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Higher Education News from the Collegiate Way

These news items about residential colleges, collegiate houses, and the renewal of university life are posted for readers of the Collegiate Way website. For more about residential colleges and collegiate universities please visit the main Collegiate Way page.

The Regimental College

[] — Does the organizational structure of a university that is divided into residential colleges, each with a few hundred members, have a parallel in any other sphere of human endeavor? Yes it does, and it’s a parallel that I’ve remarked upon before: a university divided into residential colleges has much in common with an army divided into regiments.

The term regiment, like the term college, has been applied to a great variety of organizational units over the course of history. But in its classic sense, a military regiment is an enduring, decentralized body of a few hundred senior and junior members (officers and enlisted men). It exists to serve a particular societal purpose, it has its own distinctive signs, symbols, mascots, and traditions, its members often live and work together, and they display a high degree of social cohesion and group loyalty, both of which are productive of accomplishment, especially under trying conditions. A regiment is traditionally commanded by a colonel and a lieutenant colonel, and its members, after they leave the service, continue to support one another by means of a regimental association of veterans.

This pattern is almost identical to the organizational pattern of a residential college, headed by its master, dean, and fellows, populated by its many junior members, most of whom live and work together, the whole being supported by signs, symbols, mascots, and traditions that give rise to a cohesive social life conducive to accomplishment under the trying conditions of university study. And the sense of loyalty generated is so great that alumni associations naturally form.

Clothing firms that specialize in college ties even specialize in regimental ties.

[College and regimental ties]

A sample of British regimental and Oxford residential college ties, from the catalog of G.D. Golding, Ltd.

We shouldn’t be at all surprised, therefore, by the latest social-networking massively-multiplayer Web-2.0 Internet craze, The “GXC” phenomenon was picked up yesterday by the New York Times (and so hundreds of other newspapers):

The rules of GXC are relatively simple. Every player is given a number of armies each day and must coordinate attacks, troop movements and defensive maneuvers with teammates. Players can move their armies once each day, and the game software calculates the result of clashes with an algorithm that gives a slight edge to defenders.

Some of the most significant moves occur offline, as players gather in the real world to elect commanders, recruit other players and discuss strategy and ways of spying on opponents as they formulate their battle plans.

So are we here at the Collegiate Way just trailing along behind this bandwagon in company with the ovine MSM? Heck no! We spotted it last October. Why? For the very reasons that the GXC folks themselves acknowledged in their blog when they extended their reach to the Rice campus for the first time:

GXC is now inviting Rice University to the party. Rice, like Yale and Harvard, uses the Oxford Residential College System. As the birthplace of GXC, our game flourishes among residential colleges. The reasons for this aren’t rocket science.

  1. Residential colleges are the universal center of social life at these universities. Unlike other schools where students are split between the Greek scene, campus groups, and local groups, every student at Yale and Rice consider themselves a part of their college.

  2. Residential colleges tend to be small, equally sized groups. It’s a lot easier to recruit among a group of 100 when facing another group of 100 than it is to recruit among a group of 3,000 when facing another group of 30,000. Or another group of 300. Or another group of 3,000.

  3. Residential colleges concentrate teammates in a geographical area. This emphasizes the “locally social” aspect of the game and allows physical recruitment (at dining halls, going door-to-door) rather than only electronic.

Even the MSM couldn’t fail to note this dimension of GXC’s success. The Times story quoted above also reports that

at a recent battle between the residential colleges at Rice University, one team gathered in the cafeteria during a particularly dire point in the game. Once assembled, Jim Deyerle, a junior at Rice University who coordinated strategy for his team and now works on the game, said: “One of the commanders delivered Morpheus’s speech from the third ‘Matrix’ movie. Then we brought out our laptops to sign more people up.” now joins as the second significant Internet project to have come directly out of the residential college experience. How many more will there be? Time will tell.

But there will be more. Residential colleges generate such an intensity of life that they are natural centers of creativity and innovation. They are not administrative departments of programmed dullness; they are rich frameworks that their members fill with life of their own making. Or war of their own making, as the case may be.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021