The Colgate Scene
'The difference is the scope'
As dean of the college, Adam Weinberg is charged with overseeing implementation of the university's new vision for residential education.
Adam Weinberg [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
Adam Weinberg joined Colgate as a member of the sociology and anthropology department in 1995. He has served as dean of the college since the fall of 2002, overseeing most areas of student life outside the classroom.
As a faculty member, Weinberg worked extensively on community development projects. He was a founding director of the nonprofit Partnership for Community Development, fostering economic development and quality of life in the village and town of Hamilton. More recently, he helped found Colgate's Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (the COVE), which coordinates students' volunteer and course-based community service.
He has been named the Phi Eta Sigma Professor of the Year. He has also been honored with a Maroon Citation by the Colgate Alumni Corporation.
Weinberg graduated magna cum laude from Bowdoin College in 1987, where he was an ice hockey player, fraternity member and president of the senior class. He received his masters and Ph.D. from Northwestern University.
The Scene recently met with Weinberg to discuss his first year as dean as well as the challenges and opportunities presented by the new residential education program.
It's been a year since President Chopp asked you to become dean of the college. Compare the life of a dean with being a Colgate faculty member.
The important characteristics are the same. You have to care deeply about students, and you have to understand, appreciate and feel committed to the institution. The difference is the scope. As a dean I am more focused on the total student experience.
What was the highlight of your first year?
Working with President Chopp. Her legacy will be the experience she created for students. She is incredibly student centered and understands Colgate. She appreciates Colgate's traditions and has identified ways of using them to move the college forward. Many universities have abandoned undergraduates. Many liberal arts colleges have abandoned their traditions. President Chopp's vision uses our traditions to craft a world-class experience that gives all students what they need, want and deserve. It is an honor to work with her.
What were the issues you saw when you took office?
Both the Task Force on Campus Culture and students were talking about the same four challenges.
First, being more ambitious with career services to ensure that our students will remain competitive in the job market. The ambitions of Colgate students haven't changed, but the job market has. If our students are to continue to get their first-choice jobs, we have to get them focused early. The market has become incredibly competitive. The margin of error is razor thin.
Second, providing more options and opportunities for students throughout campus life. The generation of students coming to college wants and is used to lots of options and support. As I listened to students, I heard them articulate that they wanted a campus that felt less like a large liberal arts college, and more like a small university. They want that sort of vibrancy and richness of options. Expanded programming on campus and the new downtown projects -- the Barge, bookstore, Palace Theater, movie theater and Village Green -- give us the pieces. Yet we were not putting them together in a way that made enough of a difference.
Third, creating a better social life. Again, this generation of students want something a bit different. They wanted to host small and medium-sized parties, but our rules made that very difficult. The 21-year-old drinking age combined with changes in liability laws have had a negative impact on college campuses in significant ways. As a result, we had become too rule-bound. We needed to be more creative.
Fourth, resolution of the Greek-letter system. The fraternity/sorority issue had driven a wedge between faculty and students in ways that are unhealthy for our students and the institution. It also created unnecessary animosity among students and administrators. We had to get some resolution. Students wanted to feel supported. Faculty wanted a system that worked with, not against, the college. The Broad Street plan gives fraternities and sororities opportunities to exist if they can rise to a level of expectations that the college needs all of our residential units to meet.
Were there any surprises in your first year?
The time spent dealing with the Greek-letter situation, which detracted from working constructively with students on other issues. I was also surprised by the misconceptions that shaped the conversation. Alumni, faculty and the administration all want similar sorts of communities on Broad Street. We had not done a good job educating our alumni. Greek alumni volunteers have continued to seek ways to support student leaders in the houses, yet the challenges and nature of the support students need has been shifting and increasing. A lot of the leadership opportunities in the fraternities had been outsourced to the Fraternity/Sorority Management Association (FSMA). Fewer students are living in the village. Juniors study abroad. Seniors are focused on the job market. We have 130 student organizations and 25 Division I sports. We run a TV station. Student interest and leadership is spread very thin. To achieve the same ends, we needed to change the way we were doing things. We had to trust our students more, give them more support, and raise the expectations. Instead, we were often trying to control our students while withdrawing support and setting expectations that were well below Colgate standards. We have to find new ways for administrators, faculty and alumni to rally around our students in a way that gives them the best possible Colgate experience.
Basics of the residential education plan
How is the vision influenced by the work of the Task Force on Campus Culture?
The task force places the boundaries on the vision. Remember that the task force met for 30 months, talked with more than 700 students, talked with hundreds if not thousands of alumni, and had 10 trustees, four longtime faculty members and four students as members. They learned a tremendous amount. They came to the right place -- we needed to provide more options for students, and we needed to be clear with the future of fraternities and sororities. They looked seriously at eliminating the Greek-letter system, which is what many of our liberal arts peer schools have done. In the end, they went to a different place. They asked President Chopp and me to come up with a plan that allows students to live with their friends and build healthy communities that benefit the campus. But, they also wanted a system that dealt with houses that were not functioning well.
What principles guided you in developing that plan?
President Chopp and I wanted to embrace Colgate's traditions and use them as a foundation to launch us into the future. Our principles were simple: we wanted to ask more of our students; we wanted to give more to our students; we wanted to give students opportunities to acquire a world-class education, to make lifelong friends and to have four great years that prepare them for the challenges of their post-Colgate lives. We want to recreate a campus culture driven by self-governance and student initiative.
Unlike a lot of our peer schools, we don't want to change the college. We have 2,800 of the best students in the country. But we had challenges that we had not met.
Is there anything that sets Colgate's new vision for residential life apart from student life at other residential colleges?
The components have all been done at other places. What's new is the way we've put it together. As far as I know we are the first in the country to link the four years in a thoughtful way; and the first to think seriously about the sophomore year.
We can do a better job meeting the needs of students in their first and sophomore years. We can create an interesting, dynamic Broad Street that gives every Colgate student an opportunity to find or create a community, that provides unprecedented opportunities for students to take on leadership responsibilities during their junior and senior years, that really demonstrates to the rest of the higher education community how to create a vibrant social life that is consistent with the academic mission of the university. Our plan does less for students, while giving them more opportunities to do for themselves. President Chopp and I have been surprised by the number of phone calls we have received from other colleges and foundations who find our plan really exciting. They like the approach of achieving higher outcomes by trusting students more and increasing opportunities for self-governance and initiative.
What are the most common misconceptions about the plan?
There are three: first, many people are not aware of changes in higher education. This is a generation of students who expect support services outside the classroom. Some people have asked if we are doing too much social engineering. We are actually doing far less than most places. The plan gives students more opportunities, but it challenges them to craft their own unique experiences. Nothing is mandated. But a lot is provided and expected.The second misperception is that this will reduce self-governance on Broad Street. We don't want to be the government in those Broad Street houses; we want to be a good landlord. We don't want to take away challenging leadership opportunities; we want to offer more opportunities and make sure they are meaningful and supported to help students succeed. We think that will build better relationships with students and allow us to do a better job of providing for their needs.
The third misperception is that we are changing where students live. Many alumni were surprised that only 250 students could live in the village. We made that change in the early 1990s at the village's request.
Three years from now, how will people describe Colgate's campus culture?
I hope that three years from now when our older alumni come back they will describe campus culture by the same features that have traditionally defined it: community, character, integrity, fun. I hope they will find a place with a heart, a place of excellence that is vibrant, active, community-driven, friendly. The one piece I would change would be to have students be a little more serious earlier in their student careers. The day is gone when grades in the first two years didn't matter much to employers or grad schools.
I hope this period will be seen as a time when the college is really student-centered, thinking about who our students are, what they are coming to Colgate to do and what challenges they will face when they leave Colgate. And that not only will we have thought about those things, but that we will have done dramatic things to improve and take us forward -- and that we did that in a Colgate way, building on traditions that have spanned the generations.
What final thoughts do you have for Scene readers as we enter the new school year?
Colgate is poised for this moment. We have a great president and a committed administration that will embrace our traditions to prepare students for personal success as engaged citizens, and create a campus culture that continues to create the kinds of wonderful alumni whose stories are often told on these pages. We have 2,800 of the best students anywhere, goodwill of an exceptional faculty and staff, rich traditions, an unbelievable campus and an extraordinary alumni body that cares deeply about our institution. It is going to be an exciting time!
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