Remembering the Margins:
Ideal and Institutionality in the University


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A text lives only if it lives on, and it lives on only if it is at once translatable and untranslatable. . . . Totally translatable, it disappears as a text, as a writing, as a body of language. Totally untranslatable, even within what is believed to be one language, it dies immediately. -Jacques Derrida, Living On/Borderlines

On the one hand, I understand the public's judgement that academics sometimes sound a bit arrogant if not downright elitist. For example, we rely on financial support from the state or private benefactors and we justify our existence on the grounds of providing for the public good. At the same time, shamelessly, we make the extraordinary claim that both the public and our private benefactors should leave us alone.

On the other hand, what we do here in this institution IS for the common good. We do our teaching, research, and service not to further our own interests or the special interests of any particular group in society. I will admit that it probably does sound a bit pretentious to defend the notion that the common good depends on freedom of inquiry by professionals skilled in the techniques of investigation and reflection--persons whose work, we also insist, must be free of restraints from inexpert or not wholly disinterested persons outside our ranks. Regardless of how it sounds, however, it's what our lives are about. And it's very tough to have to acknowledge that the public--whose well-being is at the heart of what we do--has apparently lost faith in our enterprise. The result is large scale pressure to change what we do and how we do it. -Dean Loraine Lester, Arts & Sciences Newsletter, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

. . . Andean agriculture . . . does not push its margins back to land unsuitable for farming, as ours does, but incorporates them into the very structure of the farm. The hedgerows are marginal areas, little thoroughfares of wilderness closely crisscrossing the farmland, and in them agriculture is constantly renewing itself in direct response to what threatens it. . . . [T]his integration of Andean farming with its margins . . . offers an example of a sort of reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between center and margins, rigidity and revolt, that has dominated our culture for so long. The remedy is to accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness or nature to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity. . . . By responding competently to whatever has threatened it and by doing so in the most local and immediate fashion, [Andean agriculture] has kept its hold on the world, much as life itself has kept its hold. -Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

It is often observed that history is written by the winners; be that as it may, it is certain that most history is written by academics. Perhaps this is the reason why--in addition to our modern myopia regarding the value and relevance of historical precedence to contemporary events--that, as a rule, founders and benefactors of universities are normally restricted to the footnotes and margins of institutional histories if not ignored altogether. A remarkable exception that perhaps proves the rule is John Jones' Balliol College, A History: 1263-19391, which I found myself idylly perusing one night before dropping off while on a visit to Oxford in 1993. As a university fund raiser, I must tell you that my interest picked up considerably when it began to dawn on me that a major portion of the text I was reading consisted of accounts of the many acts of patronage or "benefaction" toward Balliol. Indeed, as I read on, my interest peeked to such an extent that I wound up spending most of the night pouring over Jones' descriptions of the personal lives of donors and the details of their gifts, of how their gifts came to the college and who was instrumental in their acquisition, of how the College dealt with the gift and its donor. Especially edifying to read were his portraits of Balliol's great "benefaction-chasers"--i.e., those Masters of Balliol who were especially adept at capturing the generosity of donors--as well as his assessments of the impact of these gifts, from the seminal such as those of the Founders, John Balliol and his wife Dervorguilla of Galloway, to the trivial, such as the L10 Thomas Leson bequeathed to the college in 1539 to complete work on the College Vestry.

Perhaps even more gratifying than these accounts is Jones' own commentary on the importance of fund raising to the institution, as when he observes that ". . . the character and fortunes of a college are determined at least as much by its members as its money, provided of course that there is enough of the latter (p. 134) "--words and sentiments, I must tell you, absolutely thrilling to a university fund raiser's heart. Still, the brandishing of such sentiments, with which the work is replete, did not prepare me for their ultimate display in his conclusion, where Jones states that Balliol, as "it looks forward to the next century . . . [must] not forget its long history, nor its benefactors, without whom there would be no future to contemplate" (p. 279; italics mine). That last phrase gave me considerable pause, for what Jones is clearly saying is that it is not its Fellows, nor its Masters, but its benefactors who are essential to Balliol's future--frankly, the very thought nearly caused me to shout "Amen!" Indeed, as if to emphasize my epiphany, Jones then ends his book by quoting in full Balliol's historic "Bidding Prayer" (imagine that, I thought: a college with a case statement addressed to God, no less): "We render most humble and hardy thanks unto Thee, O Eternal and Heavenly Father, for all Thy gifts and graces most bountifully and mercifully bestowed upon us; and namely, for Thy benefits, or Exhibitions and maintenance here at the study of virtue and good learning, by the liberality of [our benefactors] . . . ,"each of whom is cited by name (p. 279-80; italics mine). It is a long (and thus obviously effective) prayer.

At High Table the next day, I was fortunate enough to encounter the author of this award-winning history, who, by the way, is actually a Tutor in Physics at Balliol. Over coffee, I asked Professor Jones why, in a work of some two hundred and eighty pages in length, he had spent nearly the entire first half of his book, covering the first three hundred or so years of Balliol's history, describing little other than the business of "securing the benefactions." His answer was as straightforward as it was illuminating: "Because that was what is contained in the college archives." In other words, I said with a growing sense of excitement, what papers had survived from Balliol's earliest history--actually, it was more deliberate than that--what records the College had deemed essential from the start and had taken pains to preserve throughout its seven hundred-year histories, were those that pertained to what we today would term as fund raising or development, is that correct? "That,"he said after a sip of his coffee, "is essentially correct."2 I cannot here adequately describe to you the feeling of satisfaction, of vindication even, that came over me at these words; I can only say that it was an epiphany of such power and permanence in my professional life that the mere memory of that moment sustains me still on those days when the job of bidding seems unblessed indeed. But upon reflection, I have asked myself repeatedly why was it that this text and words had provoked in me such a significant response? And what exactly was it that I found so meaningful, so transcendently insightful about Jones' account of Balliol that it could so thoroughly inform my work today?


Down through the centuries, one of the most cherished beliefs harbored by academics is the notion that the university should comprise a unique and autonomous community that is in but not wholly of the world of commerce and practical affairs. This notion, like many elements of the western university ideal, was first expressed by Plato, who, in describing the educational process of his model city (polis), argued that isolation from the marketplace was a necessary condition for the highest stage of learning, the pursuit of wisdom (paideia). Speaking of the products of this learning, the students destined to become the leaders or guardians of the city, Plato says that

They alone of all in the city dare not have any dealings with gold or silver, or even touch them, or come under the same roof with them, or hang them upon their limbs, or drink from silver or gold. In this way they would be saved themselves and save the city; but whenever they get land of their own and houses and money, they will be householders and farmers instead of guardians, masters and enemies of the rest of the citizens instead of allies; so hating and hated, plotting and plotted against, they will spend all their lives fearing enemies within much more than without, running a course very near to destruction, they and the city together (Book III, The Republic)3.

In this same passage, Plato also says that these students cum guardians should "live in common,"sleeping in common housing and eating together in messes, all supported by the state or city. This idea has been idealized in turn by generations of academics who saw--who still see--the Platonic academy as the template for any and all educational institutions.

The ideal notwithstanding, the reality is that the university as an institution is, was and always has been very much a creature of the larger society in which it exists. Indeed, the medieval university itself was born of the fundamental social upheaval of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The dramatic infusion of new knowledge into Europe through trade with Eastern cultures, the resulting economic expansion of European towns and cities, and the corresponding formation of mercantile guilds and corporate entities as primary forms of social organization, all worked collectively to increase the complexity of medieval society, and thereby creating a need for a new class of trained specialists--i.e., administrators, lawyers, notaries, physicians, scholars, teachers, and ecclesiastics of all sorts. Training this new class of specialists, however, placed demands on the existing cathedral schools and trade guilds for a kind of education beyond their capacity to provide, thereby creating an educational void eventually filled by the formation of a new kind of institution for "higher"learning in or about emerging commercial and political capitals such as Bologna, Paris, and London--viz., the university4.

Thus it is likely that some particular expression of this educational void first drew a small community of English scholar-clerics to migrate from the University of Paris around 1167 or 68 and to settle within the precincts of the dissolved nunnery of St. Frideswide and of Oseney Abbey in a village north of London along a fording point in the upper Thames. Stripped of its urbane setting, however, the scholarly community squatting in the bucolic depths of Lincolnshire5 was a faint shadow of Plato's idyllic academy, an impoverished, intemperate, undisciplined, often violent place slowing sinking into an increasingly ungodly and rather dissolute state over the first century of its existence. Alarmed by the growing size and inequity of the community, the Bishops of England, many educated at the University of Paris and all in dire need of an educated professional clergy, began to assert their authority over what was still a religious body and to advance the nascent university at Oxford along the lines of the Parisian model. Like Paris, scholars and students at Oxford were initially organized into nations according to their geographic origins, but whereas the University of Paris consisted of at least four nations as befitting its status as northern Europe's premier center of learning, Oxford consisted of only two nations, which in actuality were divided according to regions: North, composed of Scottish scholars, and South, comprising English, Welsh, Irish, and what few continental scholars there were in residence. By the mid-thirteenth century, the idea of refining these nations into true colleges--separately organized communities of scholars and students who lived and studied together in halls--was already firmly ensconced at Paris. At Oxford, however, though tinder and matches lay all about, the idea had yet to catch spark (p. 1).

What finally put flame to the fuel was a violent tantrum thrown in frustration by one John de Balliol, head of the Balliols of Barnard Castle, a powerful aristocratic family who ruled over their extensive lands in Northumberland, Scotland and France like petty sovereigns. In a fit of pique over what he viewed as meddling in his personal affairs by the Bishop of Durham, Walter Kirkham--the Bishop had excommunicated several of Balliol's retainers for having seized lands he considered part of his See--the enraged Northern lord, whose youngest son (also named John) would later become King of the Scots, ambushed the troublesome Bishop and subjected his person to undefined "indignities"before carrying off part of his retinue. Legend has it that Balliol's famous act of charity was actually induced by the penance imposed upon him by the Bishop in repentance for the grave injury done against the Church; in truth, Balliol was more likely responding to a writ pronounced by the Crown demanding reparation for his crime. In any case, Balliol College, Oxford, arguably the second oldest college extant in the United Kingdom, was subsequently founded in 1263, when John Balliol hired a house in the suburbs of Oxford for continuous use as a hostel for a community of some sixteen "poor scholars,"to whom he also made a weekly allowance of eightpence each. As fate would have it, Balliol himself was soon in dire need of indulgence, as he died shortly thereafter in 1268. At the time of his death, his scholars were paid their weekly dole by Balliol agents, but had no other income and no capital. In his will, Balliol provided them with a "chest"comprised of income from the rental of certain of his lands, which his oldest son Hugh, his successor, expanded. But upon Hugh Balliol's death in 1271, the community still was without permanent endowment or residence--or, for that matter, a legal charter (pp. 2-3).

These and other essential acts of foundation fell to responsibility of John Balliol's widow, who took them up with a passion. A great lady in her own right, Dervorguilla of Galloway was of the royal house of Scotland; it was her bloodlines, in fact, that gave her son John his claim to the Scottish throne (whereas his father's were perhaps responsible for his brief tenure as king). Though by hereditary right she ruled one of the most brutal and lawless counties in Scotland, Dervorguilla herself was a woman of culture and piety, having been educated in England at the court of her grandfather, David, Earl of Huntingdon. Upon her husband's death, she set about the business of perpetuating his memory by consolidating his good works in both the North and the South, and after Hugh followed his father in death, she increased the College endowment substantially by assigning additional lands and rents to the principal, scholars, and their successors, thereby for the first time making the endowment permanent. Just as important, she also gave her scholars a house of their own, buying up three tenements to the east of their rented lodgings and converting them into a single house suitable for the needs of a scholarly community, declaring that it should be known henceforth as the "House of the Scholars of Balliol," or less formally as New Balliol Hall (their former house being Old Balliol Hall) (pp. 3-8).

Dervorguilla's contributions the College were not limited by her purse strings. In 1282, she addressed a Code of Statutes to her scholars, prescribing the duties of her agents (the Procurators or Visitors), the Principal or Master, and the ordinary Scholars or Fellows, as well as the financial operation and daily routine of the community--a document which became the constitution of Balliol College (pp. 5-6). Moreover, she went to considerable lengths to insure for her College the protection and legitimacy of the Church, securing for the Statutes and other arrangements not only the confirmation of the diocesan Bishop but also, in the form of a charter, that again of the Bishop, her son John (the future King of the Scots now her husband's heir), the Chancellor of the University, the Archdeacon of Oxford, and, in a crowning touch of diplomacy, the Bishop of Durham, contemporary successor to her husband's great nemesis. To complete the college's establishment as a legal corporation, Dervorguilla commissioned and personally approved the design of a common seal, incorporating in it the major devices of her own heraldic mark (pp. 9-10). Thus unlike her husband, the original "checkbook"donor, if you will, Dervorguilla of Galloway was a true patron, intelligent, engaged, proprietial, ever mindful of her investment, and quietly but firmly insistent on the prerogatives that investment gave her. In so doing--i.e., through the exercise of her rights as a patron and founder--she provided the social, economic and political leadership necessary to create and sustain Balliol College as an institution of society.


Far from being isolated from the greater society, universities historically have been and continue to be particularly dependent upon the predominant institutions of a given era. Consequently, these predominant social institutions have been able to affect major reforms in universities so as to better accommodate them to the form and function of the respective primary institution. Thus initially, universities, being almost solely dependent upon the medieval Church and a rising mercantile class, derived their form and function from a fusion of the cathedral school and trade guild (which in turn had taken much of their form and function from the classical academy); in the Renaissance, as they became more and more dependent upon the patronage of the secular courts of emerging city states and nations, universities began to integrate into the old medieval scholastic curriculum the new learning of the humanities, which dominated courtly culture, and to secularize their organization as well. Later, in the era of great nation-states and global empires, which began with the Enlightenment and lasted until the end of the Cold War, universities adapted their organization to conform to the huge governmental bureaucracies and civil services such states formed, and modified their missions to accommodate nationalistic needs for technology, social engineering, and ideology. In our own day in time, and especially since the end of the Cold War, universities have come more and more to resemble the predominant societal institution of the late twentieth century, the business corporation, and to function as "engines"of economic growth and social equilibrium.

In Jones' account of Balliol's patronage, we can see example after example of this intimate interplay between the institution and society. He describes in fascinating detail the medieval college's sometimes desperate dependence upon Church, and the Church's beneficence and involvement in the very warp and woof of college life. Later, the central influence of the Church is displaced somewhat by the beneficence of aristocracy and even more so by lay alumni whose wealth and influence stemmed from their eminence in The City, Whitehall, and Westminster. Indeed, far from insisting students heed Plato's warning to avoid "any dealings with gold or silver,"we can see Balliol from its earliest days shrewdly making provisions to take in young men of noble birth and/or wealth ostensibly for the completion of their education, but also with the clear hope that the community of scholars would "get land of their own and houses and money,"and so happily become "householders and farmers"whenever and however the opportunity arose. These young men of class and money were never "on the Foundation”--i.e., holders of scholarships--but rather were more in the way of paying guests. The practice of admitting such to the community no doubt sprang from the occasional use in this manner of a spare chamber or two whenever there was an opportunity for generating extra cash or heightening the social tone (p. 34). Over time, however, this occasional opportunism led to perpetual practice, and in 1507 the Statutes were formally amended to make provision for certain outsiders, called extrarnei--the term itself is significant in its paradoxical connotations--to be not only admitted to the scholarly community but also granted special concessions as such (p. 45). This provision was certainly abetted by the patronage several of these individuals later showed the College in repayment for the hospitality and friendship (if not learning) extended them during their student days (p. 35). Benefactors such as these, then as now, typically were pursued by an officer of the College, usually the Master, but occasionally by a Fellow or Visitor, or perhaps one of the Bishops with whose diocese the college had historic links--though it was not uncommon for a Fellow to remember the college in his estate unbidden, as it were. In most cases, the agent working on behalf of the College succeeded in securing the benefaction not only by means of the authority of whatever office he may hold, but also by aligning his objectives with those of the donor's--a ploy that is still fundamental to the art of solicitation today. Thus, for example, in directing Balliol's charity to found what would become the first true college in England, the Bishops were also able to advance the provision of an educated and professional clergy and thus the well-being of the Church as well. Over time, these many acts of patronage served to promote Balliol's political and financial self-sufficiency, which in turn enabled the College to express and sustain the ideals of autonomy and independence rooted in the Platonic idea of the academy.

And yet, in these same accounts of patronage, Jones often includes details that tend to undermine them as such, to break down the self-sufficiency, autonomy, and independence that the patronage undeniably provided. For example, Jones points out that such benefactions often were not in the form of outright gifts to the College, but rather came as bequests of property or of income from property; and even when the bequest was in cash, it was frequently paid into a separate fund administered by independent "feoffees"or trustees. More times than not, these arrangements were complicated, with many parties involved operating with considerable conflict of interest, and on occasion even with malfeasance. As a result, the College regularly found itself embroiled in litigation, which was both expensive and time-consuming. Individually, these details sound an ironic note, which cumulatively create an "anterior movement"in the text, what Jacques Derrida would call the difference6, disclosing how such acts of patronage functioned not only to sustain the self-sufficiency and autonomy of the College but also to restrict it as well. A good case in point was the benefaction of William Hammond, a wealthy clothier and Mayor of Guildford who at one point had planned to endow a new college in Guildford but instead was persuaded by one Anthony Garnet, Master of Balliol from 1560-3, to allocate L1400 from his estate to establish an independent fund for the support of additional places at college for Guildfordians, with Garnet himself serving as one of the trustees. While as a result of this benefaction the College was able to obtain a lease on a new house later known as "Hammond's Lodgings,"ultimately much of the funds were lost either due to Garnet's mismanagement or outright fraud. Desperate, the college finally had to resort to litigation to try and obtain what was left of the legacy at a cost of some L250. Jones reports that the suit dragged on through the courts for twenty years, ultimately yielding the college neither legacy nor income, and Master Garnet a stint in Marselsea prison (pp. 70-71). Such codas frequently closed even the grandest acts of benevolence: indeed, the College had to sue to secure the bequest left to it at the death of its great foundress, Dervorguilla of Galloway (p. 10). In such moments, the act of patronage--the charitable provision of sustenance and autonomy--breaks down or deconstructs as such, allowing the overarching institutionality of the university--its rootedness in the social, economic and political processes that brought it into being--to come to light. Like an individual signature, what is absolutely singular and what is absolutely transcendent about Balliol stand revealed in these moments at one and the same time, and we are left with the necessity of understanding the structural interconnectedness of both "absolutes.”

The structural interdependence of scholars and patrons, insiders and outsiders, institution and society--of singularity and generality--comes further to light in Jones's descriptions of "closed Exhibitions,"a common variant form of benefaction in which a donor contributes an income sufficient to provide a fixed allowance for one or more Scholars or Fellows, whom the donor is allowed the extraordinary privilege of designating--a privilege not rescinded or even substantially revised until the late nineteenth century. Typically, these designations pertained either to regional or religious affiliations or both, and while the college statutes strictly forbade any consideration of origins in the election of Scholars, the principle was seriously undermined by the sheer number of benefactions stipulating additional places by county, town, or even school affiliation, and by sectarian affiliation to a lesser extent. In the Balliol of the Middle Ages and renaissance, it seems, money talked, causing compromises in autonomy and integrity unthinkable in most colleges and universities today. John Bell, Bishop of Worcester, for example, upon his death in 1556, left his house in London to the College, directing that a portion of the income from its rental be used to support two Exhibitioners from his former diocese. One of these Exhibitioners, Henry Bright, subsequently made a long and successful career as a Worcester schoolmaster, and shamelessly exploited the Bell Exhibition to send his own pupils to Balliol year after year. Similarly, the Dunch Exhibition, establish in 1603 according to the wishes of Sir William Dunch's widow, Mary, allowed the College and the Dunch family alternatively to name a scholar, with preference, when it was the family's turn, to designate a student from the "Free school of Abington"(pp. 82-3).

Indeed, the extent to which the College acquiesced to impositions by outsiders is astonishing by today's standards. For instance, the will of Peter Blundell, a wealthy London clothier from humble Tiverton origins, provided no less that L2000 to establish six students in Divinity at Cambridge or Oxford or both--so far so good. The will went on to stipulate that the Scholars were to be nominated from the Grammar School at Tiverton "and not else where,"and of Puritan bent--not so good, but still tolerable. The estate was then placed in the hands of a single trustee, Sir John Popham, Lord Chief Justice of England, Blundell's "right deare and honorable Friende"and a Balliol man. Needless to say, when it came time to name an Oxford recipient, it came as no surprise that Balliol was the beneficiary, not only because of Popham's affiliation but also because of the College's decidedly Puritan leanings. (John Wyclif, no less, had been one of its early Masters.) But by the time the College actually received the bequest--L700 for the purchase of lands in Woodstock to provide an income for additional places--the terms had been altered so as to support not just a Scholar but a Fellow as well, who was to be succeeded automatically by a Blundell Scholar, thus securing a permanent presence at College for at least two Tivertonians. The terms of this closed exhibition clearly entailed what today would be considered a blatant (if not illegal) intrusion into the integrity of a university; yet apparently the only concern the College voiced at the time was how to handle the succession in case either a Fellowship was not open or a Scholar was not yet ready to succeed. (Needless to say, they worked it out.) Over time, however, the Blundell Scholarships created an overwhelmingly inbred Devonshire party within the College that came to be seen, fairly or unfairly, as a parasitic burden, which nevertheless was born until 1863, when they were done away with in the wake of a major University reform (pp. 83-5;183; 206).

Similarly, Lady Elizabeth Periam's will put property owned by her late husband in Hambleden and Medmenham at the disposal of her "honorable friende,"the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the support of fellowships or scholarships at Cambridge or Oxford "as his grace shall thinke fit." As it turns out, his grace was George Abbot, former Balliol Fellow, and later Master of University College and Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. A man also of strong Calvinist views, he advised Lady Periam that Balliol was the appropriate college for her benefaction, which consisted of support for an additional Fellow and two additional Scholars. Lady Periam did in fact follow the advice of the Archbishop, but during her lifetime she reserved the right to name these appointments--including the faculty position--to herself. Benefactions such as these not only bring the institutionality of the College into sharp relief, they also demonstrate Balliol's ability to accommodate within its form the primary social, economic, and political forces of the day. At times, they also highlight playfully the humanness of such accommodations. When, in 1912, Periam Lodgings, the student housing also provided by Lady Periam's estate, finally gave way to new latrines, the renovation also gave rise to the well-known Balliol euphemism of "Visiting Lady Periam,"a phrase still used at college today (pp. 85-6).


In the analogical world of medieval Europe, where the absolutely singular and the absolutely transcendent signed every act, the interconnectedness of absolutes was routinely structured and made sensible through metaphor. In the statutes he drafted for the College in 1507, which still stand as the legal basis for the modern institution, Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, in fact used an especially elaborate metaphor of the human body to describe the College, wherein the Master represented the head and core senses, and the Fellows the abdomen and thighs, giving the body weight; likewise, the Chaplains were the ribs, protecting the vital organs; the Senior Fellow the neck, linking the head with the rest. The Deans were the shoulders, who carried the burdens; Bursars, the men of business, were the arms and hands. Servants were the feet, who must go where bidden. Last but not least were the Scholars, who were close to the Fellows but who, like the servants, must also do as they were told and perform menial tasks; they were thus the legs, which linked the Fellows and the servants. So much for the insiders, the community of scholars. In his metaphor, the Bishop also made a place for the outsider, the patron, in the form of the Visitor, an office dating back to Dervorguilla's initial organization of the college and in which capacity Fox himself was serving at the time he was drafting the statutes. Clearly, the Visitor was not a part of the body collegiate. Rather, Fox likened him to a physician, who was called in when the body is afflicted. As such, the role of the Visitor was not designed to be a passive one; in fact, the Visitor was conceived as someone who, while intimately familiar with the life of the college, was in but not entirely of the community of scholars. Nor was the Visitor, though alien, conceived as being hostile--he was to be though of as a physician, a healer, an outsider who had the power to intervene in order to save the college and sustain its well-being. Accordingly, Fox vested the Visitor with ultimate authority in all collegiate matters, including final say in the distribution and utilization of funds. He balanced this authority, however, by limiting the Visitor to only one appearance a year, and more important, by giving the Fellows of Balliol the unique right to elect their own Visitor (pp. 42, 284).

When we look to understand how Balliol College can inform our own situation in time, we might seek the help of metaphor as well. To borrow a contemporary and hopefully useful one, it is perhaps not too ungainly a stretch to envision the Bishop Fox's Visitor as Wendell Berry's Andean farmer, and so to liken medieval Balliol College to the Andean farm he found so meaningful. "[T]he sophistication and durability of Andean agriculture,"he writes,

is not fully appreciated until one has understood the way it utilizes--depends upon--its margins [where]. . . . ‘new varieties [of potatoes] are constantly being created through crosspollination between cultivated, wild and semidomesticated (weedy) species. . . . The wild and semidomesticated species thrive in the hedgerow around fields, and birds and insects living there assist cross-pollination.' Thus, if an Andean farmer loses a crop because of an extremity of the weather or an infestation of insects or disease, he may find a plant of a new variety that has survived the calamity and produced in spite of it. If he finds such a plant, he may add it to his collection of domesticated varieties or substitute it for the one that has failed.7

Like the margins or hedgerows that framed and divided the Andean farm, the acts of patronage threading through Balliol's fields of academe constitute thoroughfares of social, economic and political life outside the academy, allowing the Masters and patrons, Fellows and Scholars, to cross-pollinate between the organization and disciplines of the college and the greater society outside. And it is in these margins that Balliol College, then and now, is "constantly renewing itself in direct response to what was threatening it." Moreover, by incorporating outsiders within the college itself, by incorporating the margins within its form, the College reconciles the endless swinging between autonomy and institutionality by disclosing both to be present and active at one and the same time. To paraphrase Berry, by responding competently to whatever has threatened it and by doing so in the most local and immediate fashion, Balliol College, like the Andean farm, "has kept its hold on the world, much as life itself has kept its hold.”

We might contrast this picture of the university with that suggested by Dean Lester's alumni letter. Her epistle is nothing less than a cry of pain at the intolerable tension she feels at being pulled between the demands of "public and private benefactors"for accountability and the demands of her faculty to be left alone, to "be free of restraints from inexpert or not wholly disinterested persons outside our ranks." Clearly, there are no hedgerows crisscrossing the fields of this farm, no "‘crosspollination between cultivated, wild and semidomesticated (weedy) species . . . ',"no structured interconnectedness between absolutes. Why so? Because those hedgerows, those margins, are not, in her eyes, inhabited by helpful birds and insects, but rather by "inexpert or not wholly disinterested persons outside our ranks." Yet Berry's metaphor suggests that there is perhaps an alternate reading, a difference, to Dean Lester's characterization of the situation. His reading suggests that the modern American university, like the modern American farm with which Berry contrasts the Andean farm, rather than incorporating its margins into its structure, has pushed its margins back to land unsuitable for cultivation. In so doing, it has cast its public and private benefactors into the role of mere fertilizer suppliers, and denied them any essential role in the active cultivation of the farm. As a result, the modern American university is caught up in the endless "swinging between a center and margins, rigidity and revolt, that has dominated our culture for so long." Thus, instead of being, like old Balliol, an example of a sort of reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging, the modern American university has become a field of pain for those within, and an enterprise of lost faith for those kept without.

As a result, Dean Lester states there is today "large scale pressure to change what we do and how we do it." I, however, would not put the choice before us quite that way. I would say that we do not need to change what we do and how we do it so much as we need to remember what we did and how we did it. To paraphrase another bon mot of history, we should remember that those who routinely repeat history are bound to forget it. The key to the sophistication and durability of Balliol College is to understand the way it utilizes--depends upon--its margins. Thus the change we need to affect, if change it is, is to accommodate the margins within the form, to allow patronage to thrive again in the university, and so to disclose, to let shine, the difference, the historic institutionality of the university in western society, as old Balliol (and new Balliol) so clearly exemplifies. In so doing, the university can tap once again the power of the social, economic and political forces that brought the institution into being in the first place, enabling it to respond "competently to whatever has threatened it and [to do] so in the most local and immediate fashion." Specifically, by remembering its margins, the modern American university can begin to resolve in terms of its own signature historicity the intolerable tension and disruption caused by competing demands for accountability and for autonomy, absolutes which, if left without a structured connectivity, threaten the integrity of the university in our day in time. If this integration can be achieved, then the post-modern university--American or otherwise--will keep its hold on the world, "much as life itself has kept its hold.”

To return to the questions which first sparked this essay, why was it, then, that Jones' text and words provoked in me such a significant response? In part I think the answer is that, by grounding patronage and indeed funding raising itself in the very origins of the university, Jones' history effectively answers those detractors within the academy who regularly dismiss development as a "Johnny-come-lately"enterprise unnatural to if not corrupting of the community of scholars. In fact, benefaction-chasing historically has provided universities not only with money--the sine qua non of the character and fortunes of a college, he reminds us--but also with fundamental organizational and intellectual leadership as well. Moreover, Jones also makes clear that, beginning with the Balliols and continuing on with the benefactors whose goodness is honored in the Bidding Prayer, the patrons of Balliol College represent one of the first links in a great chain of founders and patrons who were to follow, men and occasionally women whose generosity and active, engaged leadership over the next eight centuries brought the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge into being if not greatness, and creating in the process not only a rich tradition of giving but also a rich tradition of bidding, of asking on the part of British and, in due course, American universities as well.

And what exactly was it that I found so meaningful, so transcendently insightful about Jones' account of Balliol that it could so thoroughly inform my work today? Initially, it was his descriptions of patronage and fund raising, which, by ostensibly supporting the ideal of the academy, also disclose, often at one and the same time, the institutionality of the university as the other great absolute structuring the university experience and condition. In other words, while contributing to the social autonomy, economic self-sufficiency, and political independence of the academy, the act of contribution itself also signals the academy's subjugation to, insufficiency toward, and dependence upon the social, economic, and political forces that not only invented the university but also continue to disclose its relevance and meaning to the contemporary world. Through its bidding, the univerty beckons and calls forth these forces, and in so doing, commands and charges them in the name of virtue and learning, transforming their power into the gestalt of the university. Ultimately, therefore, these accounts enable me to bring to what I do as an educational fund raiser not only a fuller historical perspective, they also help me to understand the essential power and value, the essential goodness of the benefactions that I bid, and so to disclose how that goodness has historically structured the connectedness between the ancient absolutes of the university, as well as how that same unchanging goodness can again, in fact, empower the modern university to transcend the crisis threatening its integrity by giving us, in the words of the Bidding Prayer,

. . . grace so to use them [our most pious benefactors], as may make most of our furtherance in virtue, and increase in learning, for the comfort and salvation of our souls, and the benefit and edification of the human race, and, above all, for the glory of Thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen (p. 280).


1. (Oxford University Press, 1988).

2. Jones notes in his Preface that, especially prior to the 1800s, Bursars were the College's "principal record generators and keepers"(p. xi).

 3. Trans. by W.H. D. Rouse; ed. Eric H. Warmington and Philip G. Rouse (The New American Library, 1956), p. 217.

 4. Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of Universities (Cornell University Press, 1957), pp. 4-5.

 5. Oxford was originally in the diocese of Lincoln, and was not made a separate diocese until 1542.

 6. "Introduction: Derrida and the Question of Literature," Jacques Derrida: Acts of Literature, ed. and introduced by Derek Attridge (Routledge, 1992), p. 16.

7. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture (Avon Books, 1977), p. 178.

Copyright F. A. HILENSKI

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