Her comment got me thinking about the size of universities. In Utah, the University of Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Utah State, BYU, or Utah Valley University are all the size of municipalities. And, they have a lot of the components of cities--governments (of a sort), police, food systems, power systems, etc. So what if we thought about universities as (good) cities? Would learning be better? Would students be more satisfied? Would change come about easier? Under what conditions?
I'm not sure I have answers to these questions, but two great books about cities: Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and Steven Johnson, Emergence both convince me that healthy cities create learning by their nature, and that their nature requires a great deal less formal control than do universities. So is it possible to get to the learning outcomes of higher ed, and have students have the experiences that lead them there, by taking cues from decentralized, self-emerging systems like cities?