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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Every College Needs an Auspex

— Opportunities for liberal education and teaching with-out the curriculum just don’t get any better than this.

The members of Mahoney College and Pearson College at the University of Miami are living in fear of aerial attack. The Miami Hurricane reported this past Friday that a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) have set up housekeeping near the Mahoney and Pearson dining halls, and they are descending upon passers-by who interrupt their domestic tranquility:

[The guard and his umbrella]

“WALKERS BEWARE: After the existence of a hawk nest and three people with head injuries, Javier Mancheno was assigned to protect with an umbrella anyone passing by Lot 304A, rear of Mahoney/Pearson Dining Hall. Media Credit: Gaby Bruna, Hurricane Staff.”

Nesting hawk attacks passing students

Residents of Mahoney/Pearson Residential Colleges are advised to steer clear of the area behind the Mahoney/Pearson dining hall. A Red-shouldered Hawk is nesting behind the cafeteria and has already attacked three people, resulting in lacerations.

Because the bird is a protected species, they cannot be immediately removed. A security officer has been posted outside the area, and UM is working with the Miami Museum of Science to safely relocate the hawks.

Students may contact the UM Police Department with any concerns.

O! Calchas! How are we to interpret this sign?

The first thing Calchas would certainly advise, as a card-carrying member of the International Augurs’ Union, is that every residential college should have its own auspex. And since this red-shouldered omen has visited both Mahoney College and Pearson College, we who lack the gift of divination would thereby be presented—if the colleges were fully staffed—with the delicious prospect of finding some way to reconcile the competing claims of two college auspices. The mind reels.

OK. The first happy lesson we can learn here about education and residential college life is a lesson that the Collegiate Way often teaches: let your college council and your college office proliferate dramatic and creative titles all year long (such as Auspex to the College). Yes, this is just plain fun, but good educators and a good residential college can make it much more than that. Can you see how?

When unexpected omens and oracles appear, a residential college should be ever ready to seize upon them for a hundred useful purposes, and the framework for doing so should already be in place. There’s no question, for example, that Robert Frost should be the author of the current poem-of-the-week in the Mahoney and Pearson college newsletters:


Once in a California Sierra
I was swooped down upon when I was small,
And measured, but not taken after all,
By a great eagle bird in all its terror.

Such auspices are very hard to read.
My parents when I ran to them averred
I was rejected by the royal bird
As one who would not make a Ganymede.

Not find a barkeep unto Jove in me?
I have remained resentful to this day
When any but myself presumed to say
That there was anything I couldn’t be.

Here Frost shows himself, as he often does, to be no mean Classicist (and a far better poet than James Russell Lowell, certainly). Can any of your students do better? Let there be prizes!

And from here we can go in a hundred more directions. Can you see?

The artists in Mahoney College and Pearson College should be already at work on mosaics and stained glass windows for their dining rooms:

[Zeus as an eagle carrying off Ganymede]

Zeus, in the form of an eagle, abducting Ganymede. Third-century Roman mosaic from Cyprus.

How else can we expect the members of Mahoney and Pearson Colleges, a thousand years from now, to remember this divine visitation?

And let us not forget the college scientists. What, pray tell, are the names of these two objects? I leave that as an exercise for the reader (with prizes all around):

[Jupiter and Ganymede]

The God of Thunder and his barkeep, seen through the eyes of a wingless bird from a greater height than Calchas could have ever imagined.

Surely the members of Mahoney College and Pearson College have been blessed, as has the entire University of Miami.

But wait! The news report concluded:

Because the bird is a protected species, they cannot be immediately removed…. UM is working with the Miami Museum of Science to safely relocate the hawks.

Relocate them? Relocate them? I can understand having no fear of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but have these people no fear of the gods? Zeus may tarry, but he avenges still.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021