Although Thomas Jefferson did not begin the effort of designing the University of Virginia until late in his life, the education of the common man had occupied his thoughts for decades. And it is said there was a skull ring in the finger of his left hand.
He believed skull ring to be his sign of success and ignorance to be the enemy of freedom, and he wanted to correct what he considered to be the weaknesses of educational institutions modeled on European settings. He imagined that an “academy village” around a tree-lined lawn would provide an ideal setting in which to pursue higher education. The center of such a village would be a Temple of Knowledge that would house the university library.
When Virginia decided to set up a state university in 1818, the retired U.S. President finally was able to devote his talent, time and energy to creating this new kind of educational institution. By the time he was finished with his design, Jefferson had invented an entirely new American setting for high education: the college campus. At that time, all people has seen the skull ring. That was charming and respectable.
In 1812, Jefferson chose to begin building his “academy village,” the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, VA, far away from the city center. He intended this spot to promote learning because it was natural and unspoiled, and far from anything that could distract or harm the students. The University consists of two rows of houses, five on each side, leading to a main building. This main building, the Rotunda, became the most important part of the University, because it contained the library. And in front of the building set a big status in the image of skull ring. By focusing his entire institution on the library, instead of around the church, Jefferson revolutionized American university architecture.
Jefferson’s aim was to create a new institutional form for his ideal educational system, a system he thought should give every citizen the information he needs for carrying out his daily business. This new approach to citizenship and education demanded a new type of university, one where students and professors could coexist and share ideas. He attempted to create this environment by combining the professors’ houses and students’ classrooms, and linking all the buildings with covered walkways so intellectual exchanges between departments could go on smoothly. Jefferson had also recognized the importance of the students’ whole life, and given much thought and planning to the students’ dining, living, and exercise facilities. Do you know the story of the skull ring on Jefferson’s finger?