In recent years, the University has introduced several initiatives to make the academical village more accessible to its students. Renovations to the Rotunda will increase the role it plays in student life, with increased study space that will hopefully make it a building students enter rather than just walk past. The Lawn selection process has also changed with the intention of making the Lawn community more representative of the student population, with a new calibration committee that will ensure selections reflect the broader University. Given that the University has sought ways to make the academical village more accessible to students, the administration should offer the ground floors of pavilions as general student space that will draw more students to the Lawn.
In establishing the University, Thomas Jefferson intended for the academical village to be used not only by students — an ideal we struggle to fulfill — but also as a forum for student-faculty interaction. There are 10 pavilions on the Lawn, each housing a dean or faculty member with the exception of Pavilion VII, which is home to the Colonnade Club, a hotel. Jefferson envisioned a community in which students would regularly interact with their professors, who lived next door. Almost 200 years later, the tradition of students living among faculty members persists, but the amount of meaningful interaction between students and professors is limited by the inevitable fact that so few students live on the Lawn. With over 15,000 undergraduate students and only 54 Lawn residents, the amount of students able to interact with professors on the Lawn is very low — 0.34 percent of total students live among faculty members each year. Because this interaction is insignificant to the majority of students, we should focus more on the goal of making the Lawn useful to students than the goal of encouraging student-faculty interaction through this medium.
The University has also faced growing concerns about the availability of student space. In order to support an advising center, the administration has had to make plans to replace an entire floor of library space in Clemons. Opening pavilion ground floors to general University use would also allow for more classroom space. Problems with space on Grounds would be much easier to solve if the first floor of each pavilion were open to public use. Pavilions are spacious, so to use the first floors as student spaces would not impose significant limitations on the pavilion residents. In order to avoid disrupting current pavilion residents, lower floors could be converted to student spaces once their leases expire.
Currently, the only pavilion open to students is Pavilion VIII. Its ground floor contains classroom space and a student lounge area, while the pavilion resident lives upstairs. There’s no reason this model shouldn’t work in other pavilions, with the exception of the Colonnade Club. This is a viable solution to concerns over lack of student engagement with the Lawn and a growing need for student space. Such an arrangement allows the University to retain its commitment to having professors live on the Lawn while making better use of valuable space in the academical village.