Dr Anthony Bash, Senior Tutor, Hatfield College, Durham University, UK
It’s hard to avoid writing clichés, so I will do my best to explain in language that I hope does not make you groan!
Colleges are exciting places to be! They are scholarly, residential, and social communities. In other words, they represent the spectrum of life.
First, Colleges are scholarly and academic communities. As academics, we tend to be too much ‘in boxes’, specializing in our own narrow corner of learning. Colleges provide a forum not only for discovering what others are doing and thinking about, but also learning that what others are doing has relevance to one’s own field. How astonishing to have people from aged 18 to …well, a lot more than that, who are engaged in a variety of academic pursuits from geology to theology, from astrophysics to applied linguistics, from developmental psychopathology to sports science! Not only are they present in the same buildings, but also they live in the same buildings, eat in the same buildings, talk and relax in the same buildings, and pursue scholarly endeavour together in the same buildings.
I am not running down academic departments (I am gladly member of one) but academic departments are what the name suggests, principally ‘academic’. There is more to life, education, development, and learning than just the focus of a department. Like academic departments, but considerably less intensely, Colleges are engaged with academic endeavour and pursuits, and they too seek to promote academic excellence. However, that is not their principal or primary role. I think what colleges offer is complementary and a necessary balance but not something that can ever replace the focus and specialism of a department. Colleges offer (to use the jargon term) ‘added value’ to departmental endeavour.
Colleges are also residential communities. They are different from Halls of Residence, which are principally only social and residential communities. Again, I don’t want to run down Halls of Residence; I just want to say that the range of experience a Hall of Residence offers is more limited than a College. The focus at Durham is not only on learning to live together and socialize together (very important life skills) but also on personal and academic development in that context. At the College where I work, we run a bespoke programme to help our students develop their academic skills, prepare for the life of employment in the future, and reflect on how what they are doing – whether sport, drama, music, and so on – contributes to their personal development. Every student has a mentor, whose role is to focus with the student on how the student in maturing into a future adult member of the world community.
Thirdly, Colleges are social communities. Our College members make life-long friendships, and our younger members learn to make the transition from being young adults, with half a foot in childhood still (they would of course deny that, but I am not so sure they are right) to being independent, thoughtful, reflective, dynamic, community-building adults. It is an enormous privilege to be part of that process of maturation and development.
There is one more thing to say that explains why I get up in the morning. People in the College where I work – and no doubt in all the colleges in Durham – are worth being with and knowing! They are stimulating and exciting to be around. I benefit from knowing them and, I hope I make a contribution to the overall quality of the College community. The great thing also, is that I get paid for doing a job that I think is one of the best jobs in the world!
Hatfield College, Durham