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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

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Academic Fun and Residential College Life

— Residential colleges are academic societies, and education in the broad sense is their object. Many people mistakenly equate “education” with “curriculum,” however, and so miss the whole import of the collegiate way of living. But how can we incorporate education into the informal social life of a residential college? One entertaining tack that some of my colleagues at the University of Durham have used is the “bar quiz”: an evening Trivial-Pursuit-like game held in the Junior Common Room or college bar. In my collection of photos from the Durham colleges that were posted last month you can spot the master of Hatfield College, Professor Tim Burt, acting as the emcee for one evening’s bar quiz in Hatfield.

From Forbes College at Princeton University comes another fine example of nerdy, er, intellectual fun: the residential college spelling bee. Brett Masters reports in The Daily Princetonian:

The air in the Forbes Black Box Theater was strained, hushed, and slightly sour as George Schwartz ’07 took the stage late Friday night. He was stalking victory. “Kinkajou. K-I-N…” His final “U,” garnished with a Minnesotan baritone, brought the capacity audience to its feet. An evening that had ranged from the mundane—“diarrhea”—to the obscure—“tetragrammaton”—ended with shouts of admiring incomprehension. “What the hell does kinkajou mean?” a spectator yelled.

Against 25 spellers-in-residence, before an audience of nearly a hundred, Schwartz bagged kinkajou, the name of an arboreal mammal from Central and South America, and the title of First Annual Forbes Spelling Bee Champion.

Allocate a small sum of money from the college coffers for a prize to be selected by the student council, prepare a brass plaque for the college library, and you’ve got a grand tradition. It can’t be easier than that.

Follow-up · 20 February 2005: Quah Seng Sun reports in the 11 February 2005 issue of the Malaysian newspaper The Star Online that “Tun Syed Zahiruddin residential college (ninth college) of University of Malaya will hold an open team chess competition at the college hall on Feb 19. The event is held over six rounds and each team can comprise only four players.” There’s another excellent example of an academically-oriented event that can easily be sponsored by a residential college.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021