student in media lab

Chapter 8: Student Life and the Houses

* Task Force on the Houses, 1976
* Observations of Squashed Cockroach Testes, 1981
* John Dwork, Degree in Frisbee, 1983
* Taking Root, 1985

Task Force on the Houses
Report. December 1976. Click here to download a pdf with the full report.

The Hampshire Houses have departed considerably from the original model set forth in The Making of a College. Within the last couple of years especially there have been substantial efforts organized to develop a systematic overview of the residential structures at the College and to make proposals for the future of the Houses best suited to the needs and potentials of Hampshire...

In the spring of 1976, the question of the structure and role of the Houses was taken up by the College Educational Policy Committee. In late May the EPC decided to create a task force to examine the role of the Houses, with particular emphasis on educational aspects. This task force met briefly in June to organize its study and has met regularly since the beginning of September. Input was invited from all sectors of the College...

We have been deeply impressed with the dedication, and effort and imagination of the Hampshire Masters and their staff. We have been very fortunate to have this kind of energy brought to this area at a crucial stage in the College's evolution.

Members of the Task Force on the Houses: Naomi Bean, Nancy Goddard, Ken Hoffman, Steve Klein, Beth Ruck, Jeff White. (p.1)

I. Historical Remarks
The intent in this section is not to document the development of the Houses by cataloguing statistics, memoranda, or a timeline of decisions. The purpose is, instead, to outline the factors and forces in the development of the College which account for the discrepancies that exist between the original conception and goals of the House system, and what the Houses have actually come to be. Modelled after the Harvard house system, the aim of the Hampshire House system was to foster "the enhancement and deepening of bringing living and learning together, not by compartmentalizing learning as something that stops outside the classroom..." (Birney: "Bulletin #2: The House Plan at Hampshire College," 1969.) This goal was to be attained by providing each House with academic facilities (i.e., faculty offices, classrooms and large meeting rooms), a substantial budget and staff for the development of house-based educational programs and curricula, and a climate in which "students and faculty [would] share a common excitement about the educational process." (Prof. K. Keniston as quoted in The Making of a College, p.55.) The responsibility for developing these ideals within each House lay primarily with the Master, who was to be a senior scholar who would set the "intellectual tone" of the House.

Former Prescott Master Mary Warner suggested...that this original goal was "a concept that had lost its impact before the College was officially opened." It was clear as far back as 1969, when the Merrill House Committee was preparing for the opening of the first House, that the Houses would not be granted substantial budgetary support and that the budgetary priorities were instead focused in the Schools. Futhermore, it was not until the building of Prescott House in 1973 that an attempt was made to integrate "academic" facilities with the residential architecture; even in this case, the "integration" never reached the proportions suggested in the original plan.

In searching for the reasons for the departure from the original model, a number of factors are seen to have had their impact:

1. In the early years of Hampshire, when there were so many components of the College requiring the time and energy of faculty and administrators, attention was largely focused on those issues which people saw as their primary responsibilities and areas of expertise. In the early years of the College, some areas, notably the Houses, which had less immediate and effective ways of demanding commitment, received little attention.
2. The financial resources of the College were more limited than had been anticipated in the original plan. In the general ordering of priorities which ensued, the development of the Houses, while not abandoned, was clearly relegated to a secondary position vis-a-vis the development of the academic and administrative aspects.
3. For reasons perhaps relating to the two preceding points, neither President Patterson nor President Longsworth made the development of the House system a key focus in their programs. Broad presidential interest in promoting this aspect of Hampshire would probably have had a strong impact on the evolution of the Houses.
4. The House Masters did not have the kind of organization and leverage to command substantial budgetary commitments from the College.
5. The original model, being predicated on an environment such as Yale's or Harvard's, was probably never entirely relevant to Hampshire. Much of the educational role of the Houses was based on the assumption that it was at the House level that faculty and students would relate informally. In fact, student-faculty relations quickly reached a level of involvement which reduced the need for the Houses to provide a setting for this kind of interaction.
6. The original vision of integration between intellectual and residential experience never received a serious commitment from a substantial portion of the faculty, administration or student body. The only continuing efforts in this direction are the Residential Learning Centers in Greenwich, a few other "special interest" apartments, and occasional social events which draw students and faculty together in the Houses.

It is interesting to note that many of the factors listed above are still strongly influencing the role of the Houses today. In light of the major administrative turnover which will occur in the year to come, it is conceivable that a commitment to close ties between the Houses and the Schools could be established. However, if job descriptions do not reflect this expectation--and faculty position specifications presently lack this--it is improbable that any major shift in emphasis will occur. Therefore, it is an appropriate time for Hampshire to begin an examination of its commitment to the goal of integration of living and learning. (p.2-3)

II. Educational Role of the Houses
The original idea of Hampshire included the vision of a community of scholars engaged in investigating not only their work, but the connections between one another's expertise, and its impact on their lives. If the College was to seriously rededicate itself to this ideal, a continuing and intensive reexamination of goals and structures would be necessary...

...This task force believes that the Houses can and should play an important part in the intellectual and personal growth of students. We also believe that changes are needed to support the Houses in this role. However, an attempt to turn the College towards its original ideals is beyond the scope of this committee, nor do we believe there is any strong sentiment for such a move among the faculty or students. Rather we have tried to understand the educational role of the Houses which has developed, to validate and clarify that function, and to encourage further development of those areas deemed most valuable. To quote from Bill Grohmann...

"The House has a three-fold educational mission: 1) to support the academic progress of students; 2) to enrich the learning opportunities which arise from the residential setting itself; and 3) to pay attention to students' developmental state and address issues of their multi-dimensional growth and individuation."

A little later on he adds, "...the point is not to create experiences, but to stimulate and facilitate greater understanding of what is already taking place."

We believe these statements form a reasonable basis for considering the educational role of the Houses. The notion that the Houses should support the academic sphere is a long way from the ideal of integration set out above, although perhaps a more realistic goal given Hampshire's present commitment. The value of living as part of a community and the educational opportunities inherent in that setting is an aspect of a Hampshire education often overlooked. Finally, the interdependence of a student's intellectual and emotional development should be recognized.(p.4-5)

III. The Present Situation
This section of the report identifies the various facets of House life which the Task Force explored and sets forth our perspectives on key issues and options. The section begins with a brief survey of the various roles the House staffs presently fill, and is followed by a number of observations about these roles.

Roles of the House Staffs. Although these roles are interconnected and overlapping in many areas, we have extracted them by category to consist of:

Administrative and housekeeping activities: Giving out keys, vacuum cleaners and supplies; liaison with Buildings and Grounds--reporting maintenance needs, keeping track of furniture and other equipment; room assignments; liaison with the Security Office; preparation and administration of House budgets; long-range planning and development...; serving as an all-purpose information center.

Community-building and personal development: Counseling; liaison with Health Services in the cases of serious problems; helping organize House and suite meetings and helping to facilitate a sense of community and responsibility for that community in other ways; involving faculty in the life of the Houses; sponsoring social events; helping organize Residential Learning Centers and other special interest groups; working with discipline problems; facilitating a variety of Human Development type activities.

Programmatic activities: Setting up a variety of workshops, seminars, guest lectures, and concerts; setting up studio and workshop spaces; facilitating the offering of House courses; integrating House life with the academic sphere--through workshops on Division I and the Divisional examination system, inviting faculty to offer workshops, etc.; sponsoring orientation activities at the beginning of each semester.

Observations about the roles of the House Staffs. In the past three months we have reached several conclusions about the relative importance of the various activities listed above and the effectiveness of the House staffs in performing them under existing conditions. We would like to list these conclusions in the form of a series of observations, leaving the recommendations to follow from them in section IV.

1. There is wide diversity among the Houses in both their physical structures and in the interests and academic level of the students living in them. As a consequence, the staffing needs will differ among Houses. Within certain broad constraints, we believe that the Houses should be encouraged to explore a variety of staffing arrangements.
2. Among the roles listed above, there seems to be a fairly general sense among the students and House staffs that the functions listed under Community Building are those needing the greatest reinforcement at this time. Such functions should receive high priority in future House development.
3. The lack of central community space for each House has a major impact on the ability of the Houses to identify themselves as communities.
4. The use of student staff members in the Houses has worked out well in those three Houses which presently have interns, and should continue to be an integral part of the staffing structure of some of the Houses.
5. There appears to be an inordinate amount of time spent by the House staffs in conjunction with working out efficient solutions to certain problems with the Physical Plant. Better communications and procedures need to be developed to respond to Physical Plant matters.
6. House staff salaries appear to be unreasonably low in view of the amount of energy, imagination, and responsibility required of them. The limits in the pool of potential staff we can draw on, and the high turnover rate of those we do hire are detrimental to the continuity and sustained programming which we need. (p.6-7)

Community. A recurrent theme heard by anyone talking to students about the quality of life at Hampshire is the sense of loneliness and isolation coupled with a consequent desire for a stronger sense of community that they now feel exists. It is important at this point to heed Mary Warner's caution...about making the Houses the scapegoats for ills that arise from other parts of the College's structure. A Hampshire education tends to be a highly individualized and isolated undertaking; we tend to select students who want to go their own way in many respects; the leave structure makes it difficult to develop a sense of continuity and permanence in the community. All these are factors beyong the reach of the Houses to change. There are, nevertheless, a number of ways in which the Houses can help the students deal with the anxieties and pressures which they feel here. The Masters and their staffs have rightfully focused on this task, and we feel that this should continue to be a primary concern of the Houses...(p.8)

IV. Recommendations
It has become apparent that staff positions need re-thinking, generally further clarifying the role and purpose. What follows is one outline of how that might be done...

The positions we propose are: Director of Residential Life, Coordinator of House Administration, Coordinator of Personal and Community Development, and Faculty in Residence.

Conversations with Vice President Birney and other members of the college administration revealed broad support of the idea of one person who would serve as coordinator of the Five Houses. We recommend that a new position be created for a Director of Residential Life who would fulfill the following responsibilities:

1. Advocacy on behalf of Five Houses, writing proposals and developing creative ideas for the improvement of the Houses in general. This person would initiate and coordinate long range planning efforts encouraging House staff members to generate proposals.
2. Supervision of the Five Houses. This person would not attempt to administrate each House but instead would provide coordination and communication of decisions made in each House.
3. Liaison between the Houses and other college offices in crisis situations as well as on a routine basis, as a member of the central administration of the college...
4. Coordination of the budgets of all Five Houses...
5. Responsibility for House staff salaries and future proposals for salary increases...
6. Supervision of the hiring process within the Houses as search committee coordinator...

This person would be directly responsible to the Office of the President. It would not be necessary for this person to be in residence, but it is crucial that this person have a well-developed idea about "Living and Learning" at Hampshire College.

We propose that there be an administrator in each House. This position would be entitled the Coordinator of House Administration. This person, who is directly responsible for the administration of each House, should be in residence, and thus be in a position to respond to the specific and individual needs of that particular House quickly and effectively. We view this task as possible only if on-campus residence is part of the job description, as was revealed in our interviews through comments indicating that only residential members of the community had a clear understanding of House life... (p.12-13)

We also propose a new position called Coordinator of Personal and Community Development. The task force believes that this position is required to meet the expressed needs of students for community building within the Houses, both through social programming and personal counseling of various sorts. This person should possess experience in program development and community organization as well as substantial knowledge of and experience in individual and group counseling... (p.14)

The third position that we recommend for each House is that of Faculty in Residence. This person would serve as the official liaison between the Houses and the faculty as well as coordinating the academic/educational activities of each House...(p.15)

Additional Recommendations:
The following recommendations, some quite specific and others more general, concern changes we feel should be high priorities for the College over the next several years.

1. Faculty involvement. Explicit mechanisms should be set up to give released time to faculty who desire to spend a substantial amount of time working in the Houses. The nature of this involvement need not be limited to the more formal type of academic work which takes place in the Schools. Expanded incentives for faculty to live on campus should be developed. Potential interest in working actively with the Houses should be of larger importance in the recruitment of new faculty.
2. Human Development Program...we feel that the Human Development Program is an exciting way of involving a broad range of House staffs, students and faculty in the kind of integrated approach to learning that Hampshire originally set out to achieve. We recommend that an ad hoc committee be set up to explore creative ways of reviving and expanding this program.
3. Residential Learning Centers and Special Interest Groups. These alternative living arrangements have been very successful for a number of the students participating in them. Additional ways of facilitating and expanding this kind of option should be strongly supported.
4. Advising in the Houses. Some of the advising activities which have evolved in the Houses have been very fruitful. We therefore recommend that the Houses work closely with the Schools, the Dean of Advising, and the Field Study and Options Offices to coordinate the advising efforts of each of these groups. We feel that the Houses have a significant part to play in these efforts.
5. Community Space. We often heard from students and House staff members that there is a great need for community space on campus. We recommend that the College take steps toward meeting this need. Decentralizing this space into separate units for each House would facilitate House programming as well as enhance the social environment...
6. Community Development. We recommend that the College acknowledge the need for an emphasis on community development by making greater efforts in the coordination and support of community events, and in the criteria used in searching for our new president. (p.16-17)

Observations of Squashed Cockroach Testes

To: Esteemed Members of the Board of Trustees
From: Penina M. Glazer, Dean of the Faculty
Date: 25 February 1981

At the board meeting on January 22, 1981, the question was raised about the intellectual significance of squashed cockroach testes. The following precis should answer all questions. You will be happy to note that on the commencement program, it is retitled as "Spermatogenesis in the German Cockroach, Blattella Germanica." Intellectualism conquered all!

Division III Title: Observations of Squashed Cockroach Testes.
While a great deal of research has been done on the hormonal control of cockroach development, no one has yet determined the physiological controls of their sperm development. I looked at microscopic slide/squashes of the testes to determine spermatogenic differences in hormone-treated and other cockroaches predicted to develop at a certain rate. My results bring serious questions to previous assumptions about the connection between the timing of spermatogenesis and timing of insect metamorphosis.

Colleen Finnegan
January 23, 1981

John Dwork, Degree in Frisbee

For Frisbee-flinging Student, Class Work a Spin-off of Hobby
Transcript-Telegram, Holyoke (Mass) Tuesday, November 15, 1983
The Associated Press

AMHERST--A lot of college students are well-versed in the fine points of flinging a Frisbee, but John Dwork may be the first to earn a degree for the talent.
Officials at Hampshire College say Dwork completed his course work last month and will get his bachelor's degree in January in "Flying Disc Entertainment and Education."
"People are saying my degree represents the ideal," Dwork said in an interview last week. "It's almost as if I've made legitimate - I wouldn't say the California surfer image - (but) the whole new American alternative life-style."
Instead of a traditional course load, students at the 1,100-student experimental college, where classes are optional, progress towards their degree by completing research projects and defending their work before a faculty committee.
For his humanities requirement, Dwork presented a paper arguing that freestyle Frisbee, like dance, was art. For his science requirement he analyzed the physical and mental stresses of performing before a crowd.
"Sure, we spent some time talking about it, and wondering is this basketweaving," said Dr. Stanley Warner, associate professor of economics and a member of faculty committees that reviewed Dwork's work. "But we decided it was not. He may have used Frisbee as a vehicle, but he actually ended up with a pretty good liberal arts education."

There's little doubt about Dwork's familiarity with his subject.

No slouch with a Frisbee, the 22-year-old from New York City won the world Frisbee Freestyle championship in 1978 and 1979. He has performed in the Rose Bowl and on television shows ranging from the Wide World of Sports to Sesame Street.
It's taken him more than five years to get his degree. He took 1 1/2 years off to tour with the demonstration team he started called the "Washington Square Wizards." He's also done endorsements and marketing for sporting goods companies and set up and run disc festivals. All of his achievements have found their way into his academic projects.

But, Dwork said, he didn't quite manage to turn a profit on his college education. "Not with what the tuition cost is here." he said. "But by working part-time I was able to earn enough to be decent."

Warner said Dwork's focus was business management, "particularly entrepreneurship in the performing arts." "That's the constant theme he used as a frame of reference. Of course, for him, the performing arts meant Frisbee, but the committee was not going to let him get through here with a major in Frisbee," Warner said.

On his way to a degree from the 13-year-old school, Dwork took a number of business courses at nearby University of Massachusetts, where he maintained a B average. His senior project included lecturing on unusual entrepreneurial techniques at the Whittemore School in Durham, N.H. His audiences were graduate business majors. "I'm a businessman, an entrepreneur, an organizer. I don't want to be a Frisbee player all my life. I was just able to get a lot of hands-on experience before I ever left college," Dwork said.

November 15, 1983
To: Trustees and Other Friends of the College
From: Woodward A. Wickham

You may have seen press stories in recent days about Hampshire student John Dwork, who is expected to graduate in January, 1984. An Associated Press story that originated in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Friday, November 11, has been printed in papers around the country, including the Boston Globe. Jocular references have been made on local, New York, and other metropolitan television stations. At this point is is impossible to know how much more attention will be given to the story.

John Dwork is a world-class frisbee champion. His Division II at Hampshire consisted of courses in organizational theory, arts management, public relations, photography, and video. He took these courses at Hampshire and at the University of Massachusetts journalism department and School of Business. John's Division III analyzed his experience promoting and implementing a series of performances. His committee (including an economist, a professor of mass communications, and a professor of American literature) accepted his Division III.

The press has framed this an an instance of a student "earning a degree in frisbee." Those who know Hampshire are infuriated by such distortion and trivialization of the college. Those who know less of Hampshire may conclude that one can earn a degree here in frisbee.

Another Hampshire student (who graduated last year) based his Division III on six months he spent brokering corporate tax credits. His thesis--about tax regulations, finance, and corporations--used his own real-world experience as a source of data. But the media would presumably not say that he "earned his degree in tax credits." Nor is it accurate to say that John is earning his degree in frisbee.

Despite this setback, we continue working to put out stories that represent the high quality of academic work here, that portray some of our best Division III students, and that erode negative stereotypes.

Let me know if you see coverage of John Dwork in your area or if you need further information. (If you can send a copy of print versions, we would appreciate it.)

The Seeing Eye Frog Presents: Taking Root, or More Precisely, Hampshire for Beginners
Mark Tuchman (F'81) and Barbara Kann (F'81). 1985.

[(c)1985 Creative Productions, by Mark Tuchman and Barbara Kann. Used by kind permission of the authors.]

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