The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges & the Renewal of University Life  ‹›


                          PLANNING NEWS
                     Cornelia STRONG COLLEGE

No. 3: 30 March 1994             Per aspera (that’s right) ad astra


The idea of a collegiate university is new to many people — students,
faculty, and administrators alike.  Here’s a bite-sized explanation
you can give to anyone who wonders what we’re up to: There are many
advantages to attending a large university like UNCG.  Excellent
libraries, a large and diverse faculty, and advanced research
opportunities all make for a rich academic experience.  But along with
all these advantages may come some disadvantages as well.  A student in
a large institution can sometimes feel lost in the crowd: an anonymous
number who doesn’t really have a home or belong to any community.  To
escape these disadvantages many people choose to attend small liberal
arts colleges like Guilford or Greensboro College rather than large
universities like UNCG.  In the friendly environment of a liberal arts
college they receive excellent support and a strong sense of belonging,
but they miss the many advantages that a larger institution clearly can
offer.  It might seem that there is no solution to this dilemma, but in
fact there is, and it is a solution that has been adopted at many other
institutions, including Harvard and Yale, Rice and Santa Cruz, and
Oxford and Cambridge.  That solution is to distribute the student body
into smaller collegiate communities, each with an associated group of
faculty.  These collegiate communities may have their own curricula,
as they do at Oxford and Cambridge, but they need not, and indeed
collegiate communities like Harvard’s, which have no curricular
component at all, are easier to establish and maintain: what holds them
together is a social bond and a tradition, developed through regular
interaction in a common dining room and library, and at any of a number
of regular college functions.  Cornelia Strong College, we hope, will be
a community of this type, and we believe that it could serve, along with
UNCG’s Residential College, as a model for the future development of the
University as a whole.


Rice University in Houston, Texas, is regularly ranked as one of the
top twenty-five universities in the country.  Each of Rice’s 2700
undergraduates belongs to one of eight residential colleges: Baker,
Brown, Hanszen, Jones, Lovett, Richardson, Wiess, and Will Rice.  We
don’t necessarily want to copy Rice’s model exactly in Cornelia Strong,
but it is instructive to see how they run things.  This is what the
Rice Bulletin has to say:

     Every undergraduate student, whether living on campus or not, is
  a member of one of eight residential colleges, all of which are
     Each college has a faculty master who occupies a house adjacent to
  the college.  The master, whose authority derives from the president
  of the university, has overall responsibility for all aspects of
  student life in the college.  He or she is especially responsible for
  encouraging broad cultural and intellectual interests and for
  promoting self-discipline and effective self-government within the
  college.  Other members of the faculty are invited, upon agreement of
  the student members and the master, to become resident or nonresident
  associates of the college.  Faculty associates act as advisers to the
  members and participate in the camaraderie and activities of the
  college.  Colleges also have nonfaculty university associates and
  community associates from the Houston area, drawn from various
     Each college is a self-governing group of students whose elected
  officers and representatives are responsible to the master and to the
  college membership for directing a variety of cultural, social, and
  athletic activities, for the appropriate and responsible expenditure
  of college funds, and for maintaining good order in the college.
  While uniformity among the colleges has never been sought and each
  college has developed its own particular interests and character, all
  seek to foster fellowship among their members and a mature sense of
  honor, responsibility, and sound judgement.
     Upon acceptance by the university, each undergraduate student is
  designated a member of one of the colleges.  Two students who are
  entering Rice for the first time may ask to be assigned to the same
  college but may not designate which college.  A new student may
  request membership in the same college as a close relative.  No
  other choice of college is allowed.
     The buildings of each college include a dining hall and public
  rooms, which are available to both resident and nonresident members,
  and living quarters for approximately 215 students from all classes
  of the university and all academic disciplines.  At present, on-
  campus residential space is available for most of the first-year
  students who request it, but space is not assured until receipt of
  formal notification.  Continuing students draw for the available
  space by the priority and lottery system established in each college,
  since the demand exceeds the available space.

Here’s a somewhat more spirited account, also from a Rice publication:

     As I talk with current students and recent graduates, I am struck
  again and again with the prominence of our residential colleges in
  the Rice experience.  Active participation in a college provides
  undergraduates with a sense of membership in a supportive community
  comprising some 350 fellow students, plus twenty or so resident and
  nonresident faculty and staff associates.  This feeling of community
  permeates all aspects of life at Rice.  The university as a whole is
  deliberately human in scale.… Individual colleges have special
  events to which all students are invited — for example, Baker
  College’s Shakespeare production, Wiess College’s Night of Decadence,
  and Hanszen College’s fall musical.  There are also all-university
  events in which the colleges compete with each other.  The most hotly
  contested event is the annual beer-bike race, in which the Graduate
  Student Association joins.  But there are many other instances, in
  particular in athletics, where intramural competitions enlist the
  participation of the vast majority of undergraduates.
     The energy of students and their elected officers and other
  leaders imbues the colleges with vitality.  All of us who share
  meals in one or another college commons cannot but be aware of this
  intensity of spirit.  It is a fervor that convinces virtually all
  college members that their college is the best — even though they
  know that all eight colleges receive incoming classes as similar as
  we can make them in terms of primary academic interests, geographical
  origin, gender, ethnicity, athletic interests and abilities, and so
  on.  This intensity of spirit, this fervor, is a wonderful testimony
  to the power of tradition.  Within a matter of weeks or even days,
  the cross sections of students that enter each college affirm
  characteristics that typify the distinctive identities of their
  particular colleges.
     Valuable as this vitality is, high spirits and intense fervor
  frame only one dimension of life in the residential colleges.  What
  distinguishes our residential colleges from other forms of college
  social organization — sororities and fraternities, to note the most
  conspicuous example — is that they are centers for interaction among
  students, faculty, and other associates from the larger community.

If the Texans can do it, surely we can too!

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