CHARLOTTESVILLE,VA. — THOMAS JEFFERSON called it an "academical village."
In her bathrobe at 7 a.m., scurrying along the Jefferson-designed brick walkway, fourth-year student Cathy McCarthy calls it cold.
"But I love being here," she says. "In fact I think it's really wonderful."
Early each morning at the University of Virginia - a campus created and designed by the third president of the United States - Ms. McCarthy and 53 other carefully selected students leave their "lawn" rooms, which are architecturally unchanged since Jefferson's day. In full view, they greet the outside with a brisk bathrobe-walk to the bathrooms at end of the open walkways.
When Jefferson designed the "academical village" here in 1819, private bathrooms were virtually unknown. In each of the historic student rooms on either side of the wide lawn, there is a fireplace, a rocking chair, a bed, one window, and no bathroom.
Interest in Jefferson's legendary academical village always brings visitors to the university campus. But this year, the numbers have increased because April 13 was the 250th anniversary of Jefferson's birth.
"Sleep late," says McCarthy with a laugh, "and you can stumble out of your room in a bathrobe and walk into a group of French tourists."
What Jefferson envisioned was a community and academic setting where students and professors lived, intermingled, and learned together. He designed 10 two-story pavilions and rows of small student rooms connected by walkways or colonnades. Professors live in the pavilions, and a few classes are held there. And the students are close by, with fires blazing in their fireplaces as well as their hearts.
At the north end of the lawn is the Jefferson-designed Rotunda, the university's original library. Behind each pavilion is a series of gardens "to afford the quiet retirement so friendly to study," Jefferson wrote.
"If I could sit down and talk with Jefferson for 10 minutes," says Christa Compton, a student from Lexington, S.C., who occupies a west lawn room, "first, I would say thank you for providing this really unique experience. Just as he intended it, I've learned academically, but the best educational experiences I've had are when conversations are going on outside my door, and I decided to step out and see what was going on."
To be chosen to live in one of the 54 lawn rooms during their fourth year at the university, students must submit an application and an essay. Although the reasons students are chosen are never disclosed, clearly a match with the Jeffersonian ideals of academic accomplishment and community service helps narrow the selection.
McCarthy has been heavily involved in community work, including leadership at Madison House, a volunteer group dealing with community needs. "Living in the rooms are the president of the student council, president of the university Democrats, people involved in the honor system, and all kinds of people," she says. "I've learned so much from being close to everybody."
Women were admitted to the university for the first time in the 1970s. Would Jefferson have approved?
"I think so," McCarthy says. "One of my professors taught here for 40 years, 20 years without women, and 20 years with women. He says it is a richer intellectual atmosphere now, with a broader exchange of ideas. That's what Jefferson wanted."
Kate Bolger, a third-year student from New Rochelle, N.Y., has been selected to live in a lawn room in the fall. "Everybody is telling me it will be the best experience of my life," she says, "and even though at first I didn't like the university's sort of holistic education - blending work, school, and play - it has won me over. Jefferson would like that."
For Ms. Bolger, what she sees as "deification" of Jefferson at the university should give way to a view of him as a "person who was occasionally hypocritical." She says, "I'd like to know if he had a sense of humor and if he is pleased about how the academical village has turned out."
For another student, William Reisser, residence in a lawn room has made him "more thoughtful and reflective."
At a recent social gathering at one of the professor's homes in a pavilion, McCarthy experienced what she called the essence of the academical village.
"There was a huge discussion about Emily Dickinson and her poetry," she says. "And a student and professor were really interacting with each other, and other people were joining in. They wouldn't have done that in the classroom. I think Jefferson knew that 200 years ago. This really works. I'm glad I'm here, bathroom or no bathroom."