Worcester Polytechnic Institute

A Planning Program for Worcester Polytechnic Institute: The Future of Two Towers - Part Three: A Model


An undergraduate student is not educated in classrooms. He gathers knowledge there; he learns techniques there; and hopefully he finds teachers there who provide him with high standards of achievement; but he decides elsewhere how he will use this material and what his own standards and attitudes will be. What his former community and family thought important, what his campus peers think important, and what attitudes are generally prevalent and practiced by the total campus community are influential educating factors in his life.

Even if a college makes no attempt to co-ordinate its community life with its academic goal, the attitudes on campus concerning the purposes of learning will still have a marked effect on whether or not the college achieves its stated educational objectives. If the majority of the students believe the purpose of the bachelor's degree is to secure affluence for the holder, the college will probably have difficulty promoting different ideals. If the student social life is vulgar, the college as a whole will tend toward vulgarity. If the faculty isolates itself from the student community, the influence of the college on student attitudes will be reduced. If dining facilities are run like downtown cafeterias or military mess halls, the college must accept the effects upon its academic goal.

Student life and interaction among students, then, has as important an influence upon the educational effectiveness of the college as does the formal structured academic program, but the interaction among faculty has an equally important effect. When a college is analyzing its potentialities, it needs to ask some courageous questions about the commitment of its faculty. Is the college a corporation where one works from nine to five and must attend an occasional extra event, or is it a special community whose success depends on the intellectual and social interaction among its members? If it is the former, the college should in no way make social demands on its employees; if it is the latter, the college will want to help secure housing in the local community and will wish to provide possibilities for a good faculty club and for places on campus where students and faculty may meet together.

The Questions of Tactics.

Rather than attempt to proceed with a design for a utopian campus which would foster the general goal of educating the humanist engineer, it seems wiser to raise some basic questions which both faculty and students might now want to consider about our life together. The first three of these questions are basic; the second group of four are more specific.

Three Basic Questions about the WPI Community.

1. Do students and faculty wish a community here in which there is interaction outside the classroom among the students and faculty? If "yes," what kind of interaction? If "no," why not?

2. To what extent should the college serve in loco parentis, guiding the student in his behavior, particularly in matters of alcohol, narcotics, sex, and use of property?

3. What social, cultural and intellectual activities should the college encourage, to what extent, and for what purpose?

Four Specific Tactical Questions.

1. On a campus how does one protect both individuality and the sense of community?

2. How does one develop potential leadership?

3. When is a college intellectually exciting?

4. How could WPI assure that its graduates will have a broad and mature understanding of human behavior and values?

Some Possible Student Living Arrangements

Case I To Recognize Student Maturity by Delegating to the Students all Responsibility for Living Arrangements.

Case II To Provide Housing on a Rental Basis With the College Assuming Landlord Functions Only.

Case III To Utilize Small Housing Units.

Case IV To Utilize Residential Colleges.

Case V To Foster a Strong College-Oriented Fraternity Living Unit System.

Case VI To Organize Student Living in Large Dormitories.

Case VII To Franchise Dormitory Operation to a Professional Hotel Management Organization.

Case VIII To Develop Student Maturity by Establishing Separate Living Educational Quarters for Seniors.

Case IX To Maintain the Status Quo.

Case X An Appropriate Combination of the Above.

Case I
To Recognize Student Maturity by Delegating to the Students all Responsibility for Living Arrangements.

Today's undergraduates are used to a much greater degree of responsibility and freedom than those of previous generations. In many instances they have, prior to their matriculation, exercised this responsibility by living away from home for short periods or for an entire summer. This may have taken the form of traveling or living away because of job requirements.

For these reasons, current undergraduates desire to live in accommodations of their own choosing and the traditional college role of providing not only housing but a degree of control is no longer advisable.

Under this proposal, the college might provide assistance in the location of housing; however, primary responsibility would rest with the student. He would be considered an adult, insofar as the law permits, and assume his own civil responsibilities.

Case II
To Provide Housing on a Rental Basis with the College Assuming Landlord Functions Only.

This case rests upon the student maturation characteristics as presented in Case I. Because there may, from time to time, be difficulty in 24 the location of off-campus housing, it is proposed that the college purchase such housing, making it available to students on a rental basis. The relationship between the student and the college in this case would be the same as the relationship between an owner-landlord and tenant.

With respect to responsibility and freedom, the student would continue to exercise all rights under law as applicable to the landlord-tenant relationship. With respect to student conduct, the college would not provide an interface between him and civil authorities.

Case III
To Utilize Small Housing Units.

In this case, the college would provide small housing units with dining and sleeping accommodations for 75-125 students. The college would assume normal hotel functions, such as food preparation, furnishings, and service. Faculty and administrative staff members would be associated with each House Unit, taking occasional meals and participating in some appropriate programs, both social and cultural.

The ideal, in this case, would be an intellectual and social melding of the campus community, cutting across college-class and disciplinary lines. This arrangement would create an opportunity for frequent exchange of ideas by all associated with the unit and provide a small enough group for the formation of lasting friendships.

Case IV
To Utilize Residential Colleges.

This case envisages a living system somewhat similar to that of Case III, but enlarged in numbers. Each residential college might total 200-250 students. Faculty and administrative staff would be associated with each unit. They would take occasional meals and participate in the social-cultural life of the college.

The major distinction between this case and that of Case III (House Units) is that, because of the increased size, there would be more diversity in the 25 members' interest patterns but ample opportunity for the formation of sub-group friendships.

Case V
To Foster a Strong College-Oriented Fraternity Living Unit System.

In its ideal form, this system reinforces the educational role of the college yet provides for living groups of common interest patterns. Further, it does serve an educational role in leadership development as it carries out its self-management functions. The criticism that this system discriminates per se is somewhat time-worn in this day of student egalitarianism.

This case should not be confused with the status quo (Case IX). There would appear to be sufficient criticism of some of the current WPI fraternities to question seriously whether they are in fact fraternities or self-governing hotels.

Case VI
To Organize Student Living in Large Dormitories.

Utilizing existing dormitories and new ones yet to be constructed, this program would involve a system similar to that presently afforded to freshmen. Appropriate changes would seem necessary in the dining hall patterns along with the addition of informal lounges on each floor. Present college regulations involving student life-styles would also need study. The formal involvement of faculty-advisors and supervisors in the cultural-social programs of each dorm could be considered.

Case VII
To Franchise Living Operations to a Professional Hotel Management Organization.

The major distinction of this option is that a student-formed corporation, 26 the college, or a joint corporation would lease the operation of the living units to professional hotel-type management. This could provide excellent facilities and services and allow the college to concentrate on the academic program.

To Develop Student Maturity by Establishing Separate Living-Educational Quarters for Seniors.

It is well known that as a student nears graduation his interest patterns change. This system recognizes such change and affords seniors a special setting in which they may develop their activities in a manner they deem appropriate. Presumably, the faculty would be involved in this structure. A nearby example of this case is that of the Senior Center at Bowdoin College.

Case IX
To Maintain the Status Quo.

No discussion is attempted here.

Case X
An Appropriate Combination of the Above.

No discussion is attempted here.

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