At a special meeting of Campus Council Monday, the residential life governing body approved a resolution calling for several significant changes to the one-year-old housing policy.
Most notably, the resolution recommends the creation of "senior-only" houses on the Main West Campus Quadrangle. It also calls for a one-year probationary period for the linked housing system, as well as a house-centric or quad-centric labeling system for dormitories.
In recommending the senior-only houses, the legislation notes that seniors currently have little incentive to live on campus, as a large portion of their classmates live in cheaper, off-campus housing in apartment complexes like the Belmont or Erwin Square apartments.
"The emphasis in housing is to build class unity.... but seniors sort of get left out in the works," said Campus Council President Andrew Nurkin. "There is no residential experience that allows them to join together as a class."
Such housing would provide a quiet, comfortable environment in which students will be able to complete senior theses or other large research projects, the resolution's rationale reads.
It would also create a location for senior seminars and Career Center activities, build senior leadership and bring back some social life to the quads.
Nurkin said the system is partially modeled after a similar one at the University of Virginia, which rewards select seniors with prime housing. Although senior houses at Duke initially would not be tied to academics, they could serve as a bedrock for a potential senior capstone academic experience, he added.
Under the new housing system, all freshmen live on East Campus, all sophomores live on West Campus and all juniors - who are now required to live three consecutive years on campus - live on either West or Central campuses.
Seniors have historically proven a strong presence on Main West campus, but with the migration of the social scene off campus and inexpensive apartments becoming more readily available, their dominance has subsided.
In Fall 1999, 921 seniors lived somewhere on campus. Next year, only 592 will do so.
Although dormitories housing seniors - most of whom are of legal drinking age - could become popular venues for parties, incoming Campus Council President Anthony Vitarelli said he thought the targeted segment of the senior class would prefer a quieter, more academically oriented living environment.
Preliminary plans call for four or five houses of about 30 to 40 beds each - either in the independent corridor or spread throughout the various quads.
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Linked housing - in which freshmen may choose to link to West Campus quads that correspond to their East dormitories - made its debut this year.
Although early housing numbers indicate that more than 70 percent of rising sophomores chose to link next year, the system has received mixed reviews, prompting the probationary status for next year.
"The linking system has failed in the sense that there hasn't been a link between freshman dorms and the sophomore quads to which they are linked," said Vitarelli. "No bonds have been formed between classes, which was the underlying purpose."
He added that East Campus house councils have failed this year to facilitate programming among the dorms and linked quads, and that it will become a main priority next year.
"The deeper problem is that the current housing assignment process is premised upon the assumption that all West Campus housing is equally desirable," Vitarelli explained. "Many students disagree with that. For whatever reasons, people prefer certain housing locations over others."
He noted that equity concerns are most prevalent among Giles and Southgate dormitory residents linked to Edens quad, "historically the least popular quad."
Only 13 percent of unaffiliated Southgate residents and 29 percent of unaffiliated Giles residents eligible to link chose to do so this year.
There is further concern that the goal of transplanting the first-year experience from East to West Campus is not working in some quads.
"When you have a quad that has upwards of 350 people, but a freshman dorm of 80 or 100, and they're scattered all about the quad, and rooms are not entirely accessible because of firewalls and multiple entrances, that doesn't always ensure a fluid exchange between East and West," Vitarelli said.
Campus Council hopes to work with Assistant Dean of Residence Life Bill Burig over the summer to revamp the entire housing process, starting with the guarantees of all freshmen on East, all sophomores on West, and juniors somewhere on campus for their first three years. Any changes could be announced by November.
The third point of the resolution - the establishment of a more appropriate dormitory labeling system - is intended to eliminate confusion that currently permeates the housing system, Vitarelli said.
Such a system could be based on either quads and corresponding letters (e.g. Few A, B and C instead of Houses FF, GG, HH), or a revival of dormitory names like Nottingham and Stonehenge.
Campus Council's proposals, which passed overwhelmingly at their meeting Monday night, will be passed on to Director of Residence Life and Housing Services Eddie Hull, who will make the final decision on any such changes.