Students and Student Life
Throughout our discussions, several fundamental questions emerged pertaining to the relationship between our institutional purposes and the broader dimensions of student life. What place does extracurricular life have in our view of a liberal arts education? Should the institution be more actively and purposefully involved in shaping student life? What is the relationship between our students' academic lives and other aspects-emotional, social, spiritual, physical, and vocational-of their Carleton educational experience? Although major improvements in the quality of student life have taken place in the past ten years, more remains to be done.
Carleton should give more recognition and acknowledgment to the importance of out-of-class student learning and development as a valuable part of the Carleton educational experience. We suggest that the College's definition of what is educational may benefit from expansion. Although intellectual growth and academic learning are Carleton's central and primary purposes, it is the special richness of residential and extracurricular life that provides much of the opportunity for students to realize some of the broader purposes suggested in the final sentence of the Purpose of the College: "to liberate...the whole potential of each student and open the way toward a generous and interesting life."
We also believe that colleges in the twenty-first century will have students who have increasingly less in common with one another. A successful residential college, therefore, will be one that teaches students how to live in community in a diverse and complex world. The college environment and the relationships among its students will continue to be dynamic, complicated, and even uncomfortable at times. A healthy campus
environment will not be one without mistakes, confusion, distress, and frustration, but one in which we are able to demonstrate respect, compassion, understanding, and patience despite our differences.
Although more needs to be done in the area of student life to integrate its various parts and provide a framework for living and learning that fosters broad development, we do not advocate program expansion. What we imagine would be more along the lines of rearranging, restructuring, coordinating, and refocusing our efforts rather than creating an overlay of new programs. The lives of our students appear to be busy enough.
Recommendation: Redesign some of our extracurricular programs to improve students' learning and living environment
Carleton College is a residential academic community. We believe that the liberal arts experience is enhanced in an environment where students live and learn together. We also believe that most significant learning results from interactions with others: with faculty in classrooms, labs, and lounges, with fellow students, and with staff through campus jobs. Throughout our discussions we heard virtually unanimous agreement
that the quality (or "qualities") of the people at Carleton-students, faculty, and staff-is the source of its excellence. We believe that the excellence of the Carleton liberal arts education has been, and should continue to be, bringing dedicated and challenging teachers and committed students into a small residential college with a low student-faculty ratio.
A plan to extend the notion of a community of learners more effectively beyond the classroom might include increasing efforts to improve the quality of the life in College residences, accompanied by improvements in the quality of lounge and common spaces, and finding ways to increase and strengthen student relationships with faculty and staff (see recommendation on the advising system). The need for such initiatives was recognized ten years ago, as reported in both Navigating the Nineties and the report of the reaccreditation site team.
By improving the quality of life in student residences, students can learn to achieve a better sense of balance between individual rights and responsibilities to others, to be more at home among people who are different from themselves, to make healthy choices (about stress, drug use, sexuality), and to develop greater capacity for personal reflection. Increased interaction among students and faculty and staff will help to narrow the gap between the academic and non-academic dimensions of student lives and provide an opportunity for the fuller development of students through informal mentoring and role modeling. We will need to strike a balance in becoming more intentional in shaping the student culture by recognizing the educational value of allowing students to manage and govern their lives, yet not leaving their development entirely to their own devices.