January 9, 2007

Who is complicit in the Common Application change?

Dear Maroon Editorial Staff,

I write to you to publicly applaud the recent efforts by the University of Chicago’s administration to improve our academic community. They certainly couldn’t have done it without you towing the line for them. Were it not for your distraction from the real issues at hand and your puppet-like repetition of their Clintonesque rhetoric and talking points, the University community might have been forced to grapple with a real idea. And since when is Chicago a place of ideas?

Certainly the University of Chicago is the last place where one might expect someone to make a principled objection to such a gormless course of action as that proposed by the current administration and the Admissions Office. To be fair, there was much misunderstanding upon the revelation that the Uncommon Application may be losing some of its shine. For example, many students were unaware that the acclaimed essay questions were, in fact, being retained. Or are they? On December 1, InsideHigherEd.com reported: “[Ted] O’Neill said that—when the shift takes place, probably in the fall of 2008—one of the short essays would have to be dropped.” But were it not for the journalistic excellence of the Maroon, we wouldn’t have been able to overlook this point. As it is, the prospect of changing the essays after switching to the Common Application is so obvious that it takes quite a bit of mental fortitude to neglect the thought.

But more importantly, and back to the realm of ideas, we students should thank the Maroon for helping us avoid the real issue at hand. The stated goal of the switch has been presented as encouraging more students to apply who might not otherwise. Yes, that’s right, the best way to improve the University of Chicago, the institution George Will called probably the finest in the world, is to get more kids to apply who wouldn’t otherwise because they were too lazy to fill out one extra 10-minute form. These are the students who will save us from academic irrelevance.

What’s that? They won’t get in, you say? Oh, then what might be the point of getting them to apply? Oh, we become more “selective!” What does that do? Yes, of course, our U.S. News ranking goes up, right along with the reputation and salaries of the administration. But thank you, Maroon and Admissions Office, for distracting us from this thinly veiled attempt to strip our beloved University of all that it stands for in the name of approval from a second-rate news magazine.

Were the College coeval with something like the Law or Business School, my cynicism would likely melt away. But the goal of the College is not and never has been to get us jobs. The goal of this fine institution is, first and foremost, to educate. And when our energies become distracted by artificial measures of institutional success and shallow attempts to boost careers, our pedagogical dedication is the first thing to suffer. As one student’s parent put it, “Focus by the College on the banal for the sake of enhancing ‘access’ or eliminating ‘bureaucratic barriers’ (as quoted in the Maroon, “U of C Courts Common App,” 11/14/2006) simply sends the message that the College should be considered as just another pandering participant in the admission rat-race. The cost of that message to the distinctive reputation of the College far outweighs the possibility of finding a few diamonds in the rough who might otherwise irrationally find the Uncommon Application unduly burdensome.”

And so I thank once more the Maroon Editorial Staff, the Admissions Office, and our newly enthroned President for helping the University Community to avoid the difficulties in considering the true motives and long-term effects of their plans for our four-year home. I don’t know who is luckier, myself for having to look on at this debacle while I prepare to leave, or the first-years who get to look forward to another three years of bureaucratic genius.

Uncommonly yours,

Mark Meador