"The University of Chicago...is that a state school?"
In the three years since I decided to attend our venerable institution, I've learned not to visibly cringe in response to this question. Still, when I hear this, my insides get twisty, and I feel my blood pressure start to rise.
I often wonder how my parents feel when they get this question. After all, they bear the brunt of the nearly $40,000 burden that is next year's tuition. And they're less able to spew facts about self-sustaining nuclear reactions and the Millikan oil drop experiment than I.
(For the record, I do not have a grudge against state schools. But mom and dad? Their wallet knows the difference.)
In Chicagoland, if you say you attend the U of C (and then clarify, no, not UIC), they look at you like you're going to pull a hydrogen bomb out of your pocket. "You must be smart to go there," they say, and I resist the urge to agree.
But outside Illinois, I've met few who know of the U of C. I imagine looking for a job in that hazy place called the "real world." He-who-holds-my-fate-in-his-hands takes one look at my resume and again utters the dreaded question. Sometimes I see myself ranting about the Miller-Urey experiment; other times, I just hang my head.
"They say" that the people who matter know what the U of C is, and know what we students are going through (Thucydides, cough, cough). But I really wonder if that's the case. Chicago, for a school of its caliber, does not have the name recognition of Harvard, Columbia, Notre Dame, or Northwestern.
I cannot believe that this does not have consequences for those of our courageous grads who choose to leave the Windy City's glaciated clime for a place where it never snows in April. A name means something. When we leave this place, whatever our GPAs, we all walk out of here with one thing: a diploma with "Universitas Chicagoensis" on it. What does it mean?
Even in Chicago, football means that Northwestern is in the news and on the minds of Chicagoans for a fair amount of the time. The lights on the river are purple part of the year; that ugly wildcat is even splattered on the phone book.
The U of C has never been an ivory tower; its commitment to Hyde Park and the city at large has not ceased. Yet as institutions go, Chicago seems very much content to be sitting in the corner of the library, looking pale and reading a book. Our history is one in which advertising for prospective students is considered beneath us. Our application numbers, which (commendably) have been going up, are still rather low compared any of our counterparts, including WashU and Nortwestern.
Though most would probably rather see the quads redone in Palevsky orange than see Division I sports return to campus, I think such a move would be beneficial. Chicago is already a place for scholar-athletes, and Division I football would bring in not only revenue, but also recognition and maybe even a real sense of school pride. The U of C existed for a rather long time as an academic as well as athletic powerhouse, and the Big Ten and the Heisman Trophy are as much a part of its history as the Nobels. I think it's time we return to that tradition.
Being a "name school," with respected academics behind the name to match, can only do good by helping us to attract more of the best students and, just as important, the best faculty. It means alumni who hear about their alma mater in the news, come back to campus for the big U of C-Notre Dame game, and are maybe more willing to donate to our as-yet emaciated Chicago Initiative.
A reputation is invaluable, and the U of C's needs some work. What's wrong with the nerds having a kick-ass football team? Ours is a great institution, and people should know it. So bring back the real monsters of the Midway--because the tailgate parties, and the look of recognition from my future employer, will be worth it.