Willard Residential College

Faculty Chair, Gary Saul Morson, Slavic Languages & Literature

Gary Saul Morson, Faculty Chair

Christine Helmer, Associate Chair

Christine Helmer, Associate Chair

Connor Bain, Assistant Chair

Connor Bain, Assistant Chair

This page contains programmatic information about Willard Residential College. You can access building information on the Willard Residential College facilities page.

College Website:

Visit the Willard Residential College website 

College Staff:

  • Faculty Chair: Gary Saul Morson, Slavic Languages & Literature
  • Associate Chair: Christine Helmer, German
  • Assistant Chair: Connor Bain, Computer Science & Learning Sciences

Faculty Chair's Welcome

Willard Residential College cherishes tradition, community, caring, intellect, and fun. Alums who return, sometimes decades later, describe what a difference its warm atmosphere made in their lives, and express delight that current students still experience what they did. Willard is all about spirit, and no residential college matches Willard in spirit, dedication, and enthusiasm!

While some residential colleges are thematic and devote themselves to a particular area of study, Willard takes the opposite approach. It promotes mixing and interaction of students from many schools and disciplines. Music and theatre students create a significant group interested in performance, while economists and chemists remain available to help beginners in those fields. The Willard world is diverse in all senses, including intellectually.   It relishes change and challenges.

And this past year has certainly been a year of challenges!   Just as our new exec (elected student governing group) took over, the pandemic hit.  With amazing dedication, they showed that Willard spirit is no less real when virtual.  And Willard faculty fellows still “showed up” for events with students.  Nothing wilts Willard!

Willard, the only residential college, is now in a new and fabulous building with facilities galore.   Students love the accommodations both in the part reserved for Willard residential college residents and the part shared with the Southwest neighborhood.  Exercise rooms, seminar rooms, Fran’s café, amazing seminar rooms and gathering spaces:   all this and more greets you as you go from outside to your room.   Students continue to adapt Willard’s old traditions to new possibilities.

Willardites are famous for a spirit of open-ended exploration.  When I first became faculty chair of Willard sixteen years ago, I was impressed that students argued passionately not only about current events but also about philosophical questions, and that they felt free to express differing opinions. The only orthodoxy seems to be a belief that no orthodoxy is required.

A key reason that the residential college system was set up was to promote interactions of faculty and students. Outside the residential college system, students sometimes find it difficult to approach faculty, and feel that they had better have something important to say -- while professors, waiting in their office for student who do not come, wonder what they have been doing wrong. Both have a lot to learn from each other, if only the barriers could be broken down.

And that is what happens at Willard. Twice a week, faculty come to lunch at “high table” -- a special set of tables set aside for students and faculty to interact informally. This spring it has continued virtually!  These high tables are well attended by faculty, and students get to learn what professors have to offer, why they think the way they do, what different professions and ways of thinking are like, and what opportunities are available for them that they would never have known about. In addition, faculty often give “firesides,” evening gatherings where they speak and then open the floor to questions. We have had firesides in recent years on topics as diverse as the nature of human knowledge to the life of armadillos, along with a talk, each year, on the achievements of Frances Willard herself and another on “Willard folklore” (amusing events from Willard’s long and spirited history!).

Our fellows are intensely loyal. Five former faculty chairs, whose time of service goes back forty years, still participate, come to high table, and give firesides. Their fields of specialization also range widely, from Egyptology to neuroscience.

I teach several large classes, and for each I offer a special discussion group Thursday evenings simply for Willard students. In a course I teach with Northwestern’s president Morton Schapiro – Morty loves Willard! -- I also reserve a number of slots to make sure Willard students have no trouble enrolling. Willard hosts special seminars for Willard students as well.

Willard social activities are famous for their spirit of sheer fun. In the fall quarter, there is always a formal at a venue that remains secret until the last minute, but is often a major cultural institution or other spectacular place.   There are also various “informals,” guided by a spirit of sheer fun.  And then there are marvelous activities with other residential colleges, which take advantage of Chicago’s amazing cultural scene: plays at the famous innovative theatres, performances at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, trips to museums and much more.

Join Willard, and learn why it has become so well-known for its spirit and sense of fun!


Willard Residential College Fellows and Graduate Associates

Name Position Department
Eli Finkel Professor Psychology
Gary Galbreath Professor of Instruction Biological Sciences
Linda Gates Senior Lecturer Theatre
Lester Greenman Senior Specialist Information Technology
Daniel Immerwahr Associate Professor History
Amy Kehoe Associate Director Fellowship Office
Janet Olson Retiree
Susan Osborn Lecturer Music Performance
Carl Petry  Professor History
Sheppard Shanley Retiree
Scott Sowerby Associate Professor History
Stacia Spencer Senior Lecturer Music Performance
Patti Wolter Associate Professor Journalism
Brad Zakarin Director Residential Academic Initiatives