This week, Thomas Wood continues his series for the National Association of Scholars on “How Many Delawares?” with “Res Life and the Decline of Campus Community (Part I).” Wood makes a startling observation about the explosion of college “residence life” officials—more and more of whom, I suspect, have the job of promoting and enforcing “community norms” that have been declared and imposed by offices of residence life.
A statistic at one particular college probably gives a pretty accurate idea of the phenomenon generally. Hamilton College, which has about 1,600 students, currently employs 23 Res Life student affairs specialists. In the 1960s it had only three. Over those years, the size of the student body hardly changed at all.
For this statistic, Wood cites Barrett Seaman’s Binge: What Your College Student Won’t Tell You (2005), adding that
Binge will be a real eye opener to anyone who has not been following changes in campus life in the last several decades, and especially to those who are unaware of the dominant role that the Student Affairs and Res Life divisions now play in all residential colleges in the United States…. With the increasing disengagement of the faculty, responsibility for sustaining a vital campus life and a coherent sense of community has fallen increasingly to the Student Affairs and Res Life divisions of these institutions. The faculty remains in control of the curriculum, but everything else in campus life, pretty much, is now in the hands of student residential assistants and advisors and Student Affairs and Res Life professionals, who are expected to handle everything from roommate disputes to creating a sense of community for the university …
Wood concludes that “diversity indoctrination programs like the one at U Delaware have not taken over programs and institutions that were healthy and already in place. They have instead moved into a vacuum—a lack of a sense of genuine community within campus culture that appears to be a real and growing problem.” Implicit here, I think, is a call to the faculty at liberal arts colleges and research universities (at least) to unify the campus around something like a “life of the mind” culture (see, for example, how the University of Chicago Law School presents theirs) instead of an amorphous multicultural “culture” that focuses on how people on campus are different rather than on what unifies them in studying at the school. To me, this is not a statement about the merits of multiculturalism, about which reasonable people reasonably disagree, so much as an indictment of campus life programs that seek to impose a multiculturalist ideology unilaterally on students.