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January 26, 2005


North Quad to feature study of media, information technology

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Plans for a new University of Michigan facility combining a residence hall and academic center took a major step forward today (Jan. 26) as the Board of Regents approved the project and architect. The North Quad Residential and Academic Complex will be a showcase for the study of media and information in a technology-rich environment that will support students and faculty alike.

The unique complex, announced by President Mary Sue Coleman in October, is expected to further strengthen the University's focus on blending residential life with academics. The building will incorporate 21 st century technology with a contemporary residential space unlike any other at U-M—one that has the potential to be a model for living and learning communities nationwide, Coleman said.

The academic portion of the facility will provide a new home for faculty in the School of Information, as well as housing complementary departments from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, including Communication Studies, Film and Video Studies and the Language Resource Center. The Language Resource Center uses technology in its mission to support the instruction of foreign language, culture and literature.

Coleman said programs that involve the use of technology for communication and interaction are logical choices for academic units to be part of the unique center she calls the new gateway to the University's academic community.

"There almost certainly is no set of topics of greater interest to our undergraduates than media and information technology, nor is there an intellectual domain where our current ability to deliver content is more challenged by students' demands and expectations," she said. "The goal is to create an exciting, engaging environment in which students of all backgrounds and experiences can take advantage of opportunities to connect with one another, with faculty, and with others on campus and beyond."

Regents have named the architectural firm Einhorn Yaffee Prescott of Albany, NY, as designers of the project, which will include approximately 500 suite-style living spaces, dining facilities, and about 190,000 gross square feet of academic and support space. The complex will include a mix of shared spaces available to students and faculty from across the campus, as well as private areas for student residences and faculty offices.

"We envision North Quad being a vibrant environment where formal and informal learning will take place day and night. At the same time, this unique facility will move us further into the 21 st century, offering students a level of privacy and community that is responsive to their expressed needs and desires," said Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper.

A preliminary proposal for the academic area to be shared by LSA and the School of Information includes classrooms, labs, group study spaces, rehearsal rooms and performance venues. It also will feature film editing labs and viewing rooms, which not only will support the undergraduate program in film and video but also can serve undergraduates outside of the program.

While today's students are experienced users of technology, their understanding is largely functional, rather than fundamental, said LSA Dean Terrence J. McDonald.

"Students need media literacy skills and a deeper understanding of the way in which media shape society," McDonald said. "We envision that in the North Quad academic space we will satisfy students' appetites for advanced media and technology, while also promoting a deeper, more sophisticated understanding of the role of they play in our lives."

The expansion of this curriculum is good news in particular for the communications and film and video programs that have difficulty keeping up with student interest and demand for courses, and for the School of Information that long has wanted to play a more active role in the education of undergraduate students.

Although the School of Information will not develop an undergraduate program, Dean John L. King says the goal is to be involved with students to help them understand the role of technology in society and their responsibilities for using it to build communities.

"Information technology makes it possible for people to be connected to information resources 24/7, which is essential in this concept of integrated learning," King said. "We believe a student who comes to the University of Michigan should be a leader in new technology and in the new ways of communicating."

Plans for North Quad residence hall and academic center are consistent with the long-range goals outlined in preliminary recommendations by the Presidential Task Force on Residential Life and Learning and in the Residential Life Initiatives (RLI).

The RLI grew out of a two-year study that looked at U-M housing, dining, and integration of academic life with learning. The comprehensive report that is guiding the renovation and expansion of housing facilities across campus concluded that students are interested in more modern, suite-style housing; increased availability of technology in their residences; and convenient dining options that offer high-quality food, increased choices and longer hours. It also addressed the overall shortfall of available student housing and concluded that at least one new residence hall was needed.

The presidential task force, co-chaired by Professor Robert E. Megginson, associate dean in LSA, and Carole Henry, director of housing and assistant vice president for student affairs, was charged by Coleman in the fall to develop a broader vision for integration of academics with residential life. The group was asked to address ways to:

  • Integrate academic and residential life more imaginatively and fully by means of physical environment and programming to facilitate interactions among students, faculty and graduate student instructors;
  • Provide opportunities for personal and intellectual development that complement the academic experience;
  • Ensure that all students in residence halls have an excellent, well-equipped environment in which to study, learn, explore, collaborate; and experience, live and grow personally and intellectually.

Although the group's full report is not due out for a few more weeks, preliminary findings from its study of University residence life include both programmatic and facility recommendations for the North Quad project, such as:

  • North Quad could involve a multi-disciplinary living-learning community that has a relationship to the academic units in the complex yet is not driven by any particular student major. Elements might include an annual theme selected by faculty and students, a Hopwood-like competition for student projects, or opportunities to come together over solutions to a particular problem.
  • A leading theme for this community could be "Communication in a Global World" and include both local and global components. The facility could be an exciting hub for international and cultural education, a world scholars program, increased connections with international and U.S. students to further their development into global citizens, and partnerships with academic departments and programs such as Residential Education, Intergroup Relations and International Programs.
  • North Quad could be thought of as an "incubator" for new programs that would later serve the entire academic community.
  • State-of-the-art technology should be included. Spaces should be functional and comfortable for all users and could include a cyber café with convenience store, video wall, well-equipped classrooms and meeting rooms of various sizes, small-group collaboration spaces, auditorium, exhibit spaces, opportunities for video conferencing and interactive distance learning, quiet places for study, a gaming/recreation room, informal performance spaces, and music rehearsal rooms.

"The task force sees the North Quad project as a laboratory for future integration of academic and residential programming across campus," said Henry. "With this dual-use facility, we will draw upon the notion that learning spaces are everywhere, with technology allowing connections to more distant places in an interesting, seamless way."

The cost of the residential portion of North Quad is estimated at $58 million, which includes furnishings and the dining facility. The budget for the academic and support space is $79 million, $5 million of which is for demolition of the U-M's Frieze building and other site work. University officials said they will work with the architects to try to preserve all or part of the adjacent Carnegie Library and incorporate it into the complex.

Funding for the North Quad project will come from University Housing, the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, LSA and investment proceeds.

Contact:   Julie Peterson
Phone:   (734) 936-5190