Making Your Faculty-in-Residence Program Successful

Program reviews

A small but growing number of public institutions are adding living-learning residence programs that include the integration of faculty into the residential facility. Recent news has highlighted faculty-in-residence programs at the University of Colorado and the University of South Carolina. What’s clear from the success of programs at USC and other institutions is that having faculty reside with or alongside students in a living-learning community can produce gains in student engagement, persistence, and academic performance, but the effort entails unique challenges. It’s critical to select the right space and the right faculty, and clarify roles in the housing/faculty partnership.

We turned to Gene Luna, associate vice president for student affairs at the University of South Carolina and one of the pioneers of the living-learning community, and David Jones, assistant vice president for student affairs and executive director of housing and residential communities at the University of Alabama, for their insights on what academic leaders and housing directors need to consider from the outset to ensure success in a faculty-in-residence program.

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Designing (or Renovating) the Space

Luna advises that whether you are hoping to retrofit existing space or build new construction specifically for this living-learning community, it is vital that both housing and faculty representatives are involved on the task force, with input into both the academic and social programming and the facilities design.

There are key items to consider up front:

  • Will the residents in the program be first-year students or a mix of freshman through senior-year students? And accordingly, will the facility be designed like a traditional residence hall, or will you invest in suite-style rooms? The design will play a role in the program’s ability to attract upperclassmen.
  • How many students will you be housing? What is the maximum cap, beyond which it will be difficult to foster a sense of community? (The University of South Carolina, for instance, set a cap of 250 residents.)
  • Will the location on campus be conducive to facilitating both active learning and community-building, with quick access to the academic library and the student union?
  • What needs will faculty bring to a living space (not only in terms of square footage but also in terms of amenities and clearly demarcated public/private space)?
  • What kind of classrooms and other learning spaces will help achieve the program’s learning outcomes?
  • Will the facility include a space for common dining?

If you are renovating, adding a dining option may prove a special challenge. Some creative thinking may be needed, such as negotiating for a private dining space in the student union.

“Coming up with a common dining space is critical. Breaking bread together builds the community.”
Gene Luna, University of South Carolina

Living Space for the Faculty

Planning the faculty living space needs to be intentional and strategic. The design of this space needs to be driven by the goals of the academic program and needs to be aligned with specific expectations for how the faculty and students will interact.

For example:

Detached Spaces

The University of Virginia opted for detached houses that are adjacent to the residence hall, and then focused on constructing commons within the hall where faculty could meet regularly with students.

A Two-Story Approach

The University of South Carolina chose to integrate faculty space into the facility itself, but separated the space into two stories to allow for a clear division between the private, two-bed, two-bath living space (upstairs) and a lodge for discussion groups and faculty/student interaction (downstairs), while still keeping the faculty within the facility.

“You have to incentivize faculty; you want their living spaces to be attractive,” Luna advises.

Jones adds, “Remove any obstacles that may lead them to say no or that may make their living experience less than positive.” For example, review:

  • What amenities will be available? “Provide dishwashers, washers, and dryers, all the amenities you yourself would want in your house.”
  • What residence rules and policies will be in place for faculty? “Will you allow pets? Candles? The rules you give to the 18-year-olds might not work for the 45-year-old professor.”

Selecting the Faculty

You need engaged and passionate faculty; Jones recommends having a very direct conversation about what prospective faculty are hoping to get out of the program. Discuss their motivations, where they are at in their career, and how this program factors into their goals. “You don’t want to oversell the impact on the career of a junior faculty member,” Jones notes. If your institution places considerable weight on service, this opportunity may be a significant step toward tenure, but if research is a primary means of advancing faculty careers at your institution, junior faculty may not be the best fit for a faculty-in-residence program.

“Given the time commitment, will you even consider applications from faculty who don’t have tenure? If your institution is a large research institution, you may need your junior faculty to stay focused on scholarship.”
Gene Luna, University of South Carolina

Jones also recommends having a conversation about what the program may mean for a work/life balance. It’s important to set specific expectations. How many hours of work are you asking of them? What does it mean to “bring work home” when you live at work? Are there the same boundaries and expectations for a faculty member who is married and has children as for a faculty member who is single without children? What boundaries between social and professional interactions do you need faculty to respect?

Jones and Luna advise putting expectations in writing and identifying periods for evaluating the success of the faculty-in-residence position. You need to set a specific term and provide an exit strategy (the University of South Carolina uses a three-year contract; the University of Alabama reviews an annual agreement). The institution needs a way to remove a faculty member who is not appropriately productive serving as the head of a residential college. Also, the faculty member needs a way to discontinue the position — you do not want to retain in the position a faculty member who is unhappy there.

Get Other Faculty Involved

Also, Luna advises that a key to successful faculty integration in a living-learning community is having a plan for involving faculty members other than the faculty in residence.

“Get 30 faculty members to commit to dining one night a week with the students and to using their own passions and scholarly projects to engage those students. A literature professor can hold Tuesday night discussions in the dining space to talk about a particular book; a film studies professor could take students to local avant-garde venues; a professor who is a rock-climbing enthusiast might take students to a local rock gym.”
Gene Luna, University of South Carolina

Faculty and Housing: Clarifying Roles

“Often tensions start to emerge between faculty and one or more housing staff by the second year of the appointment,” Luna warns. “You want to avoid or mitigate this.” This means early, faculty-led discussions to define what the faculty member’s role in leading the residential college will entail. You will need to define the separate responsibilities of faculty and residential staff and determine specific expectations for the extent of faculty involvement in:

  • Management of the facility
  • Student conduct and disciplinary issues
  • Academic and social programming

Also, clarify whether the live-in housing staff have a direct reporting line to the faculty. Is the faculty member involved in the selection of the housing staff? And especially identify from the start whose budget will supply which items.

“Will the provost’s office cover the faculty’s salary, the support services, computers, programming expenses, an assistant for the faculty, the furniture? And what will the housing office’s budget cover? Negotiate early to avoid tensions later.”
Gene Luna, University of South Carolina

“The more explicit the expectations for either party,” Jones suggests, “the more smoothly both parties will work together.” Jones adds that customer service on the part of the point person in the housing staff who serves as a liason to the faculty is critical to the venture’s success. “You need to build a collegiate relationship. Faculty and housing should interact at least monthly, but ideally, the point person will be in touch much more frequently, checking in to learn what is and what isn’t working for the faculty member.”

“The point person in housing needs to serve as both liason with the academic program and also the property manager. The program may be going well, but if the dishwasher is broken, the faculty is going to be focused on that. The liason has to be responsive and proactive and able to wear multiple hats.”
David Jones, University of Alabama