Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bad press for UChicago

Via Rita, here is Rick Perlstein's treatise on how miserable it is these days at the University of Chicago. The NYT is asking American college students to respond to this article in order to enter an essay contest. It is unclear how reacting to this piece will lead to responses that shed light on the proposed question, "Is the college experience less critical to the nation than it was a generation ago?" Perlstein makes the bizarre choice to extrapolate from the thoughts of a few undergrads at the U of C disappointing truths about the entire contemporary American college experience. "Is their diagnosis a function of college itself today, or just this particular college? [College student] Hamilton Morris told me stories that suggest the former." And how would Hamilton Morris imply that?

He visited his guidance counselor and described his frustrations with the university. Her response: "You're not meant for college. You should really drop out." He struck up a conversation with a student on his floor "who as far as I can tell doesn't have any friends at all and nobody talks to him. He has no desire to transfer - even though he's unhappy. I feel like a lot of people are like that as well. You know: 'College sucks anyway, so I might as well stay here.'"

The silent-kid-on-your-floor is as Chicago as it gets. Most floors have more than one. Everything I've learned from non-UChicago friends, both during and after college, has led me to believe that the Chicago way is far from typical. Everything from my lack of an academic gender-studies background to the fact that a number of friends my year are engaged to the vivid memory of people reading books, alone, at parties, hints that there might be something a bit different about Chicago than, say, Wesleyan or Sarah Lawrence. That the Times thinks college students will interpret this story as anything other than confirmation that they were wise not to go to Chicago is hard to imagine.

Rita makes some good points about Perlstein's piece:

[...] I think Perlstein is exaggerating the unrestrained joys of the college experience of yore, and assuming a little too much by suggesting that a period of experimentation with radicalism of some kind is, you know, an integral developmental phase in every well-lived life. Isn't it a little absurd to instruct people to become Maoists in order to eventually reject Maoism, and call the charade "growing up"? Also, it's not that college students today lack the courage or curiosity to invite Ralph Ellison to speak in their dorm lounges--it's that the Ralph Ellisons of the world tend not to be easily reachable by phone, and they charge $30,000 honoraria when you do get to them, so unless Mr. Perlstein would like to personally subsidize the courage and curiosity of present-day college students, it's looking like a no-go.

She also writes, "I don't feel compelled anymore to defend Chicago against accusations that it's a killjoy kind of place." Agreed. Then what is Chicago, exactly?

"If you want an intellectually rigorous, urban campus, the University of Chicago may be a fallback for the University of Pennsylvania." So says Michelle Slatalla, in an article in the Education Life section on "safety schools." An accompanying discussion with college counselors on the "new fallback campuses" provides this information:

University of Chicago (40 percent [admit rate])

Forget Northwestern, which "is on everybody's radar," says Michele Hernandez, a private consultant. "Chicago is much easier to get into than Harvard but is one of the top-rated schools in the world." Caveat: Mr. Dix credits the high admittance rate to applicant self-selection. "They have crazy essays you have to write, and that turns away some applicants," he says.

So there you have it, a second-rate University of Pennsylvania where the students are miserable. At least the weather's good.

Fellow U of Cers, happy or not with your time in glorious Hyde Park, speak up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad someone else noticed the outrageous statements in the New York Times. I turned down a scholarship from Columbia for this school, no one is telling me it's a 'safety'.
-UChi '11