Sunday, May 06, 2007

Farewell to Dr. Doolittle, Hughes Hall's Faculty Resident

I often say that it is possible to accomplish anything at American University. One needs only a clear vision, focus, persistence, a positive attitude, and the patience of Job. But this does not mean that new projects follow an uninterrupted upward trajectory. There can be leaps forward, but progress can be in fits as well as starts. Nothing illustrates this better than one of my major priorities, once called the Faculty Residence Experiment, but now legitimately titled the Faculty Residence Program.

In many ways this was the Program’s most successful year. It began with preparation of a superb manual, prepared by a consultant to AU’s Vice-President for Campus Life. This helped institutionalize the program. It set forth guidelines and chronicled experiences of the two faculty members with residence hall apartments and the two with residence hall offices. In October, the Style Channel visited AU for a surprise makeover of the Anderson Hall first floor lounge, The makeover was featured on “My Celebrity Home” and was repeated at least six times, with several airings in prime time.

The new lounge attracted a reporter from the Associated Press who spent several hours at a Dormgrandpop-hosted Anderson Hall dinner. His story ran in more than 150 newspapers and on numerous Internet sites. For part of one hectic day it was the most accessed story on Yahoo News. This led to local prime time news segments on Fox and NBC news. AU even made it onto the news quiz show “Wait wait, don’t tell me.” At AU’s annual teaching conference, I highlighted the faculty residence program and prospects for expanding it to include a resident in a newly renovated facility, Nebraska Hall, to a gathering of more than 300 faculty members.

For the moment, this was the high point. Shortly after giving my address, I learned that the residence program in Hughes Hall would not be continuing, though the prospect of a faculty resident in Nebraska was still a live one. Last Wednesday, “Dr. Doolittle” the faculty resident in Hughes Hall moved out of his second floor apartment for good. The space will be filled by Resident Director, who is a Division of Campus Life staff member.

I view this as a setback, of course. But I believe it is a temporary blip on a generally upward trajectory. We must not forget that the decision to locate a faculty resident apartment in Nebraska Hall is a significant forward step. Nearly five years of bridge-building between the distinct faculty and Campus Life cultures have made a difference, with noticeable strengthening of communication, empathy and good will on both sides.

This demonstrates, as I have said, that it is possible to accomplish anything that is really worthwhile at American University. Though Dr. Doolittle’s residence did not lead to a lasting faculty presence in Hughes Hall, he provided an valuable alternative model of what a faculty resident can be and accomplish. His many contributions to residential students did make a difference, were greatly appreciated and will not be forgotten.


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