Old College – A Visitor’s Guide

Firstly, dear reader, I must offer my heartfelt apologies – the writing of this piece is long overdue. My only defence is that it has taken me a fair while to work out how Old College operates and even now some areas are still somewhat hazy. Even those who have experienced the British higher education system are unlikely to comprehend the anachronistic nuances of the academic elite. So I will do my best to make it a little clearer. Quiet at the back, I will be taking questions at the end…

Old College is one of several dozen Colleges which make up The City University. The Colleges operate independently of each other, each having their own quirks and traditions, but all are ultimately answerable to The University.

Each College has its own crest and heraldry, the colours of which are worn proudly on everything from scarves and ties to boats and bicycles. Old College enjoys dark blue (‘Morro’ Blue, to give it its correct title) with a sky blue stripe as its colours, which can be seen on the ties of Head Porter and myself. Incidentally, our friendly rivals, Hawkins College, are lemon and light blue (which makes them look like ice-cream vendors).

The hierarchical structure can vary slightly from College to College, but all Colleges have a body known as The Fellowship. Usually academics and always elected into post, The Fellowship are the ruling body within a College. Most Fellows fulfil the role of tutor or lecturer in their chosen field, but some Fellows may undertake additional roles as well, such as the Keeper Of The Paintings or Choir Master. For example, The Chaplain is a Fellow of Old College and he also lectures in veterinary medicine as well as performing his ministerial duties.

As the title suggests, the most senior of all Fellows is The Master. The Master of Old College is also a Lord of the Realm, so he is especially revered. Quite what The Master actually does I cannot really tell you. But he is in charge. Cross him at your peril.

After The Master, the College hierarchy tends to split in two. One side deals with the business and practicalities of running the College, whilst the other handles the academic side of things.

On the business side we have The Bursars. Junior Bursar once told me that Senior Bursar brings the money in to College and he, Junior Bursar, spends the money. This seems broadly to be the case. Junior Bursar is directly responsible for overseeing the College servants (such as myself) and ensuring that their departments run correctly. That includes the Porters’ Lodge, Housekeeping, Catering, Maintenance and the Gardeners. But with Senior Bursar now sadly deceased and the retirement of Junior Bursar imminent, rumour has it that The Master wants just one Bursar to take on the role next academic year. One Bursar is quite enough for anybody.

Over to the academic side of things and we have, firstly and fore mostly, The Dean. Terrifying and entertaining in equal measure, it is no secret that The Dean is my favourite Fellow. As with The Master, I am not really sure what it is he actually gets up to, but he is responsible for discipline in College. And that means the discipline of everyone. Whilst being referred to The Dean (known as being ‘Deaned’) is a daunting enough prospect for students, I imagine it is equally unpleasant for staff and Fellows to find themselves on the sharp end of his tongue. His authority seems to stretch to every echelon of Old College and probably some way beyond the walls, too. Personally, I think he should be Prime Minister.

Senior Tutor’s main role is, on the face of it, fairly obvious. He oversees the tutors and their young charges and ensures that everyone is working hard and learning lots. Senior Tutor is a gentle and quietly spoken gentleman but I have heard that he can be as fearsome as The Dean when he has a mind to be. His job is far more complicated than I can comprehend or explain, but it is academic-related. Very academic.

There are lots of other Fellows, of course, knocking around Old College – teaching, eating, getting murdered… It’s quite a life.

Sitting firmly and distantly beneath The Fellowship we have the College servants. Personally, I think that the Porters are at the top of this humble pile, but I am sure other heads of department will tell you different. The Porters, naturally, are not the carriers of bags but the keepers of keys. Our role is so broad and varied it is difficult to encapsulate concisely. If it needs doing, we do it, but we don’t take any nonsense. Think of us as butlers with attitude.

That just about covers the basics of a very convoluted and complex ‘organisation’ (I use the term in its loosest possible form).

Still confused? Yeah, me too. But leave a comment or send me a message and I’ll do my best to bring some clarification to the situation.