In 1827, Francis Wayland, then-president of Brown University, suspended the university's medical program when the physicians on faculty refused to live on campus. Nearly two centuries later, faculty-in-residence programs have proliferated, and an online search yields dozens, if not hundreds, of university websites detailing programs that embed faculty in dorms. Though it's hard to imagine anything further from the chaos of the 1978 film Animal House than professors and students living peacefully in the same dorms, many are actually volunteering to be neighbors.
Michael Floyd, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, who was president of the student advisory council at one of the 10 houses on Vanderbilt's Ingram Commons, each of which has a faculty head of house, says living alongside a professor made the dorm feel more like home.
"The faculty heads of house are not there to be spies or to get students in trouble, and I don't think students ever felt that way," he says.
Although Floyd had a positive dormitory experience, he heard some of the other faculty heads of house were disconnected. "[I]t's very hard to find 10 faculty heads of house that are going to devote themselves to a house full of freshmen," he says.
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Recent Tulane University alumnus Greg Miller lived in a dorm that was home to about 250 students and a professor. Students had to apply and explain why they were good fits for the dorm, so Miller estimates 90 percent of his dormmates were "completely comfortable with the arrangement."
"Were our damage bills considerably less than the two traditional freshmen dorms? Yes," says Miller, who works for a PR firm in Dallas. "Were there nights with loud parties, debauchery, lounge furniture gone missing, and intoxicated undergraduates running wild? Yes—similar to most freshmen experiences, particularly in New Orleans."
Though Miller admits the suite-styled rooms, where he'd share a bathroom with three people at most, attracted him more than extracurricular time with professors, that's not the motivation schools with faculty in residence are hoping is the norm.
Jeff Kosmacher, director of media relations and public affairs at Vassar College, where more than 70 percent of the faculty lives "on campus or nearby," says the House Fellows program "helps students know professors as more whole people."
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One student who benefited from her faculty neighbor of three years is Caroline Barta, a senior at Baylor University. The professor gave Barta and her mother a personal tour when they visited campus. Now, he's her academic adviser.
Having her adviser live nearby affords her extra opportunities to reach him, Barta says, thought she admits that when she's missed a deadline, "his continual presence around the college [can be] a rather painful reminder of my tardiness."
"More and more, higher education institutions are separating students from faculty and are pushing learning to just the classroom and ignoring the out-of-class opportunities," says Rishi Sriram, coauthor of a a recent study about Baylor's faculty-in-residence programs and the coordinator of Baylor's graduate program in higher education and student affairs. "Faculty-in-residence programs are a reaction against those trends."
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At George Washington University, even the president and the provost live on campus. Lauren French, editor in chief of the student-run GW Hatchet, says she wasn't aware a professor lived in her dorm until mid-semester. "I'm sure some students think it's weird," she says, "But overall, everyone we've talked to has only been positive about it."
Not everyone is a fan of faculty in residence, however. Writing in Duke University's student newspaper a few years ago, then-senior Jordan Everson said having a professor in his freshman dorm made "little difference," and recent stories about other faculty in residence programs have suggested students "hide the beer" or called Clemson University's faculty embed program a "bold, somewhat creepy move."
And at GW, sophomore Maddy Bortes says combining academic and residential experiences can lead to "unintended consequences that aren't always positive."
When professors encounter student dormmates headed to—or worse, back from—a party, "all aspects of academic interaction in a professor-student relationship are scrapped," Bortes says. When professors invite students to their homes, however, there is an implied academic context, she says, so "it does not feel as if you are debunking barriers that exist between professors and students."
She's fine with the faculty embed in her building, because he isn't her professor. "[B]ut if he were," she says, "I would not be pleased with [him] living in my dorm."
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