Committee proposes program for four-year residential colleges

By Ruth Stevens

Princeton NJ -- A report recommending changes that Princeton should consider as it implements a plan to strengthen and expand the University's resi-dential college system was presented to the Board of Trustees Sept. 20.

The Report of the 21-member Four-Year College Program Planning Committee proposes modifications in advising/staffing, programming, housing and dining to convert the University's current system of five two-year colleges into a system of paired two- and four-year colleges that will, in the words of the report, "create more interaction for first- and second-year students with upperclass students, graduate students and faculty."


From left, freshman Marisa Swenson, sophomore Joanne Coupet and freshman Kristen Arnold check out a stone model erected north of the Dillon Tennis Courts that shows the materials that might be used for the new Whitman College. The college, which will be located north of Baker Rink, will enable an 11 percent increase in the student body as well as changes in the University's residential college system when it is completed in 2006. On Sept. 20, University trustees heard a report describing how those changes might be implemented. The report now is being reviewed and discussed by a wide range of University deliberative and consultative bodies.

As previously announced, Princeton plans to construct one new college and to reconfigure two others to implement a system of three four-year residential colleges and three two-year residential colleges. It is expected that the first year of operation of the first two four-year colleges, Whitman and Mathey, will be the 2006-07 academic year.

Specifically, the committee proposes that all juniors and seniors remain affiliated with a residential college, either the one they entered as a freshman or one to which they move after sophomore year. This association would be promoted by a continuing relationship with college deans and directors of studies, a limited number of meals, participation in programs and access to facilities. The committee also calls for enhanced academic advising for all students in the colleges; the creation of a position, perhaps called "director of residential life," in each of the six colleges; the residence of 10 graduate students in each college to provide academic, culrral and residential programming; the location of more teaching in the colleges; and improvements in facilities and the quality of food. The report now will be reviewed and discussed by a wide range of University deliberative and consultative bodies.

"I believe that we are embarked together on a process that will add greatly to the experience of all Princeton students-- most immediately, of course, for those who elect to reside in residential colleges during their junior and senior years, but also, as your report makes clear, for all undergraduates and for a significant number of graduate students," wrote President Tilghman in a letter accepting the committee's report. "We are building on the strong base of residential life that has historically characterized Princeton to achieve even more effectively our goal of providing the broadest and most rewarding educational experience for students both in and out of the classroom."

Tilghman thanked co-chairs Nancy Malkiel, dean of the college, and Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life, and other members of the committee for their "exceptional work."

"The committee is convinced that the new college system will greatly strengthen the educational experience of Princeton students," Malkiel said. "By enhancing academic advising, intellectual and cultural programming, residential education and personal support, it will improve the lives of all undergraduates-- a key objective as the student body grows."

Since 1982, Princeton's five residential colleges have been composed predominantly of first- and second-year students, all of whom must live in the colleges. Most third- and fourth-year students live in dormitories that are not part of a residential college and take their meals either at eating clubs or make their own dining arrangements.

In April 2000, the trustees approved a recommendation of the Wythes Committee to increase the student body by 11 percent, from 4,600 to 5,100-- the first significant increase in undergraduate enrollment since the advent of co-education in 1969. In order to accommodate the increase, administrators began working on plans for a sixth residential college. A year later, a committee charged with making proposals on the composition and program for the sixth college recommended to the trustees that a new residential life option for juniors and seniors should be offered to better meet the needs of more undergraduates.

The new sixth college, Whitman College, will house 400 freshmen and sophomores and 100 juniors and seniors when it is completed in 2006. Two existing residential colleges, Butler and Mathey, will be renovated to accommodate the same number of students from the four classes. The remaining three colleges, Forbes, Wilson and Rockefeller, each will house 475 freshmen and sophomores, and will be paired with the four-year colleges. Plans include opportunities for faculty members as well as graduate students to reside in each of the six colleges.

Taking full advantage of opportunities

The Four-Year College Program Planning Committee met from January through May 2002. It was charged by the president to envision "a residential experience that takes fullest possible advantage of the diversity and educational opportunities at Princeton."

The committee was guided by two principles, according to its report: that the residential colleges are central to the University's educational mission and that the expansion of the student body is an opportunity to improve the quality of Princeton's undergraduate education.

In going about its work, the committee reviewed background material, including surveys and focus groups of undergraduates, prepared by earlier groups. Members visited other institutions and read proposals for the design of the sixth college submitted by undergraduates, graduate students and recent alumni in the Prospects02 competition last April.

The committee included seven faculty members, five undergraduates, one graduate student and eight administrators, all with a range of experiences and associations with the residential college program at Princeton. In addition to outlining the recommendations, the report spelled out the priorities the committee places on each of them.

In the conclusion of the report, the committee stated that its proposals "should assist the University in preserving and strengthening the personalized care, attention and guidance that have been highly prized by generations of Princetonians."

"In 1979, the Report of the Committee on Undergraduate Residential Life laid the foundation for a transformation in undergraduate residential life when it recommended the establishment of the five freshman-sophomore residential colleges that have served Princeton exceptionally well for the last two decades," the report said. "With the decision to expand the undergraduate student body and the commitment to the introduction of four-year colleges, the University has the opportunity to chart the course for a further transformation, which we are confident will serve Princeton equally well in the decades to come.

"Growth and change are hallmarks of great institutions," it continued. "We believe that the new college plan elaborated here will marry the best of Princeton's traditional strengths with new structures and opportunities that will make the University even stronger."

A copy of the full report is available online at

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