Dorms give leaders room with view

by Meg McSherry Breslin

It’s a typical Thursday night at the University of Notre Dame, and Sorin Hall—the all-male residence hall that stands a stone’s throw from the famous Golden Dome—is a rowdy place.p. Students crowd into a first-floor lounge for a college basketball game on a big-screen TV and shuffle out of their tiny rooms full of books, empty beer cans and posters of scantily-clad women.p. Just down the hall from this raucous crowd, a lanky, white-haired man with a serious air slips out of his own room (without the posters) and makes his way to the floor chapel for 10 p.m. mass.p. Just one of the guys in Sorin Hall, Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy is also the president of the South Bend, Ind., university. For more than a decade now, Malloy—the leading figure at one of the nation’s top universities—has chosen to live not in a swanky president’s abode but in an enlarged room in the university’s oldest residence hall, a space that had been his home for years before he took the school’s top job.p. In a few months, Loyola University Chicago’s incoming president, Rev. Michael Garanzini, hopes to join Malloy in the decidedly small but growing club of college administrators who dwell in the same dormitories as their students. Those able to handle the headaches that go along with late-night parties and screeching stereos consider it an intriguing way to build a close-knit university community.p. When he arrives in June, Garanzini wants to live modestly among Loyola’s students as he has done for several years at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and he is working with university administrators to decide if there’s a feasible location.p. Like Malloy, Garanzini finds residence hall living the perfect way to build relationships with the students.p. “In there, you meet them in a context that’s relaxed and informal and immediately you begin to talk about things that wouldn’t normally come up in your faculty office,” he said.p. Though it is more common at religious schools, university chiefs in residence halls are somewhat of a throwback to a different era, when there were far fewer political and administrative demands on a college leader’s time.p. Still, a number of top administrators have spent a night or two in a dorm in recent years to get a sense of student concerns, said Stanley Ikenberry, president of the American Council on Education. Among those who’ve embraced that idea is Penn State University President Graham Spanier, who has spent the weekend in a residence hall—with a student roommate every year for the past six years.p. Some local universities are working to get faculty members to live in residence halls, not to act as disciplinarians but to inspire a more intense intellectual community.p. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, administrators are recruiting two professors to live in a hall that is under construction, and they expect to bring in others in the future. DePaul University administrators also hope to lure faculty members to residence halls in coming years.p. At the same time, hundreds of universities nationally have revamped their approach to dorm life, often creating “learning communities” in which students with similar interests live together and sometimes share meals with faculty mentors.p. “For a long time there has been this concern about the deterioration of the quality of life in residence halls,” Ikenberry said. “Part of this is a deliberate effort to improve that quality of life.”p. While many of his presidential colleagues still shake their heads in amazement, Malloy is at ease in his various roles as hallmate, teacher and campus leader at Notre Dame.p. “I think you have to teach to be a good president,” he said. “And in our setting, which is heavily residential, it’s just part of our heritage and tradition. So I’m just trying to do my part.”p. On Notre Dame’s campus, where there are no fraternities or sororities, residence halls are the focal point of student social life. Unlike most college campuses, half the seniors at Notre Dame still live in residence halls.p. Malloy’s room—which sits inside a turret—certainly has a different feel than the student rooms. Soaring bookcases make the room feel like a library reading room. But other than some extra space and a small bathroom, his amenities are as sparse as his students’. To keep his sanity on loud nights, he turns to the constant hum of a “white noise” machine.p. Malloy surprises students with his deadpan humor, delivered in monotone, and an unexpected ability to relate to 18-year-olds.p. After years in the hall, Malloy has a presence that seems natural to students. They’ve shared a laugh with him on the vast Sorin porch after football games, picnicked with him and their parents on move-in weekend, and stopped in his room for a chat when the welcome sign was posted outside his door. Many refer to him as “Monk,” a nickname from childhood.p. Nick Otto, a senior who has lived in Malloy’s hall for the past four years, used to play basketball with the president and a group of regulars before Malloy, a former high school basketball star, injured his shoulder and had to call off the games.p. “He had this running jump shot and he always hit it. He was really good,” Otto said. “We didn’t play just to say we played basketball with the president. It was just like he was one of the guys.”p. The president’s presence doesn’t seem to have hurt students’ social lives. Alcohol in hall rooms for students of legal age is accepted, and Sorin has its share of soirees. One larger room is well-known because it houses seven students and has been organized with stacks of bunk beds piled on desks, making room for a gathering spot ideal for big parties.p. At Sorin, Rev. John Jenkins, vice president and associate provost, also lives among the students, which has made for some memorable moments on party nights.p. At the invitation of sophomore Trip Foley to one party, Jenkins arrived with a smirk on his face just before his 10 p.m. mass in the chapel downstairs. “He said I shouldn’t compete with God,” Foley said.p. Malloy and other faculty members living with students can work easily on student relationships partly because they’re freed from daily discipline responsibilities. That job is left to residence hall assistants and rectors. “You kind of keep your eyes down,” Jenkins said with a laugh.p. To reach out to students outside his hall, Malloy regularly celebrates mass at other halls on campus, sometimes using those moments to share some inspiration.p. During one recent mass, he told students of how he initially majored in engineering at Notre Dame, “and in my first semester in college, I almost flunked out.” He switched to English and ended up with a stellar academic and professional career. “Now it’s nice to be the president of a university I almost flunked out of,” he told students.p. Malloy also stays in touch by teaching a Sunday-night freshman seminar for 15 students. He sets strict standards for discussion and papers; he challenges students to think deeply about their lives and motivations.p. “I think he contributes a lot to the feeling you get at this university,” said one of his students, Claire McAuliffe. “He avails himself to students. Instead of being a head figure, he’s one of us.”p. Notre Dame leaders say Malloy’s commitment to residence hall living, with 10 other top administrators and a handful of faculty members, helps set a tone of intimacy that contributes to student success. The school has one of the highest freshmen retention rates in the country—96 percent return for their sophomore year.p. Those kinds of numbers are clearly attractive to other large universities.p. “We’re trying to build a sense of community here, where we engage students and help establish connections and make them feel a part of the place,” said Anthony Martin, director of housing at UIC. “Our simple goal is, `How do we help students succeed?’” he said. “One of the things we have to do is make a large university smaller.”

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