What is a college? (And what is leadership?): Guest Post by Professor John Considine (English & Film Studies)

The last Gateway of January reminded its readers yet again that our senior administrators’ plan for a so-called “Leadership College” is not welcomed by actual student leaders. Dustin Chelen, the SU Vice-President (Academic), “forcefully maintains that building an elite housing project is not the right way to facilitate leadership on campus.” There speaks a real leader: somebody who thinks independently, and thinks about what other people need.

In fact, the idea of a leadership college is deeply incoherent. I am not sure if any of Dr Samarasekera’s advisors studied at collegiate universities; if so, they should have explained to her what a college is. I did study at a collegiate university, so I can explain. A college is not an exclusive body. The members of a college are a cross-section of the university: they bring a very wide variety of talents, interests, and ideals to the college. They did not choose each other (that is why a college is not quite like a club or fraternity, though fraternities have something of the collegiate ideal). They have not been set aside from the rest of the university because they are special people. They live and study together, teach each other, and make decisions together, rather like an extended family. Like family life, collegiate life can be far from idyllic. But a family whose members see themselves as an elite set apart from the families around them is a sick family. An elite undergraduate college would be a sick institution.

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