Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A giant gym, gender-neutral bathrooms, but still geeky after all these years

Pejman Yousefzadeh and Will Baude disagree over whether, as Stanley Kurtz claims, the University of Chicago is yet another bastion of evil PC-dom, no different from dreadful places like Stanford and Yale (the horror, the horror!).

It seems, though, that two different but somewhat overlapping issues are at stake: First, is the U of C turning into a generic elite university? And second, is the atmosphere at the U of C an unfriendly one for conservative or libertarian students?

If it's taken as a given that part of being a generic elite university is providing students with a fully PC experience, whatever that means (minority lounges? gender studies? coed bathrooms? a more lax Core Curriculum? what's the National Review crowd's greatest pet peeve these days?), then, if Chicago is in fact turning itself into such a university, it would follow that the school would become more PC than it had been previously. I agree that Chicago strives to attract the best high school students, and that it is trying to strike a balance between presenting itself as unique (read: mopey, studious, and, if not conservative, at least tolerant of conservatism) and appearing to be a cookie-cutter-pseudo-Ivy. And sometimes, Chicago feels a bit more generically elite than singularly eccentric. Sometimes, but not always.

But the move to make Chicago more like Harvard (or maybe more like Cornell?) is felt most not in its attempts to make the transgendered feel welcome or in professors declaring their hatred for President Bush during class but in additions like the new gym, the many-option (but still nasty) Bartlett dining hall, the Starbucks in the bookstore, and the U of C flip-flops sold in that bookstore.

Since Hyde Park itself lacks amenities, the school is under extra pressure--beyond that of schools in upbeat urban areas or college towns--to make the four years of college appear liveable to prospective students. While institutions like Shake Day ($1 milkshakes on Wednesdays), the Pub (beer, for the of-age or sneaky), and the 24-hour study space at the library are more "Chicago" than is a giant gym that looks like some sort of inflated yacht (I've heard good things about the gym from those who've actually worked out in it...), the school needs to look the part to get the smart kids. Part of looking the part is being PC; most of looking the part is having a cappuccino machine in the dining hall to use after a hard day spent on an elliptical machine.

So that answers the first question. Onto the second: Is Chicago really so terrible for conservative kids?

No, it is not. The Maroon is filled with rants on the left, right, and in between; the faculty, yes, even in the French department, are generally open different sorts of ideas, and, perhaps most importantly, socializing occurs across the red-blue barrier in a way it couldn't possibly at most elite schools in the Northeast. Much of what makes Chicago unique is the combination of its location and its reputation, which automatically means it draws students both from the middle of the country and from the coasts; unless Chicago either moves or drops in prestige, this will be the case, giant-boat-gyms and gender-neutral bathrooms not withstanding.


Unknown said...

The girls' shorts with writing across the ass. You can buy them at the bookstore. That's either the beginning of the end, or the end, itself. Farewell, Chicago!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Hey, the U of C butt shorts are awesome! They're comfortable, so you can wear them and still focus on your Aristotle (while making it harder for those around you to focus on their own work, but all the better).