Nihil domo similior.
on a scroll beneath a blue shield depicting a moon, a star and a
dragon-like beast known as a wyvern, those three words roll mysteriously
across the tongue, like the password for some ancient fraternal
What they form, rather,
is an approximate Latin translation of the Stouffer food company
motto, "Nothing comes closer to home"hardly the
stuff of secret handshakes and clandestine meetings, but a clever
coat of arms for Stouffer College House (named after Penn benefactor
Vernon J. Stouffer W23). One of Stouffers student residents
created the design during a coat of arms contest held in the spring
for the Universitys dozen college houses.
This nod to heraldry
represents one small way that folks in the Office of College Houses
and Academic Services hope to crystallize a sense of tradition and
community throughout the Universitys revamped system of on-campus
Last fall Penn turned all 12 residences
into college houses where undergraduates live among faculty
masters and fellows, graduate associates, resident advisers and
house deans (see box). It made some modest building renovations
(and planned much more ambitious ones; see story on page 22), hired
additional staff and conducted extensive training on topics ranging
from academic advising to cultural opportunities
in Philadelphia. More than 100 non-resident faculty were recruited
to participate in college-house activities throughout the year,
while several faculty-in-residence took advantage of special funds
to teach in-house seminars.
Penn dedicated space to three new residential
programs for students with shared intellectual interests and expanded
the delivery of academic-support services through the houses. It
also attempted to better mix freshmen and upperclassmen, with the
hope of promoting lasting ties to individual residences.
Across the country, universities appear
to be adopting housing initiatives with a similar spirit. In the
Ivy League alone:
Columbia University has created a new
system of class deans whose offices are located in the residence
halls and is constructing a new upperclass dorm that will serve
as a living/learning center for seniors.
Dartmouth University is studying ways
to provide more choices, continuity and interaction within student
residences, with the goals of decreasing the number of students
living off campus and eliminating student alcohol abuse.
Cornell University is developing plans
and considering options to phase in a residential-house system for
College-house organizers at Penn say they
werent motivated by trends or the drive of competition, but
a long untapped opportunity to support the Universitys academic
mission through all of its residences, while also making better
use of electronic communication.
"This happened now because the president
and provost recognized what 30 years of planning reports have said
all along: that this was an unutilized opportunity that Penn possessed,"
says Dr. David Brownlee, the professor of art history who serves
as director of the Office of College Houses and Academic Services.
"Its not a matter of a new or stronger argument, or really
substantially different set of circumstances, but of leadership.
President Rodin and a succession of provostscredit must be
shared by [former provosts] Stanley Chodorow and Michael Wachtersaw
that this was a really powerful idea." Although changes probably
have made Penn more competitive, he adds, "the leading
issue was our responsibility for our own studentsthe ones
who are, in fact, already here."
Whether students will fully engage in
the opportunities provided by college-house living remains to be
seen. The new system also has some critics, including Dr. Alan Kors,
the professor of history who helped found the first college house
at Penn three decades ago. By duplicating this residential model
on such a large scale, he argues, "What youre going to
end up with is a college-house system in name rather than in programmatic