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Responses to “This safety school is better than the elites think”
5. Bob Merkin says:
September 11, 2010 at 11:55 am
I’ve been a neighbor — 15 minutes away — of UMass Amherst for almost 30 years. I’ve taken continuing education courses at UMass, and belonged to the WMUA community. I know the school very well, and for a lot longer than your driveby experience there.
There are a few aspects of UMass I admire and consider world-class — just for examples, the Stockbridge School, the Conte Polymer Research Center, the theater department, and the unique economics department.
But overwhelmingly, the undergrad side of UMass … well, look, I don’t want to break your heart, and I don’t want to whip up your “Be True To Your School” punch-in-the-nose impulse …
UMass Amherst sucks. It’s a Grade D binge-drinking basketball football embarrassment that has the legal right to call itself a state university, print sweatshirts, and issue diplomas. So it does.
I wouldn’t have bothered to comment, but you chose the worst possible university to sneer at: The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
That’s a real university, and kids (even kids who play team men’s sports) get through it with a degree as impressive and prestigious as a degree from Harvard, MIT or Cambridge UK. Employers know a U-Michigan grad, in any major, worked hard to master the toughest academic standards. In the sciences, U-Michigan has been the birthplace of revolutionary discoveries, one after the other, for a century.
For what it’s worth, U-Michigan’s students are as wild about their sports programs as UMass students.
Where the schools differ is that, at U-Michigan, men’s football and basketball come SECOND. There’s never been an NCAA corruption scandal. The sports programs have never tainted or embarrassed the academic reputation of the university. U-Michigan’s head coaches are at the top of the national game — but they scrupulously never pull stunts and scams whose victims — as everybody at UMass knows — are the student players.
Other state universities you should be very cautious about comparing UMass to: University of California at Berkeley (and several other UC campuses), University of Wisconsin at Madison.
These states had the same historical needs for a state university, but from their founding, determined that their state universities would offer their state’s kids an affordable education every bit as superb as the Ivy League.
I don’t know what to tell you about the Binge-Drinking Basketball Party you chose to attend. You’ll enter the working world in a bad economy with a degree that prospective employers will politely grunt and giggle at. And then hire somebody else. They’ll have several other state university grads from whom to choose.
I’m not urging you to transfer and flee.
But Massachusetts’ politicians, and the university administrators they appoint as political rewards, have kept UMass Amherst as a crap school for long before you or I got here.
And have every intention of keeping it a crap school for the foreseeable future.
They care about a lot of things. Their undergrads are the last thing they care about. You’re the last thing they care about.
All your angry school pride won’t change the workforce value of your UMass degree. “Respect my school or I’ll punch you in the face” doesn’t cut it.
What I would urge you to do is, for the first time in living memory, organize your fellow undergrads to demand a damned fine academic university. Punish the administrators when they penalize academics for their precious sports programs. Reward the administrators every time they spend money on excellence in academics. Cheer for the establishment of a world-class academic chair as loudly as you cheer for making the Final Four.
It’s your four (or five or six) years of your life. The politicians and administrators aren’t going to increase the value of your time there. They’re happy to graduate you with a big unemployable joke on your t-shirt.
So that leaves you.
The Daily Collegian
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Monday 6 September 2010
This safety school
is better than
the elites think
by Nick O'Malley
An article in Sunday’s Boston Globe, detailing the struggles of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has put the school’s national standing into focus. The verdict? UMass is a second-rate public university.
Since the hiring of Chancellor Robert Holub, the University has shifted gears in terms of national standing. Where there was once a sense of complacency about its national standing there is now a drive to put the school in the upper echelon of public universities in the country.
From construction projects to admissions strategies, the administration has made a staunch effort to commit as many resources as possible to raise the school’s standing on the national stage.
The foundation of the story is that today’s prototypical, well-off, academically successful, Bay State high-schooler – let’s call him Tucker, because I hate that name – isn’t even considering his home state school, instead looking at the likes of the University of Michigan or the University of North Carolina.
Despite being twice the cost of UMass, plus airfare and countless other financial difficulties that come with going to school across the country, Tucker won’t even sniff the Amherst campus.
Why? We’re not prestigious enough. As a student quoted in the Globe said, “It’s a pride thing.”
It’s not an uncommon feeling, students thinking that they could’ve gotten into a “better” school, one that they’ve visited for a couple hours, read about in a brochure and was ranked higher on some chart somewhere.
It’s true, some students feel uncomfortable with the name on the box. It’s a feeling of regret or a missed opportunity, felt when students come to UMass, that they settled for the safety school.
But, if a student is really entitled to an Ivy League school, they’ll get more from the education than a line on a resume and bumper sticker on the rear window of their car, which in Tucker’s case is a BMW that his parents bought so he can drive to his $10,000-per semester dorm at Boston College. It’s okay, though. The family is making an investment.
Yet, the Globe brings up the notion that some people find the “predicament” of UMass “infuriating, even embarrassing.” What could possibly keep UMass from being a top-tier school?
It could be, as the article states, the school’s athletic programs aren’t up to par. “My goodness, the football team is in the Football Championship Subdivision just like William & Mary, Georgetown, Holy Cross, Villanova, University of California Davis, Delaware and, oh, the entire Ivy League. How could they possibly succeed?”
By the way, how are BU, Northeastern and Hofstra’s football teams doing nowadays?
It could be that UMass isn’t catching on in the college capital of the United States. “I mean, how could a public school competing with Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Amherst College, Williams College, Boston College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston University, Tufts and Smith have trouble attracting in-state students. It’s as if the school has specifically declared its intent to focus on admitting out-of-state students.”
But it’s most likely that it’s because the school is stuck in a state that is spinning its wheels on public college spending, has one of the lowest endowments in the country, gets little funding from alumni, “deteriorating concrete buildings” and a party school reputation.
These are all things that the article mentions.
But, at the same time, every time UMass took a shot, there was upside. There’s a budget crisis, but the administration is looking to get on track and restore faculty. The football team is not in the best division, but the hockey home-crowds are some of the largest in the country. The Integrated Sciences Building, nursing building and Recreation Center are state-of-the-art.
However, if Deval Patrick would like UMass to have the same fancy facilities and dorms as those in California state schools, maybe this state should have the same funding for public higher education.
The article is a gut-punch for every student and faculty member- past, present and future- from another privileged institution trying to look down from its overpriced, overrated ivory tower at what they’ll always assume is still ZooMass, despite dropping out of the national party school ranking years ago.
Meanwhile, the nation’s premiere public universities would never be disgraced by such a label. Except for the fact that half of The Princeton Review top 12 party schools this year are ranked in the top 20 public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
So yes, UMass is a second-tier school in Massachusetts. But compared to Harvard and MIT, you know what would be? Michigan, North Carolina and Texas. In arguably the most prestigious academic environment in the world, it’s a little hard for the public school on the other side of the state to stick out.
But UMass does. It lives and continually improves in this environment, constantly building a reputation that could someday challenge the old guard.
Am I saying that the Globe article is part of a concerted effort from the prestigious Boston intellectual institutions to put down UMass in the fear that an affordable, quality education could challenge the academic monopoly established out east? No. But the Globe’s comment section is.
Still, UMass is going to be the rising underdog in this state for the foreseeable future, and Tucker will still thumb his nose at us because the name on his hoodie isn’t good enough for his parents’ money. He doesn’t want the “safety school.” But, you know what?
We don’t want him.
Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com
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