Interesting article by Robert O'Hara over at insidehighered.com entitled "Hogwarts U." O'Hara runs The Collegiate Way, a treasure-trove of anecdotes and resources devoted to advancing the movement towards residential colleges in American higher education; he calls for a rather radical transformation of the undergraduate experience in a surprisingly ancient direction -- away from administratively-centralized universities, and towards smaller colleges, even if several of those colleges co-habitate the same university space. The basic idea here is to divide up the undergraduate population of a university into several smaller colleges, thus creating a more intimate community for the students (and faculty) to participate in as they engage both in courses and in extracurricular activities. It's a British house system, in effect, and since such a system is most familiar to American undergradiates from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, O'Hara alludes to that model when making his case for smaller residential units.

O'Hara puts forth "four organizational principles: decentralization, faculty leadership, social stability and genuine diversity" that should govern the establishment and management of residential college units. Decentralization gives us the intimate connections that a large centralized organization often lacks; social stability gives us a set of rituals and traditions that help the community (re)create itself over time; genuine diversity gives us a microcosm of the whole population out of which community can be (re)created. All of these are indeed, to my mind, critical. But the most vitally important of O'Hara's principles, I feel, is the principle of faculty leadership, without which a small college can turn into a kind of extended summer-camp. After all, the really distinctive thing about higher education is its educational character, and the bearers of that educational character are -- no surprise here -- the faculty, since that's what the faculty (ideally) does: they think about things, and then teach students what they uncover in the course of that thinking. And they facilitate student encounters with rich material, and with one another, and with the faculty-members themselves.

I'm not saying -- certainly not -- that no one else can bear that educational function. But to try to construct a residential college without faculty leadership would strike me as a waste of the best educational resource that one already has on a university campus. As O'Hara comments, residential colleges "return the management of campus life to the faculty" because "as faculty-led academic societies, are consciously crafted to provide a wide range of informal educational opportunities for their members day and night, week after week, year after year. Their object is to ensure that students’ formal learning in the classroom is integrated in every way with their external life in the world." Obviously this takes collaboration with the capable managers of the physical facilities, and with the rest of the administrative apparatus that ensures that students' needs are met. But I agree with O'Hara: the faculty have to lead it, because the faculty have the clearest sense of what that educational function is. It is, after all, their vocations.

Our University College is something of the kind of college that O'Hara advocates. It's still a pilot project, but it does decentralize certain aspects of the university and provide ample opportunities for collaboration and outside-of-the-classroom learning encounters. What it has not done, as yet, is to build much in the way of a group consciousness or awareness; there are all-University College events from time to time, but not the kind of continuing sense of participation in a common enterprise that, say, Gryffindor House provides. Perhaps it's because we don't compete with other houses for points throughout the year. Perhaps it's because the various members of University College don't live in the same place (although those enrolled in each course do live together). And maybe it's because we don't have an Albus Dumbledore -- or, indeed, any Headmaster.

All of these things would be useful at enhancing the sense of University College community, but in some ways I almost think that the appointment of a Headmaster would be the easiest and most significant. Someone who could be a living representative of the College, both a visible symbol and a permanent advocate. That, and a quidditch team, is perhaps all that stands between us and Hogwarts.

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