OP-EDS

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April 14, 2006

Ways to keep the U of C on the right track

As we near the end of the $2 billion Chicago Initiative, we find ourselves in a position of unprecedented power to shape the experience of students at this University. To understand what steps we should take in order improve our University, it behooves us to examine where we are and then ask what we must do to arrive at where we want to be.

Since its inception, the University has been a powerhouse of academic research and inquiry. Key improvements over the past decade have bolstered our credentials as one of the premier centers of undergraduate learning. Increasing the number of students in the College has allowed for a more vibrant extracurricular campus life, new dorms foster a more active social environment with tighter bonds of community, and a campaign to educate prospective students about the strengths of the College has led to a more talented and diverse student body. The aim of these developments has always been to optimally prepare Chicago students for the world by tapping their potential and giving them outlets through which they can bring about positive change in the world.

Three areas of improvement now stand out as requiring our attention: developing student interests, fostering student capabilities, and preparing students for the world beyond Chicago.

To develop student interests we must first and foremost increase the amount of money available for student activities. The benefits are extensive and well rehearsed in the pages of this newspaper. The past year has seen the founding of—to name a few—the Armenian Students’ Association; the Pre-Medical Students’ Association; a chapter of the progressive collegiate think-tank; the Roosevelt Institution; and a student journal of politics and culture, The Midway Review (full disclosure, Steinman is a staff member of the Review). Each of these ventures could not have happened without funding, yet each has positively impacted not only the school but the lives and prospects of the students involved.

The Jeff Metcalf Fellowships and the Spring Break Externships are two excellent programs that give students the opportunity to fostering their capabilities by applying their acquired knowledge to real-world situations. Opportunities abound, but often students are simply unaware of them. Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS) can help. CAPS can expand its O-Week programs to address how to get internships and when to apply (the end of fall quarter, in some cases). Integrating the CAPS office into everyday student life will help as well: If CAPS held walk-in resume review or internship brainstorming on Fridays in the Reynolds Club it would surely help students in finding internships and summer jobs.

The final and most important task the College must undertake in the coming years is preparing students for the outside world. The pressures of Chicago mean that many of us have little free time between classes, studying, sleeping, Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) and sports. This is part of what sets us apart from our peers but also what sets us at a disadvantage outside the academy. Here the University can pick up the slack. Sponsored events like the Class Roundtables give students a well deserved break and the ability to relax with their peers in an environment conducive to the Chicago mentality in a decidedly social situation. Promoting departmental formal dinners for undergraduates would give students the pleasure of dining with their faculty and their peers in a non-academic, purely social setting.

Social life can also be improved by transforming dorms into “freshmen only” and “upper class”. This would allow upper-class houses to attract certain types of people (aspiring academics) or specific groups (the Model UN or swim team), while still preserving the diversity envisioned by the house system, but only in the first year. Allowing people of similar interests to live together serves the same interest as increasing the number of students in the College: it helps them be more productive in their chosen fields. In our view housing trends for those who leave University accommodation closely track social association. Members of RSOs, sports teams, and other discrete groups often move off-campus in order to live together. Why not allow that trend to continue and foster it inside University housing?

These three important areas stick out as wanting for attention and remedy. Elections for Student Government and Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees are quickly approaching. We have taken a hard look at our community, its strengths, and its weaknesses, and we feel that these solutions will serve our community by continuing the pattern of drastic improvement that has brought us to the powerful position in which we now find ourselves.