Monday, April 25, 2005

On An Elite Institution on an Average Institution

Yesterday, the New York Times had a lengthy piece describing the lives of several students at the University of Arizona. The article's hook, I suppose, is that the reporter lifts the rock up and expose the worms, centipedes, and other crawly-things that eke out their existence away from the sun and ivy most of the Times' regular readers are familiar with. Thus, a comment like this appears after a description of the University of Arizona:
This is not exactly the popular image of ivy-covered higher education, but it's the truth of it. Most students do not go to an Amherst or a Williams. They go to enormous public institutions like the Universities of Arizona, Iowa, Connecticut, Minnesota: more than five million undergraduates attend an institution with at least 15,000 students. The freshman class alone exceeds the population of a small town, and the course catalog is the size of a phone book.
I suspect that it's only a reporter from an elite paper like the Times who would be compelled to note for and remind readers that most students don't go to elite institutions.

For the rest of us, thankfully, it's tautological.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

That is an astoundingly revealing disclaimer. As the holder of three degrees from "average" institutions, I suddenly feel as exotic as a New Guinea Highlander...

4/25/2005 9:51 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Yup! Going to Minnesota myself--one of those public schools he listed--I guess I was sensative to his remarks.

Fortunately though, here in the mid-west, we don't stumble across that nor' eastern attitude about pedigree and place too often.

4/26/2005 12:05 AM  
Anonymous Miriam said...

Actually, to be fair, most public discourse on universities does presume that elite universities somehow represent all of "the academy"--and not just papers like the NYT, but also academic jeremiads. (After all, there's a remarkably direct correlation between oddball courses & high tuition, but you'd think that we all teach what they can get away with at, say, Yale.) As far as I can tell, nobody remembers that third-tier comprehensives exist, let alone big state schools. So, yeah, the article's tone is annoying, but a point lurks therein...

5/01/2005 3:39 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

That's a good point--it's easy to forget about everything else everyone else is saying when just looking at one silly little paragraph!

Of course, it must be a convenient thing that we always think and talk about the plusher schools with small student-teacher ratios and pretty self-driven and sufficient students. If we spent more time remembering and conjuring up images of our state schools with larger classes and smaller graduation rates, we'd probably get very frustrated. A frustration that the article was probably, in part, trying to get across--if momentarily slipping into the type of language that seems to be part of the problem.

5/01/2005 4:43 PM  

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