UPDATE: A longtime reader has convinced me that mentioning the names of three specific Williams folks in the initial version of this post was a mistake. So, I have replaced their names with “the Williams Administration.” I have left the comment thread unchanged.

The single most important prediction in my five years of blogging about Neighborhood Housing was that attempts to create a meaningful neighborhood identity were doomed to failure (see here and here). Surely we can all agree that I (and others) were 100% right about this while the Williams Administration (and others) were 100% wrong.

Care to know what else the future will bring? The Baxter Fellow Program is doomed to failure. Consider the latest from the Neighborhood Review Committee (pdf).

As outlined in Part One of our final report, the Neighborhood Review Committee recommends a significant reconceptualization of the role of Baxter Fellows, focusing primarily on two areas: conflict resolution and community building within the house. Students value the freedom from oversight that they enjoy in their residences, and they have clearly voiced their resistance to a traditional residential advisor system. Yet most members of the community also recognize the need to establish mutually agreed-upon norms of behavior in residences and, moreover, accept that conflicts are bound to occur in even the best organized residential system. The committee would like to see the Baxter Fellows take on a larger role in leading discussions of communal norms within their houses, opening lines of communication, and hopefully fostering a mutually respectful environment. We believe that Baxter Fellows should be better trained in conflict resolution and better prepared to handle, with respect and fairness, issues arising from disparate lifestyles and differing expectations for dorm life. Ultimately, we believe that the Baxter Fellows should be the first resource for low-level conflict resolution within dorms.

This will never, ever work. And, as I have exhaustively documented, it has not worked over the last 5 years. Read these classic rants from 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Want more? Remember the Tablecloth Colors is an all-time favorite. Read it.

Too lazy to click on those? The argument is simple: Williams students will not defer to the judgment/decisions of their fellow students unless they want to. In certain circumstances (JAs, elected students leaders like sports captain and organization heads), they will. But why should a given Williams student listen to a Baxter Fellow? What has the Fellow done to earn my respect? Nothing. If anything, I half expect he took the job because he wanted some extra cash. All the training in the world won’t change that basic reality. And, what is worse, the Office of Campus Life has little ability to actually ensure that Baxter Fellows do their jobs.

Changing the role of the Baxter Fellows and making them into more robust, legitimate, and important players in residential life will not happen overnight. The committee urges the College to prioritize changes that will help the Fellows begin house-level conversations about expectations and norms and that will prepare them for an expanded role in conflict resolution.

Utter fantasy. The program has failed for five years. You think some magic pixy training dust is going to airlift the Baxter Fellows to Never Never Land? Instead of closing Greylock, the College should have just ended the Baxter Fellows program and closed the Office of Campus Life.

Paying students to create community is stupid. Instead: Allow students to elect their own leaders. Give those leaders money, not as salary but for spending on events. Demand transparency. The details will take care of themselves.

Professor Colin Adams, head of the NRC, is a smart guy. Doesn’t he already know this? Probably. But, whenever judging the output of a committee, you need to check its members. The two folks primarily in charge of the Baxter Fellow program, Aaron Gordon and Doug Schiazza, are on this committee. How likely were they to ever agree to its elimination? Yet, over time, the Williams administration does learn. When the Baxter Fellows program is no more successful next year then it has been this year, look for it (and the Office of Campus Life?) to be cut as well. You read it at EphBlog first.

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