Henceforth, I shall focus my attention on undergraduate education. The term “university” as we currently use it carries with it the implication of professional schools certifying students for careers, and that is not what I have in mind at all. So let us imagine, if we can, an ideal undergraduate institution, a liberal arts college, as we in
I imagine a community of six hundred students – no more – and sixty professors. A ten to one ratio is already utopian. Anything less would open me to ridicule. This community is like a monastery in at least three important respects. First, it is a community of people who are, and understand themselves to be, united by shared commitments, reciprocal responsibilities, and a common conviction that the life of the mind is a valuable and important component of life. Second, it is a a community whose members have committed themselves to hard work in pursuit of a rich and productive life of the mind. And third, it is a community of persons who take collective responsibility for the daily life of the community, and who share the labor of maintaining it in good order while they pursue the life of the mind.
As this last may strike some as odd or unfamiliar, a few preliminary words are in order. In all of the actual colleges and universities with which I am familiar, there is a sharp distinction between town and gown, between the students and faculty who
In the ideal college that I envision, as in a monastery [or, for that matter, on an Army base], the work usually done by hired staff will be performed by the students and faculty. The students and faculty will cook the food that they eat, clean up after themselves and wash the dishes, maintain the grounds, repair the plumbing leaks, clean the buildings, and do the filing and phone answering and other office chores. This labor will not be left to the financially disadvantaged students who do it as “:work study” to help pay their bills. It will be a natural and integral part of the responsibility of all who live in the community. Medical services will be provided by trained professionals, of course, and even plumbing, carpentry, and electrical work will have to be overseen by licensed practitioners, but one of their duties will be to teach the students the elements of those trades, so that under the guidance of licensed tradesmen, they can do most of the work.
The administration of the college will be the responsibility of the faculty, and the internal organization of the college – of which, more later – will facilitate their efforts. There will be a President of the college, who will teach as well as preside, but there will be no Deans or Assistant Deans or Provosts or Vice-Chancellors, no staff-run
My insistence on this rather unusual feature of the college has its roots not only in my ideological persuasion – I am, after all, a Marxist socialist of the old school – but also in a lifetime of experience, going all the way back to a summer camp that I attended for three years when I was a teen-ager.
What would the students and faculty of this ideal college do? I will leave that for the next part of this essay.