February 20, 2004

Academic solutions for the U of C

The "life of the mind": you read it on almost every pamphlet printed by the College. Perhaps the unofficial U of C mantra, while not necessarily negating the life of the body or the soul (although various maroon-and-navy t-shirts seem to attest otherwise), speaks volumes about what is par excellence here. I, along with countless others, came here with the idea of saturating myself with learning, and with the desire to be surrounded by architectural gems such as the Regenstein. Yet, I'm finding that achieving the former is sometimes as difficult as a serious belief of the latter. Three little things keep getting in my way: capped classes, the four-course maximum, and the inability of auditing some courses without the costly R.

Capped classes, you say? They are essential! Many of our courses are too large as it is. I agree with both. However, has a full class ever stood in my way of taking it? You bet. And likewise, uncapped classes have also harried this pursuit because we all know, list it as you may, a 40-person Hum class really doesn't constitute a "discussion" anymore. Instead of a free and able exchange of ideas, it morphs into a Darwinian survival of the loudest and most authoritative, resulting in a perpetual stream of often inane and almost universally groan-able commentary from the "fittest" few. What solution is there to having small classes that stay small despite never being capped? There is always the option of just instating classes with misleading titles, ones which no one in their right mind signs up for, leaving them to the crazy others (where of course we hope to be the crazy others, except not socially stigmatized as such). I mean, hiring more faculty could never solve this problem.

On to the four-course maximum. Why stop striving? Because the University wants our money, not because of some well placed concern for our excessive chiropractic bills. In fact, other places on similar systems, such as Caltech, practically beg to break your back for you (at less than $40K as well). They tempt you with all the courses you can shoulder, with no maximum, no extra-course petition, nor monetary penalty more than many English concentrators can hope to make after graduation. Atlases, those who choose to support great burdens, are created in high school, as the do-as-much-as-possible-to-get-into-college art is perfected. Yet the same educational entity that creates us shuts down our natural behavior as we walk through its gates. This is exemplified by the situation in which during a quarter when you're immersed in Core, an only-offered-now course of your dreams hovers over the horizon. Solution? Decrease courses needed for graduation. Who thinks that increasing the maximum load and letting us exercise our shoulders for eventual feats of carrying the world on our backs would be realistic? Come now, we're smart people.

But in quarters such as those, when desire for knowledge succeeds all else, including sanity, I, along with many others, choose to audit. But thanks to bureaucratic shenanigans, sometimes this is not an option. What, you say? In the life of the mind, surely knowledge flows like milk and honey and is always accessible to everyone. But it doesn't and it's not. Apart from some professors denying auditors altogether (although I fully acknowledge that many allow them), some say "yes" but mean "yes, if you pay the University more money for an R to represent your attained knowledge." As this practice evidences a phenomenon known mostly to graduate students, it is a ridiculous practice for undergraduates. As you could also just pay for that one more course and then actually get credit. But then why bring rationality into the sphere of money?

At $40K, more than just our administration should run like butter (contrary to lucid thought, Princeton Review touts our administration as the best), and that includes the free flow of ideas to our brain. Classes should be open to all, yet small so that the "fittest" don't ruin our moods. Overachievers should not be stymied, as individuals here are cynical enough without having their old ways of life crushed out like freshly lit butts. And Rs should remain well within the graduate realm, never appearing prematurely. But most of all, we should all withdraw, cash out the $40K, obtain a public library card, and invest in a dotcom. For as they say, what went down, must always go up.