9.323 the residential college

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 28 Nov 1995 21:31:39 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 323.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: RJOHARA@steffi.uncg.edu (62)
Subject: Endangered academics and residential colleges

Willard quotes and interjects:

>> Financial Times, November 20, 1995
>> Endangered species. Modern electronic technology could mean
>> that the days of academics at higher-education institutions
>> are numbered.
>[Editorial interjection: consider what online instructional materials
>could do to the monopoly we have had on the distribution of culturally
>valued information. Would the role of the university be reduced to
>certification alone? --WM]

This is a topic of considerable interest, I think, and liable to generate
much discussion on campuses (and in state legislatures) in coming years,
but I see a ready answer to it myself, one that was given by old Benjamin
Jowett, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, in the nineteenth century:

The benefits of a University education cannot be thought to consist
merely in the acquirement of knowledge, but in the opportunities of
society and of forming friends; in short, in the experience of life
gained by it and the consequent improvement of character.

Since mid-century in the United States at least, most public universties
have grown into huge "information factories" that are not really very good
places to deposit eighteen year olds in need of personal and intellectual
development. There is a solution to the depersonalization many students
experience in large universities, namely to break up a large institution
into small colleges modeled loosely on the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge.
HUMANISTs might be interested to know that there is a small but growing
movement to establish such residential colleges at a number of American
universities: the University of Virginia is converting to a collegiate
system; Princeton has a partial system; Wake Forest University has discussed
establishing a college system; my own University of North Carolina at
Greensboro now has two; a number of other state universities have recently
established one or more "honors colleges" on the Oxford/Cambridge model,
including Arizona State University and Western Michigan University. In
Mexico the University of the Americas is now establishing a collegiate
system with help from Yale. And Yale, Harvard, Rice, and the University
of California at Santa Cruz have had systems of residential colleges for
a number of years now.

I invite anyone interested in this topic to visit the web directory of
residential college programs that we have established here at UNCG in
association with our own Cornelia Strong College. The address is:


I may appear to have drifted from Willard's original query but I don't mean
to. My point is that if universities see themselves only as conveyors of
information, they can and perhaps should be replaced by the Internet. (Or
perhaps should have been replaced by the printing press long ago.) If,
however, they see themselves as humane communities where young people
come to learn independence, citizenship, critical thought, and tolerance,
then they will survive and flourish. The creation of such communities will
depend on a great deal of personal faculty involvement in the lives of
students, involvement that has been steadily decreasing for a number of
years now, but which our undergraduates desperately need.

A student of Mark Hopkins, the legendary president of Williams College in
the early 1800s, was said to have remarked, "The best college I know is Mark
Hopkins at one end of a log and me at the other." There is some danger
of the Internet making our libraries and journals obsolete, but I doubt
very much that it will replace Mark Hopkins.

Bob O'Hara (rjohara@iris.uncg.edu)

Dr. Robert J. O'Hara
Senior Tutor, Cornelia Strong College
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Greensboro, North Carolina 27412 U.S.A.