Professor-in-residence position fails to meet potential

Kevin Young, Staff Reporter

The following is an opinion article and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Several of Tulane’s residence halls utilize the professor-in-residence model to strengthen their living-learning communities, but there is a serious disjunction between the program’s initial goals and its implementation. Wall Residential College, Weatherhead Hall and Barbra Greenbaum House at Newcomb Lawn are currently the only residence halls that both operate under the LLC system and employ professors-in-residence.

The LLC program, first established in Wall in 2006, is designed to provide students with a unique experience in their residence halls according to housing and residential life’s website. The professor-in-residence position was created to merge classroom learning with the residential life experience, bridging the divide between Tulane’s academic and social spheres. Despite these intentions, the professor-in-residence system has fallen short of its originally set goals. 

Danielle Klein, associate director for residential education, said one of the professor-in-residence system’s major goals is to encourage an academic environment within the residence halls by providing residents with opportunities to socialize with a professor they wouldn’t normally speak to outside a lecture hall. 

While this may be a unique opportunity for some students socially, it ignores many important realities. For instance, a political science student may benefit more from living in a community with a political science professor than with a physics professor. While students definitely have something to learn from any professor, many may have more to gain from a professor in a field of study more relevant to their interests. Furthermore, there is not much evidence to suggest that an academically disinterested student will become more serious about school just because a professor lives in his or her residence hall. 

Klein said there were four times as many applicants as available spots for the professor-in-residence positions. It is strange that in a position with so much interest that many professors-in-residence do not interact with students in the ways the program originally intended them to do. 

The professor-in-residence system, once revamped, could provide residents with a unique experience. One way to improve the system would be to institute stricter student application policies for LLCs to ensure more suitable tenants are accepted into the community. At the moment, very few students get rejected from the LLC to which they apply, and this issue contributes to the lack of involvement within these communities. 

Tulane should also consider looking for candidates other than the tenured professors that are usually accepted for the position. The university could hire graduate students for a slightly modified professor-in-residence system. Graduate students could be hired at a lower cost, and multiple students from varying fields could live in each dorm. These graduate students could be situated throughout the dorm, each connecting with different types of people with varied personalities and interests.

Either way, Tulane’s professor-in-residence program has been fairly ineffective, considering its original intentions. The professors have failed to host events involving the community in the past. Students, like myself, who have lived in these LLCs feel that there should be so much more activity between the professor-in-residence and the students. There is no incentive on the side of students or professors to participate in bonding time outside of the classroom, and more often than not the lack of enthusiasm leaves the situation feeling awkward.

Housing needs to address this issue as the three newly hired professors-in-residence make their homes in LLCs this year. There needs to be more interaction and follow-through to ensure that the professor-in-residence system is effective in achieving its goals. These professors needs to make involving themselves in the life of their residents a priority by hosting events and making an effort to get to know each individual. Students must also be involved in the LLC’s activities, as they said they would on their applications. There must be an effort from both parties of the LLC experience to improve its worth as a residential program. 

Kevin Young is a sophomore in the Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]