Thursday, January 12, 2006

Party pooper

I've received no fewer than a trillion emails informing me of a "10 for 10" party for NYC-based Chicago alums. I'm all for pro-Chicago school spirit, for pride in one's alma mater, assuming it happens to be UChicago, but the purpose of this particular event--to get Chicago back into the US News & World Report top ten list, is kind of disturbing.

Obviously it is, on a certain level, in the interest of anyone who graduated from Chicago, whether they liked the place or not, for the school to be in the top ten. That way, neighbors will not nod blankly when future U of Cers tell them where they plan to attend college, and maybe, one day, people at Chicago would even wear "University of Chicago" sweatshirts while walking around campus. (I wear mine around hipster Brooklyn, I do my part.) It's disingenuous for any Chicago graduate with even a bit of ambition to deny caring at all about these rankings. Personal satisfaction at having mastered everything from the state of nature to astrophysics can only go so far.

At the same time, Chicago folk aren't really supposed to care about these rankings, or at least to admit to caring. But more importantly, Chicago could be yet another elite university just a bit below the top three, with everything almost as good as those schools but nothing special, a place to go when the harder to get into places reject you. It could, but that would be lame, and that's not what Chicago's about. Can we as Chicago grads please, please get over the idea that we need to "win" specifically as a mainstream university? Of course, Chicago's liberal arts undergraduate program prepares students for the same things as those at other top schools--no pre-professional majors, but not quite great-books-and-nothing-else, either. But the school's attitude--you come to get more information crammed into your head than you thought possible, you become obsessed with whatever you're studying, you leave a whole lot more impressive both to yourself and to others than you were when you entered--that's the point. It's boot camp for people with pretentions, a love of learning, or both. It's a way of making damn sure college is not a four-year vacation.

UChicago has a facebook group for people who turned down Ivies in favor of Chicago, and while it is a bit of an annoying idea for such a thing to exist (considered signing up, as it's technically true, but went instead with, "Why have sex when you could be learning Hebrew," a much more Chicago-attitude-specific facebook group), it's less irritating than caring about the top-ten list, because pointing out that Chicago has something no other place does, that people will from time to time pick Chicago knowing full well that it does not have the name recognition of some other schools, is better than trying to bring Chicago "up" to the level of places it doesn't really resemble and, for the sake of a student body with different needs and desires, ought not resemble.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Enh. It's all about money. Having a bit more of it is always good, and name-recognition / ranking helps there (to some extent). Of course, actually having money might do away with all the corny endowment jokes that form such a staple of Chicago culture, which would be sad.

But I think you're overstating the case -- I don't think there are that many people at / from the U of C who take our obscurity and lowness in the rankings as proof of anything other than proof of how awesome we are; so I'm not sure there really are that many people who need to get over it.

Anonymous said...

Oops. Pardon that bit of incoherence above. I need coffee.

Julie said...

Damn, I am now a New York based U of Cer and I didn't get any emails. Not that I want to support silly posturing on our part, but then again I did get excited that we can join the Penn Club but really because I need a cheap gym to join.