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Oxford and Cambridge were originally formed on the model of the French universities. They are however, so old themselves that the resemblance is now scarcely perceptible and they have an existence, government and manner of life entirely their own. In regard to their history it is sufficient to recall the fact that the colleges or halls sprang into existence about the sixteenth century. Originally they were merely inns for the convenience of those who wished to economize, and could do so better by living in company. A few students, with a graduate of good standing, could start a college, that is, rent a house and make up a little community of their own Finally most of these dwindled away. A few of the larger ones, however, were endowed and a corporation was given them; so that, at the present time, there are about thirty colleges at Oxford and twenty at Cambridge.
These are entirely separate institutions. Each one has its own particular head, called a master; warden, provost, etc. To each college appertain a number of fellows, whose positions are almost opposite to those of the fellows of American colleges, since they are persons who have won their places solely by hard study and high standing-in fact, they are generally poor but bright graduates. The sizars, Bible clerks and scholars are bright undergraduates. Nearly all the resident fellows are tutors, bursars or deans. The tutors answer to our professors and instructors, preparing men for the two great examinations both by lectures and recitations, and having also to fulfil our proctor's duties.
Twice only during the course has a man to endure an examination, the "little-go" and the "great-go," as they are called. At Oxford there is as well a final examination, just before the students take their degrees (or do not take them). They are conducted by public examiners and are distinct from the colleges. The system of having only two examinations during the course is superior, in some respects, to the custom in vogue here of holding them every few weeks, but it has many obvious disadvantages.
The men reside at college for three years but are freshmen for only two months, a decided improvement on our plan, and the privilege of entering three or four times a year is given. Gentlemen appear only for dinner at the public dining halls, other meals are served in the room by the "scout." This, combined with many other circumstances, makes the cost of living much higher than among us.
There are professors, but this is an honorary position merely. Nearly every week each one gives a voluntary lecture, but few attend. None of the professors belong to the colleges, but to the university itself, whose nominal head is the chancellor, a nobleman, and in reality but little connected with the place. Its real head is the vice-chancellor. Under him are two proctors (far different from ours, since they are very important personages in the community) who are a sort of police captains, and the police force at Oxford is, we are happy to say, quite of a different nature from the one in Cambridge.
Oxford and Cambridge are of somewhat different natures themselves, but seem alike if we compare them with the American college. But, with all their advantages, pleasures and attractions, the Harvard student will find many reasons for preferring his own Alma Mater.
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