Weiss: “Zoning is Going Forward”

Weekly Nassau (12/13/84)


By E. Randol Schoenberg (Randy) (’88), Staff Writer

As a member of the Council of Masters, Weiss has influenced the recent decision to create resident advisor zones in the residential colleges. “The Council has been talking about the configuration of RA groups since the beginning,” she says. “In the beginning, we said we wanted to hold out freshman rooms, and the Residence Committee said no.” Nevertheless, the masters continued to receive complaints from freshmen ranging from “I don’t see my RA because he lives five entryways way from me” to “It seems artificial when my RA comes to visit, like he’s just making his rounds.” Similarly, RAs complained it was difficult to do the job with their groups so spread out. The Council adopted zoning as a solution to the problem.

“The RAs proposed zoning as a way of balancing two different kinds of interests: making RA groups work, and taking into account the need for rising sophomores to have a broad choice of rooms,” Weiss explains. “Zoning was a compromise—not holding out freshman rooms, and not the other extreme, having sophomores choose all the rooms to the detriment of the RA groups.”

According to Weiss, last year the Residence Committee temporarily vetoed a proposal that would have created zones before room draw. The Committee suggested that instead of the RAs choosing rooms first and often finding themselves surrounded by sophomores and separated from their advisees, the RAs should choose their rooms after the rising sophomores. Weiss says that this plan did not alleviate the problems, because the colleges still had to spread out the RA groups to include freshmen in areas where sophomores predominated. The RAs had to choose between geographical proximity and equally sized groups. They chose geographical proximately and ended up with groups of 14 to 25 students. “This made it hard to assign academic advisors,” Weiss says, “and we still have problems with freshmen who are too far away.”

When the Council this fall announced its intention to begin zoning next year, Residence Committee members claimed that they had not been involved in the decision-making process. Weiss defends the administration: “The notion that there was no consultation I find at variance with history as I experienced it. I sat with Betti Irminger and talked out concerns in the spring. Dean Lowe talked to them all fall. There were a lot conversations.” While she admits that the Council and the Residence Committee never formally sat down together, she says, “I think they had an appropriate advisory role.”

Betti Irminger, chairman of the Residence Committee, disagrees. “They first presented us a vague plan last year, just two weeks before we had to publish the room draw booklet. There was not enough time to implement it. We requested a meeting with Dean Lowe last spring. He met with us and said that the Council was basically set on zoning. We sent a letter to the council saying that we wanted to work out the issues, hear their views, and express our views.

“Later in the spring, Arthur Greenspan and I requested a meeting with Dean Lowe to discuss the direction of the Residence Committee—we did not intend to discuss zoning. When we arrived at his office, Nancy Weiss was there too. The meeting turned into a zoning discussion. But it was not a formal meeting and we were not prepared for it. At that meeting, they said that the masters would develop zoning plans over the summer and would show them to the committees when we got back to the school in the fall, but they never did present them to us.”

Irminger continues: “In late September, I asked Dean Lowe about the zoning proposal and he said, “Yes. There will be zoning.” It was clear then that they were going to make no effort to consult us. There was nothing we could do. Dean Lowe met with David Albagli and me in mid-October. He told us again that zoning was definitely going through, and he said that he thought that there would be little or no room for student input at that point. Dave and I met with the masters individually in November, and it was evident that they were set on their plans. It seemed clear to us that there was no chance of making any changes.”

Lowe differs with Irminger’s version of what transpired in their meetings this fall. “Three or four weeks into the semester I met with Betti and Dave. I related to them that the role of the Residence Committee and the Residential Colleges was being clarified, but that we still wanted input. I want them to understand that they have an important role.” At the same time, Lowe admits a failure to fully explain that role. “In planning for the inauguration of the Residential Colleges, one detail not attended to was the sit down with the Residence Committee and explain their relationship to the Residential Colleges.”

Abagli agrees: “The link-up between the colleges and the Residence Committee was never clarified.”

Billy Cyr, an RA in Mathey College and co-author of the Mathey zoning plans, also counters Irminger’s accusations and faults the Residence Committee for what he sees as its lack of initiative. At Weiss’s request Cyr drew up the zoning plans last June and sent them to Lowe, Weiss, and the Residence Committee. “Lowe and Weiss wrote back to thank me, but the Residence Committee never responded. They never called, never never asked to discuss the letter, never asked a thing,” Cyr says. “They knew that plans were being drawn up, and that there was new data. They tied their own hands. They expected a golden invitation, and since they didn’t get one, they failed to address the issue.”  Lowe adds, “I think the Residence Committee has had some difficulties.”

Albagli, chairman of the Residence Committee’s Room Draw subcommittee, feels that from the beginning, the Committee could do nothing. “We emphasized in a letter last spring the importance of the masters getting together with the Residence Committee. Lowe told us in September that zoning was going through, but the masters all said it was tentative. They gave the impression that we could have done something when in actuality we could do nothing.”

In contrast, Stan Katz, Master of Rockefeller College, believes that students can still have a say in the zoning decision. In the December 7 issues of Rock Talk, he writes, “So far as I know, plans for next year are not final. For the past two years, the Council of Masters has proposed zoning to the Residence Committee. For the past two years it has been rejected. For the past two years the Dean of Students has accepted the decision of the Residence Committee. This year the Council of Masters has again suggested zoning, and I believe (but do not know) that the Dean of Students is favorable to the idea.”

“There is no question in my mind but that there will be zones,” says Lowe. “I suppose it’s not final until we meet to officially approve I, but we’re at least close to that point.” Lowe expects that the zoning plan will be approved before students leave for break next week.

Abagli is also frustrated with the masters’ reluctance to inform the students of their zoning plans. “Betti and I talked to Nancy Weiss in November. When we asked her when she would publicize the zoning plans, she did not answer. We asked if it would be before February, and her attitude was that the students will find out when they find out.”

While Cyr says that Weiss asked him to explain the plans to the Mathey College Council three weeks ago, he admits that that may have been a little too late “Dean Lowe should have arranged a campus forum. For political reasons they should have asked the students, but that couldn’t have added a lot. Sophomores (within the colleges) have gone through at most one room draw; the RAs are more tuned into the problems (of RA groups).”

Cyr supports the Council of Masters’ zoning decision. “The masters did exactly what they should have done.” Praising Weiss for her involvement in the issue, he says, “Weiss was very supportive. She kept pushing the Council of Masters to discuss the zoning proposal. She was the perfect administrator. Things got done on time, the right way. She made sure I had all the information needed to draw up the plans.”

Concerning Weiss’s role in the Council of Masters, Lowe only says, “She as well as other masters had been considering the zoning idea from the beginning.” He considers it inappropriate to comment on her involvement in more detail. “The mode of decision in the Council is by consensus,” He says. “It’s not a vote. A sense of the meeting emerges.”

Weiss sees the struggle between the Council of Masters and the Residence Committee as a conflict between two groups who think they have the right to make final decision on residential life policies. “The Residence Committee didn’t veto our proposal—that’s the difference,” she believes. She feels that the Residence Committee perceives their role as something more than it actually is. “I believe their role is an advisory one. They believe that they should make final decisions.”

The problem began when the residential colleges were created. “Other people entered the system with an interest in student residential life. The Residence Committee, quite understandably, felt it had a decision-power—it had advisory power all along.” Lowe confirms Weiss’s point. “They have an advisory responsibility. They don’t have the administrative responsibility that I and other administrators have.”

Irminger and other Residence Committee members, though, feel slighted by the Council. As she puts it, “The Residence Committee is an advisory Committee, but once we expressed concern and dissatisfaction, we were left out. The Council bypassed the Committee because we would have been an obstacle to plans they were determined to implement.”

Weiss defines the Council of Masters as “a group of administrators who consider policy issues for he colleges. It doesn’t hand down decision. It’s a group of administrators who think out policy.” Finally in response to the as yet unpublished Class of ’88 poll on the importance of RAs in freshmen life, Weiss says, “I don’t think the poll will have an effect. The zoning plan is going forward.”


Part 2 (seemingly separate article also by ERS on same pages as article supra)


Nancy Weiss is involved in another controversy, this one over the Mathey College Blacks Students Table. Her refusal to sanction black students’ closed meetings to discuss that they term “sensitive issues, unique to the black community” prevents them from using College facilities to publicize their closed meeting. The group is thus unable to draw members into the discuss by advertising in the Mathey Messenger, on College bulletin boards, and on the easel on the way to the dining hall. Critics charge that the administrative rule being applied to the group is unfair and that students have not been adequately involved in the decision–making process.

According to Weiss, the problem arose at a staff meeting in early October when Sharon Grant-Henry, assistant master in Mathey College and sponsor of the Black Students Table, announced the group’s fall schedule including a proposed session on “what it means to be a minority at Princeton University.” “I asked whether it would be an open meeting,” Weiss recalls. “I had in mind the forum last year at the Third World Center on being black at Princeton, which I attended and felt was an informative and moving discussion of problems of racial tension here.

“The staff discuss the ‘sensitivity’ of the meetings and the desirability of no one being turned away, because of the color of their skin,” Weiss continues. “Sharon said that we should sanction occasional closed meetings. I suggested we continue the staff conversation to discuss the complicated and difficult issue which was affected by University policy, and asked Dean Lowe to talk with us. After that (second) meeting there was no consensus within the staff, so I asked to talk with the students,” Weiss explains.

On November 15 Weiss and Eugene Lowe met with members of the Black Students Table and told them that the University could not sanction closed meetings of any kind, and that their only recourse was to take the issue up with the Undergraduate Life Committee, which is made up of students and administrators and makes recommendations to the faculty and administration.

That first meeting caught David Jackson and the other members of the Black Students Table by surprise. Jackson says, “I was under the impression we were going to discuss what solutions could be found to our problems. Instead they said, ‘This is University policy. Your needs can’t be met this way.’” Jackson wonders why the issue was ever brought up; as he says, “there wasn’t a need to raise the issue in the first place—no one else ever came to the meetings and we never advertised them as closed. We felt singled out unfairly for a policy that isn’t even applied in the case of the Women’s Center.”

Weiss explains, “The problem is that an official University activity is supposed to be open to participation by members of the University community.” She points to passages in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities and the student organizations charter which forbid discrimination and discourage “clandestine” groups. “The principle by which this University operates is one of openness,” she argues. “And openness protects the minorities from being excluded from access to resources and opportunities.”

Commencing on the distinction made in granting the Women’s Center the right to have closed meetings, Weiss, says, “The Women’s Center is a problem. It is difficult to justify closed sessions. I would want to hear more bout it. It’s a question of when any exceptions are appropriate; I don’t think exceptions are appropriate. You can’t have an open group transform itself into something private or closed. I find that inherently contradictory.”

While Weiss concedes that black students may need to meet privately, she says, “The challenge is to satisfy that need, and not do violence to the principle that all official University activities are open. We are trying to find ways to facilitate the development of a support structure for black students. This can be done in a different forum.”

Weiss suggests that the inflammatory press coverage may have polarized the issue: “The ‘Prince’ has made it more of a controversy than it is:  The first piece misstated issues; the second stated issues a little more clearly. I’ve learned that when you play a public role, you cannot control your publicity.”

Jackson complains that administrators ignored students while deciding not to sanction the closed meeting, but then left it up to them to find a solution to the problem. “I don’t feel that (Weiss) was out to hurt someone, it just could have been handled better,” he says. “I think a lot of administrators, not just Nancy Weiss, feel that they are surrogate parents to kids who can’t make decisions. That’s not the way to deal with 18-21 year-olds. There is no excuse for not getting students involved. I’m not just going to let administrators take advantage of me.”

Yvonne Gonzalez, Chairman of the Mathey College Council, agrees that in this issue and the zoning issue, students were not included in the discussion until too late. “It should have been through to the (Mathey College) Council earlier,” she says. “They didn’t let us know—just like the zoning proposal.” Gonzalez hopes that student opinion will be considered in the future. “Weiss has publicly apologized for the oversight, and in the future she will meet with the Council Chairman once a week, so things like this do not happen again.”

When dialogue is reestablished, it was purely student-initiated. David Jackson met with Gonzalez to ask the Mathey Council for help in finding a solution to the problems facing black students. Today, Jackson and a committee formed by the Mathey College Council are presenting he Undergraduate Life Committee with a proposal to form a University Committee on Minority Problems. Jackson hopes that the ULC will approve his proposal “so that issues like this do not become so volatile.”

If the zoning decision seems final, the closed meeting policy discussion is far from over. The administration is contemplating the introduction of minority support networks similar to those at Yale and Harvard. “We are now engaged in instructive discussion,” Weiss says. “The problem of the need of support is not confined to Mathey College.”

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