could build Jerusalem or even Camelot on Boynton Hill, it would seem that we have fallen far short of attempting to provide a good community for our present generation of students.

While the student is here, this campus is the most important community in his life. The faculty, staff, and his classmates are the student's most important compatriots. Since he has left his family, it is in this community that he will, or will not, discover who he is and what he can become. The community, it might be said, is his most important teacher.

At WPI in recent years, as enrollments have increased, we have attempted to provide an efficient arrangement of dormitory housing, feeding, and course-taking with a few ancillary frills of sports and occasional cultural or social events, supported by a very small percentage of the faculty and staff. The College has supported a fraternity system which, along with the dormitory system, is largely isolated from its educational purposes and which encourages virtually no communication between students and faculty.

Most of the faculty and staff have a second supremely important task in the caring for their own families. Necessary attention to our families competes with our vocational task as faculty members. Excusing ourselves on the basis of taxes and schools, most of us have chosen to live in suburban areas away from the College and have chosen to commute from one task to the other, but not in most cases from one community to another because we tend to enjoy only a half community in each place. Perhaps it is desirable that many of us do not try to integrate the two tasks, but we should all begin to recognize that our students miss our presence in the campus life outside the classroom. It would appear that both generations are the less rich because of the divorce.

We have not, in general, allowed the undergraduates to get to know us as human beings. We sometimes rationalize that we can be more objective in the classroom if we do not get personally involved with our students outside the classroom. If we assume, quite wrongly, that objectivity is the most important virtue in relating to an undergraduate, are we not tending to make ourselves mere machines and our students mere products? Arthur Clarke suggested in his lecture earlier this year that all teachers who can be replaced by teaching machines should be'

In our present college environment we have consigned the young men and women who have come here to a barracks life and have, at least for the first year, appointed wardens over them. With that done, we assign them to our classes and see them occasionally in our offices. Some few of us will now and then have a cup of coffee with an undergraduate; but most of us, even on the yearly occasion when there is an opportunity to sit at dinner with the honors students, do not find it easy to talk with undergraduates outside the classroom. In effect, we look upon them as a different breed, not as members of a common campus life.

We have asked our students to be adults, but have put them in an environment where it is almost impossible for them to act as adults or even to see what a healthy adult community can be, since we ourselves do not invite them into our separate society. This is especially regrettable at WPI, since most of the students who come to the College have never been taught how to talk. They appreciate immensely the time any of the faculty and staff take to show them some of the pleasures and excitement of good conversation.

The freshmen who move into our dormitories gain release from their families, but do we provide them with a community in which they can begin to comprehend what it means to become a free and responsible person? The upperclassmen who move into the fraternities find rather limited community life there, with perhaps two or three exceptions, and other upperclassmen must manage on their own, for better or worse.

To neglect the present severe division between our students and faculty and not to provide an environment in which a healthy community can grow, is for WPI to fail to justify its own existence.

Having discussed possible solutions with many people and studied the many suggestions submitted, the Planning Committee present in this Plan a series of recommendations of the kind which they feel are educationally and psychologically sound and would contribute to a more attractive and useful campus. Along with these few basic recommendations for changes in the physical campus, it is urged that 45 faculty, staff, students, alumni, and all associated with the College continue thinking about the radical changes which are needed in the spirit of our community relationships if we are to become a place where good learning and good life can flourish. As the students concluded in their Subcommittee Report, "Environment and College Life" (December 17, 1969): "There are barriers in the present physical environment here which must be eliminated, but changes in buildings alone will not solve our problem. We must still discover the 'spiritual' catalyst that will make the reaction run and bring about the shifts in attitude of both students and faculty that are so profoundly needed "

B. General Principles

1. The physical and psychological environment should help students to assume, much more than it has been able to do, the role of adult members of a community.

2. The College has tended, along with the American academic community in general, to promote an extended adolescence in its students by strict regulation in some areas and by complete neglect in other areas.

3. The members of the College should encourage each of its students to make all of his own decisions and contracts and to be fully accountable for them.

4. Students are important people who want a community in which they can develop and demonstrate their many capabilities. They want to learn how to make their lives useful and enjoyable.

5. A campus environment is needed that provides both a pleasant community of students and faculty and an environment that protects individuality and the need, at times, for each individual to be a separate person.

6. WPI should become a leader in discovering the new forms of community which are needed to help good learning and worthwhile life flourish.

7. The campus needs immediately a central reception area where we can proudly welcome guests.

8. The campus needs immediately a central place where our various members might easily converse and meet together informally.

9. Dining is a most important function of a community. The present arrangements do not contribute to good community relationships.

10. Students need versatile forms of housing.

11. Both students and faculty need assistance in finding housing.

12. The College's actions or inactions regarding housing, affect the efforts of the Worcester Housing Authority and others to improve the housing in our nearby neighborhoods. WPI should make a positive effort to help improve housing and general conditions in the nearby neighborhoods and in no way contribute to the deterioration of those neighbor hoods by action or inaction.

13. WPI should provide on its campus examples of leadership to society in conservation, space and land use, building design, parking arrangements, environmental controls and general maintainance.

14. The common morality the campus community can share is good manners, not a set of rules.

15. To the extent that the undergraduate population exceeds 1500, it will become increasingly difficult to provide the kind of environment needed.

C. Physical Environment

The Committee submit the following specific recommendations as examples of changes in physical environment needed to support the spirit of community required by the Plan. Campus Center

As an alternative to building a new student union or campus union, at a time when the popularity of such buildings seems to be waning, the Planning Committee recommend that the Alden Memorial and Sanford Riley Hall be extensively and carefully renovated to provide an integrated Campus Center for students, faculty, alumni, and campus guests.

1. That the front entrance and first floor of Riley Hall be utilized as the campus reception area.

2. That the first floor of Riley Hall be completely opened up, carpeted and furnished tastefully as reception area and lounge.

3. That a campus information center be established in this area and staffed with a competent receptionist throughout the day and evening. The receptionist should be charged with scheduling all college events and space (other than courses) and with providing information on campus, Consortium, Worcester, Boston and other events. It should be in this area that campus visitors are welcomed, including applicants and those attending conferences.

4. That a small pantry be built, equipped and staffed to provide simple refreshments continuously throughout the day and evening in the lounge-reception area.

5. That the roof of the present billiard room be utilized as an outdoor terrace for use in the warmer months, appropriately furnished and with access to the simple refreshment service of the lounge-reception area.

6. That an attractive staircase or staircases be built to provide easy access and attractive entrances to the lower floor if Riley and the conversation areas, game rooms, music rooms, coffee house and Goat's Head Pub, all of which should continue to be developed.

7. That all of these areas be adequately staffed so that they may be kept clean, pleasant and useful.

8. That a Post Office be built somewhere in the Center with adequate mail boxes for all who need them. That campus and off-campus telephones e provided nearby.

9. That the campus bookstore be provided with space in or near the Center.

10. That the second floor of Sanford Riley be carefully renovated for a permanent Admissions Office, and for rooms of various kinds to meet the needs of student, faculty, and conference groups. Some campus organizations, such as the publications, should probably be provided with permanent quarter here, but most of the rooms should be scheduled as needs develop

11. That a quiet room be provided somewhere in the Campus Center.

12. That the third and fourth floors of Riley be converted into a series of two room apartments with bath, and a series of single rooms. The halls and rooms and apartments should be carefully carpeted and decorated. The rooms should be furnished. The apartments should be rented furnished or unfurnished. Apartments and rooms should be allotted in a balanced manner to undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, alumni and to campus guests. Most of the units should be rented on a yearly basis, but some should be saved for transients or small conferences.

Cloister Passage

13. That an easy and attractive, well-lit and clean passage be provided from Sanford Riley Hall to Alden Memorial.

Alden Memorial

14. That the Main Hall of Alden be adapted as the college dining hall, utilizing family style service.

15. That the former library be utilized for large receptions, and that the individual bays be converted into small meeting or dining rooms by means of folding panels in keeping with the wooden decor of these rooms. The Janet Earle room would be part of this complex.

16. That the College employ expert assistance to design efficient delivery, storage, processing, preparation, and service areas and dumb waiter systems for the private dining rooms and the main dining hall, probably utilizing the storage area of the lower floor of Alden, the sub-basement of the former library as well as the land behind Alden.

17. That an efficient and attractive means be designed for converting the dining hall quickly and easily for theatrical, musical or lecture events as well as for dancing and for exhibits.

18. That the Green Room be reserved for special meetings of faculty or students.

19. That the former studio rooms in Alden be utilized by project or club groups as needed.

The Planning Committee recommend:

1. That the President of the College appoint a Director of Housing charged with listing all campus and off-campus housing appropriate for undergraduates, graduates and faculty. It should be with this Director of Housing that a student contracts for renting rooms or apartments in the campus residence halls. The contract the student makes should be that of landlord and tenant.

2. That freshmen receive on-campus-housing priority, but that no students be required to live or eat in college halls.

3. That WPI support and encourage the building of moderate cost rental housing and the rehabilitation of existing housing in the nearby neighborhoods.

4. That the present dormitory halls and rooms be carpeted and that some lounge or common area be provided on each floor. In Morgan, the wide halls themselves could be furnished as lounges.

5. That each of the dormitories be equipped with group-study rooms of various sizes, a computer card punch, and terminals on each floor to the central computer.

6. That the College prepare to build and maintain a series of residences or vertical units within a single hall with dining and social facilities and seminar-study rooms. These units should accommodate fifty or sixty people and be appropriate for leasing to groups or for individual rentals. Each unit should contain apartments, suites, and single rooms.

7. That, unless they have contracted for housing or dining, the College should make no formal demands on the fraternnities, nor should the fraternities have any special protection from the civil law or from the mores of the community.

Morgan Hall

8. That the space made available in Morgan by moving the college dining facilities to Alden, as well as the present lounge, be converted into a series of six-man suites (small individual sleeping-study rooms off a common living room and bath), and a series of two-room apartments for faculty or graduate students.

Miscellaneous Recommendations

1. That versatile and comfortable meeting and lounge areas be developed throughout the campus which can be scheduled for student and faculty use. Each should have necessary custodial care to assure that they remain clean, pleasant and useful.

2. That the College consider further modernization, carpeting and proper ventilation of the present large lecture halls to make them more inviting for campus and community use and for visiting conferences throughout the year.

3. That all but visitor parking be prohibited on the West Campus, except on special occasions, and that the area be reclaimed, landscaped and planted.

4. That the entire area of the hill below Boynton Hall and Washburn to Institute Road and to Boynton Street be saved for gardens, lawns and trees. The College should set a conservation example.

5. That landscaped car-parks be developed at the edges of the campus.

6. That a master plan for the campus be developed con- sistent with the educational goal of the College, and with the involvement of faculty, students, and staff.

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Last modified: Fri Mar 5 15:28:11 EST 1999