Residence Life and Housing Services Director Eddie Hull defended his decision to abolish annual review at a panel discussion Monday, citing his desire to take a fresh look at West Campus residential life in light of a quadrangle-based model. Some in attendance questioned whether this new model would mean a dim future for selective living groups on campus, to which Hull replied that he is "neither considering nor not considering any particular outcomes."
"Why do we have selective living groups in the first place? And if we have them, what does that mean?" Hull asked the audience. "The model that was in place failed to answer what is in many ways the most important question."
Hull said he was not against selective living groups in general, and thought they could be useful within a quad-based system. "I'm hoping, frankly, that we may see some interest percolate up in more kinds of theme communities," he said, musing about the possibility of a women-in-engineering selective living group.
However, he noted that selective living groups were sometimes divisive to quad unity and that they should take a back seat to quad affiliation. "For a quad model to really work to its maximum capacity, the people in that community need to be first focused on the quad, and anything else that they might be involved with, second," he said.
The roots of the recent annual review imbroglio stretch back to last fall, when Hull charged an ad-hoc student committee to propose an overhaul of annual review, the process by which selective living groups were evaluated on their contributions to the residential community.
Among other changes, the committee recommended the creation of positive financial incentives for outstanding contributions to the residential community and would have enabled groups to complete programming in four out of seven areas--such as faculty interaction and cultural programming--instead of each of the six areas that existed under the old annual review. Campus Council unanimously approved the revision Oct. 30, 2003, after considerable debate.
In light of his comments about the quad-based model and his emphasis on re-examining residential life, Hull's discontinuation of annual review is less a condemnation of the process than a statement about its irrelevance to his vision.
For now, at least, he plans to put the power of evaluating selective living groups directly in his own hands. He suggested that the recently announced relocation of Delta Sigma Phi and Sigma Nu fraternities was punishment for "regularly and almost with impunity" bringing attention to their groups in a negative way.
"We don't need annual review to take that kind of action on a group," he said. "Ultimately, I felt like I had to do my job, and not have evaluating the citizenship of groups be annual review-dependent."
He also insisted--despite some students' arguments to the contrary--that eliminating annual review will not negatively affect group programming except for eliminating the "spirit of duress" that characterized programming under the system. He pointed out that student leaders had told him that annual review reports were regularly embellished.
Campus Council President Anthony Vitarelli, who sat on the panel along with Hull, Sigma Phi Epsilon President Matt Ivester and Assistant Dean for Fraternity and Sorority Life Todd Adams, strongly disagreed with Hull about how the absence of annual review will affect programming. "I'm an optimistic realist," he said. "I think that many groups will continue to positively impact their community, but there may be some whose programming levels dramatically decline."
Further underscoring the disconnect between RLHS and some students on the issue of whether programming will decrease, Edens Residence Coordinator David Montag said selective living group programming will actually increase without annual review as groups seize "an opportunity to shine."
At one point, Vitarelli asked Hull whether a group that had not gotten into trouble but that conducted no programming should retain its status and amenities on campus. Instead of answering, Hull asked Vitarelli what he thought.
"I think it's absolutely unacceptable," Vitarelli shot back.
Hull said it was difficult to set down a concrete set of criteria by which a selective living group would lose its status. He compared the decision to that which is made when an individual student commits an egregious violation or violations of community rules and faces possible loss of housing, saying there is a "line" that must be crossed in order for a group to lose housing.
"There are going to be some groups that don't get it, that think that because of who they are, they somehow can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want, consequences be damned. I'm sorry, that's not the kind of environment I feel is appropriate for anybody," Hull said. "Talk to the Delta Sigs. If they're going to be honest with you, they would tell you that they crossed the line some time ago."
Still, Vitarelli said the abstract quality of group housing decisions in the absence of annual review was disconcerting. "I'm still concerned about the potential lack of accountability and the increased subjectivity with which groups will be evaluated," he said. "We need a structure in place to motivate groups while the quad community is still formative. Eventually, there may not be a need for such [an annual review] model, but right now there's a void."
Vitarelli said the quad-based model had not been clearly articulated to him. "Seriously, I just want to see it on a piece of paper, saying, 'This is a quad model,'" he said.
While Hull and his staff have focused on articulating a strategic plan for residential life in the last three weeks, the quad-based model is not new. Student affairs administrators have increasingly emphasized quads in the last few years, particularly since the arrivals of Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta in 2001 and Hull last winter. Moneta recognized Campus Council--whose members are elected by quads--as the sole student authority on residential life in 2002, and quad-based programming has been on the rise as fraternity parties, the traditional focus of West Campus social life, have moved off campus.
At the panel discussion, some fraternity members said the administration viewed selective living groups as incompatible with the quad system. Ivester said Adams likened fraternities in quads to "a square peg in a circular hole," which he said was discordant with his fraternity's beneficence in the Edens community.
Singing the praises of fraternities and other selective living groups was a common refrain from the audience, which was mostly populated by members of SigEp and the Arts Theme House. Many students with particularly favorable views of selective groups said annual review placed an unfair burden on them and did not demand the same high standards of independent students.
"We ask nothing of independents at all," said senior Elliot Silver, a SigEp. "Independents do nothing. Selectives bring everything to the table."
Although the committee charged with examining the annual review process tried to ensure the accountability of selective living groups, among other goals, Hull said its efforts were ultimately incomplete. "I think they found very quickly that [residential life is] a complicated issue," he said. "The quad model can take awhile to get your hands around."
While he agreed with the committee that the diverse array of selective living groups should not be held to a universal standard, he did not like the suggestion that RLHS give cash prizes to groups for high ratings. He noted that Quad Councils received no bonuses for their programming.
Hull acknowledged that he should have kept the committee and Campus Council more up-to-date on his process of evaluating their recommendations.
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