College announces six residential cluster professors

by Max Gibson | 5/5/15 7:22pm

Biology professor Ryan Calsbeek, physics and astronomy professor Ryan Hickox, engineering professor Jane Hill, sociology professor Kathryn Lively, mathematics professor Craig Sutton and comparative literature professor Dennis Washburn will be the first six house professors in Dartmouth’s new residential cluster system, the College announced yesterday.

Provost Dever asked faculty to apply for the house professor positions, outlined as part of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiatives, earlier this spring.

Dever received more than 20 applications, a number that both interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer and director of residential education Michael Wooten said they found exciting yet unsurprising.

Ameer and Wooten organized a committee involving members of the committee on student life, the committee on policy and the dean of the faculty. This group proposed a list of finalists to the Provost, who made the final decision on which finalists would be the six house professors.

The appointment of the house professors to the residential communities is the beginning of what Ameer called a 20 to 25 year project to restructure housing at the College.

Ameer said each house professor will serve as the “intellectual leader of the house.” One of the major responsibilities of the house professors when they begin their posts in July will be to help define and plan the direction of the communities’ development, Ameer added.

The professors will serve a four-year term beginning on July 1 this year, and they will move into a residence near their respective clusters the following summer.

Each house professor will be responsible for approximately 300 students. Wooten said, however, that administrators are in the process of developing an affiliate program to facilitate the involvement of more faculty in the housing communities. Ameer and Wooten both asserted that faculty interest in the communities has been strong. In addition, Ameer said graduate students and others affiliated with the College will be involved in the communities, and each house will also have student governance.

Hill said that she experienced the residential college system at Yale University as a graduate student. Having seen the success of the system at Yale, she said she was excited for what the housing communities could mean for the College. She added that she envisions each house coming to be defined by a distinct personality, influenced by the house professor.

Hickox, who participated in the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee, said it became clear to him that house professors would be important to ensuring that changes to residential life are a success.

“Having thought about it for nine months, it became clear it was something I’d like to do,” he said.

Hickox said that he thinks a primary part of being a professor at Dartmouth is being passionate about an “active, tight-knit, intellectual community.” With a diverse grouping of undergraduates, post-doctorates, graduate students, faculty and staff in a small rural town, Hickox said Dartmouth has all the components necessary for a great housing system.

Hickox said he will be bring his wife and two daughters to live in the house with him.

Sutton, who was also on the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” presidential steering committee, said he responded to the Provost’s request for house professor applications so he could help make the new housing recommendations a success. He said he is getting ready to meet with the other house professors and groups over the next year to bring the housing plan into reality.

“One of the things that attracts me to this job is the opportunity to engage with students outside of the classroom,” he said. “The classroom is fine. You’re there for an hour, but it’s really the informal settings where you get to know each other and engage in meaningful intellectual and personal exchanges.”

Calsbeek said he and his family have had significant interactions with students through the biology foreign study program in Costa Rica and said he hopes for similar opportunities to interact with students in his new role as house professor. He said he thinks his young daughters will help break down barriers between him and the students, as they have in the past.

Lively said she thinks her role as house professor will giver he a better appreciation of students’ lives and will make her a better teacher. She was on the committee on student affairs under former Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson a few years ago and worked on a report that recommended a residential house system, so she said the idea of being a house professor has been “on the back burner” for awhile.

Lively, who will be bringing her husband and cats to live with her in the cluster, hopes to create a salon-style atmosphere in her cluster.

Washburn was not available for comment by press time.

Sean Li ’17, who took Washburn’s “Krieger’s Virtual Girlfriend, Japanese Anime and the Idea of the Posthuman” last term, said he thinks the house professor position will suit Washburn well. Li said Washburn that Washburn is a great resource outside of the classroom, citing the fact that he and wife, Japanese professor Ikuko Watanabe, invite first-year students to their house for dinner.

Wooten said he is optimistic about the future success of the residential clusters.

“How we live together affects how we think together,” he said.