President Alison Bylerly emailed the following message today:

To the College Community:

I write to update you on decisions taken at last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, as well as to congratulate the entire Lafayette community on a very successful Commencement weekend.  As this was my first Lafayette Commencement as President, it was a very special occasion for me, and I could not have been more proud of the College.

From the Honors Thesis Reception on Friday afternoon, to the new Baccalaureate service, to the procession and Commencement ceremony, every occasion went like clockwork, due to the excellent organizational work of many individuals in the offices of the Chaplain, the President, the Registrar, Public Safety, Catering, and Campus Life.  I would like to offer special thanks to our colleagues in Plant Operations.  Their efficiency and flexibility in setting up multiple events with backup venues over this three-day period allowed us to maximize our use of the beautiful spaces with which our College is blessed.

I also extend thanks to the dedicated faculty, as well as administrators and staff, whose teaching, mentoring, and care are responsible for the success of the 590 young men and women who walked across the platform Saturday.  Talking with parents at the President’s Reception after the ceremony, I heard many wonderful stories about specific professors, coaches, and staff members who made a difference in the lives of our students.

Prior to Commencement, on Friday, May 23, the Board of Trustees held its final meeting of the 2013-14 academic year. I am pleased to note that the Board approved moving forward with the final phase of the Williams Arts Campus construction, the construction of facilities located on the east side of the Third Street site. Also approved was funding for the first phase of a multi-year renovation of various dining venues. The Board heard a preliminary presentation on funding objectives for the Capital Campaign, and on plans for the campaign kickoff, to be held in New York City next November in conjunction with the 150th Lafayette-Lehigh football game at Yankee Stadium.

At this meeting, the Board also received and discussed the final Report of the Implementation and Assessment Group on Greek Life (IAGGL).  As many of you know, IAGGL was formed in 2011 in response to the trustees’ directive that the administration continue to work with faculty and others in the Lafayette community to develop an implementation plan consistent with the administration’s response to the Report of the Working Group on Greek Life and Campus Community, and to establish appropriate metrics and assessment procedures to ensure that membership, conduct and academic objectives are achieved. Once the IAGGL draft report was issued in March, a number of groups provided feedback on the document, including Student Government, the Faculty Committee on Student Life, current fraternity and sorority Presidents, and the AISB. Additionally, two open meetings were held with students and faculty to solicit feedback before the final report was submitted to the Board.

The Board considered the IAGGL report alongside a broader vision for Lafayette’s residential community that I have been developing this year in conjunction with the work of the Integrated Student Experience Task Force.  I am happy to report that the Board endorsed our goal of creating a unified and comprehensive residential program that connects and integrates residential, co-curricular, and academic experiences for students.  The new program, called Connected Communities, will build affinity groups among each entering class that will serve as the platform for four years of class-based programs of advising, mentoring, and leadership development.  When this program is fully implemented, first-year students will live together in clusters within dedicated first-year residence halls. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors will have a wide range of residential options available to them annually. The communities formed in the first year will provide an opportunity for continued connection with a diverse group of classmates to supplement other residential and interest groups students may join. In this new model, fraternities, sororities and other academic interest-based and social residential groups will become a part of an enhanced vision of a living/learning community. Reaccreditation of existing groups, an annual process implemented successfully this spring, and applications from current students for new groups, including Greek organizations, theme houses, living-learning communities, and social houses, will be considered in the context of whether they are consistent with and advance the overall values and objectives of the College’s integrated residential life vision.

The administration will begin implementation of this new structure for building campus community immediately, and will develop next fall a rigorous application process, involving students, administrators, and relevant committees, for all proposed groups, including Greek organizations.  In addition, the upcoming Capital Campaign includes among its fundraising objectives building and renovation projects that will provide improved housing, dining, and social space.  Recognizing the need for a diverse range of student groups to have the opportunity to sponsor social gatherings that foster and strengthen friendships, we are creating new spaces that better accommodate a range of social functions. Other initiatives in dining and campus life are underway to support this effort to provide a more integrated experience, and enhanced sense of community, for all students.

In the short time I have been here, I have already seen the cost to the Lafayette community of the continuing debate about the question of the status of Greek organizations, and am very pleased that the Board has provided resolution to this issue. While individual members of the community hold strong and varied opinions on this question, I hope that we can all agree that at a time of great pressure and change in higher education, it is in our best interest to focus our attention on other critical issues facing the College.  I am confident that the new approach to residential life that we will implement in the coming years will advance our ability to provide an education that connects all aspects of student experience within a deeper, more holistic, and more integrated education.  I look forward to working with the entire Lafayette community to achieve that goal.

With best wishes for a pleasant and productive summer,

Alison Byerly

2 Comments

  1. William Messick says:

    These are my questions:

    1. “the Board endorsed our goal of creating a unified and comprehensive residential program….” “…called Connected Communities.”

    Is there anything in writing or a document that describes this program?

    2. “In this new model, fraternities, sororities and other academic interest-based and social residential groups will become a part of an enhanced vision of a living/learning community.”

    Is there anything in writing or a document that describes this enhanced vision?

    3. “applications from current students for new groups, including Greek organizations…..will be considered in the context of whether they are consistent with and advance the overall values and objectives of the College’s integrated residential life vision.”

    ” The administration will begin implementation of this new structure for building campus community immediately, and will develop next fall a rigorous application process, involving students, administrators, and relevant committees, for all proposed groups, including Greek organizations.”

    The current college process for recognition/re colonization is documented in the student handbook and trustee policy (see attached.) What is different now?

    This new structure sounds ominous. Delta Upsilon was the last Greek organization allowed on/back to campus, in 1994, 20 years ago. Additionally, there are currently groups trying to be recognized and have not been given either an audience or an answer. Given this dearth of any new Greek groups, is the college really committed to a structure that meets student needs? When can students apply? Will Alumni be included in this process or are Alumni not part of the campus community?

    4. “Recognizing the need for a diverse range of student groups to have the opportunity to sponsor social gatherings that foster and strengthen friendships, we are creating new spaces that better accommodate a range of social functions.”

    Isn’t this exactly what our Fraternities and Sororities do now? The college has removed many of these spaces from inventory closing Phi Gam, Theta Delta Chi, Phi Delta Theta and others while converting them to office or staff use. What is the vision for these new spaces?

    5. “In the short time I have been here, I have already seen the cost to the Lafayette community of the continuing debate about the question of the status of Greek organizations, and am very pleased that the Board has provided resolution to this issue.”

    What is the resolution to the status of Greek organizations? Can you explain exactly what the resolution is other than we have to follow the rigorous application process each year. Will there be comparable treatment of all student groups? Mckelvy?, Monroe Street?, other academic interest based and social residential groups? What is the status of Chi Phi’s application to return? What is the status of Zeta Psi’s disciplinary hearings? Can you explain exactly what the resolution is?

    6. “….a time of great pressure and change in higher education, it is in our best interest to focus our attention on other critical issues facing the College.”

    Why was the issue of Greek organizations a focus that took our attention from other critical issues? Is it possible that there was never really a problem except in the minds of a few board members and Faculty? What if this approach does not solve the desire for students to want to join Greek organizations? What will we do if the unmet demand creates more underground Greek organizations?

    7. “I am confident that the new approach to residential life that we will implement in the coming years will advance our ability to provide an education that connects all aspects of student experience within a deeper, more holistic, and more integrated education.”

    What is wrong with residential life as it now exists? Is there any study/data that shows that the student experience at Lafayette is not the best experience possible and that students yearn for a deeper, more holistic, and more integrated education? Where have we gone wrong? How many choices among the dozens and dozens of residential choices are needed?

    Bill Messick, President
    Delta Upsilon Fraternity, Lafayette Chapter

    1. Thank you for your questions. The concept of “Connected Communities,” which includes fraternities and sororities, is described in principle in the report from the Integrated Student Experience Task Force. Various campus groups continue to work to refine the specifics of the program.

      Regarding applications from students for new groups, including fraternities and sororities, the newly developed process will be rigorous but not ominous, and Greek and non-Greek living groups will be held to the same standards, though we could imagine that fraternities and sororities would have an additional step of making their case to the Inter-fraternity Council, for example.

      The administration will develop the application process this fall with input from the campus community. Once that process is completed, a timetable for accepting applications will be communicated to all students. While we often seek and include alumni suggestions, we believe that those who live in the community today and whose lives will be shaped by the experience are best able to define the application process.

      Through Connected Communities, we will be creating spaces that better accommodate a range of social functions. Currently, sororities are precluded by their national organizations from hosting any open social events at their houses and fraternities have hosted fewer and fewer events in their residences over the years. Social spaces do not always need to be tied to a specific residential space. Common social spaces throughout the campus would be open for use by many student groups under the vision of Connected Communities.

      The Board of Trustees, in endorsing the concept behind Connected Communities, sees fraternities and sororities as a part of our residential system. The “resolution” of the status of Greek organizations is that the Board has acknowledged their role on this campus and will permit students interested in forming groups not currently at Lafayette to apply for recognition and residential space.

      Colleges and universities are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of a confluence of factors – the economy, technology, price and outcomes. Residential colleges, in particular, face increasing pressure from rising costs and scrutiny over our value and ROI. The difference between colleges like Lafayette and non-residential institutions is that we have an enormous opportunity to allow all students the value-added benefit of living together with others who share similar interests, to develop leadership skills, independence, an inquisitive mind and the talents and skill to solve real problems. Membership in a fraternity and sorority provides some, but not all, our students with these experiences. Other living/learning and residential interest groups will also provide these opportunities in our Connected Community. We have wealth of research on student engagement to draw from as we consider how to maximize the benefit of the residential experience. As times change and the competition for the best students intensifies, we believe that we can provide a more cohesive, comprehensive and valuable experience for our students if we continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of students, employers and the global marketplace.

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