Contemplating Collegiate Plans for Pakistan
22 June 2009 (collegiateway.org) — Earlier this month I had the pleasure of spending an evening in Cambridge talking about residential colleges with Dr. Ahmad Durrani, the Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. Dr. Durrani was in the United States carrying out one of the solemn duties of university presidents everywhere, to wit, socializing with his institution’s distinguished alumni. Many LUMS graduates have found homes at MIT and other Boston-area institutions, and Cambridge was this particular week’s stop on Dr. Durrani’s current world tour.
A native of Pakistan, Dr. Durrani was a faculty member in engineering at Rice University for more than twenty years, and when he took up his current post at LUMS one of his first projects was to begin planning a residential college system similar to the one he had come to know so well in Houston. LUMS is a very selective, high-pressure institution, not unlike MIT, Caltech, and other specialized technical universities around the globe (including the original Rice Institute that grew into Rice University). One of the motivations for creating a residential college system at LUMS is to allow students to lead more balanced lives and to build an organic network of support that will promote academic and personal success for everyone.
Our conversation explored a wide range of issues relating to residential college planning and implementation. How should we define the role of college masters and college fellows? (The importance of simply having faculty members present and visible in the residential environment is very much underestimated.) How can we make the mastership attractive? (If the university leadership makes it clear through word and deed that this is a high status role, then people will see it as an appealing professional opportunity.) How can the faculty engage with the students? (A good college master will have a ready list in his head of a dozen cooperative projects just waiting for the right volunteers to step forward.) What is the most important tool for community-building within a residential college? (A good junior common room and a weekly college tea are the foundations on which almost everything else can be built.) How can we make the most of a less-than-optimal dining hall? (Divide up the wall space so each college can decorate its own section with signs, symbols, and displays, and then have weekly or monthly college-only dinners that will help to develop group identity.)
I came away from our meeting with a great deal of optimism for the future of the LUMS college system. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have talked with Dr. Durrani, and I look forward to following future developments as LUMS continues along the collegiate way.