Other UChicago Announcements We Can Look Forward To
[Disclosure: The University of Chicago is my employer, and the views expressed here are my own, not those of my employer]
The University of Chicago recently announced a major change to its College Diploma Ceremony, where every graduating student in the College gets their diploma. Instead of holding one big ceremony on the main quad, diplomas will now be handed out in eight smaller ceremonies in the university dorms, where students will receive their diploma from the Resident Master of the dorm they were assigned to as first-year students. The argument, it seems, is that this will promote a stronger “house culture” (UChicago follows a house system similar to the one found in many English universities, including fictional ones, where first-year undergraduates are placed into specific houses, with each dorm usually having several houses).
This is a terrible change and one that has, understandably, sparked considerable outrage amongst students, as well as a change.org petition with (so far) more than 1,000 signatures (for reference, the College has about 5,600 students). While the College Diploma Ceremony definitely stands to be improved (I have always referred to it as “The Reading of a Thousand Names”), dividing the ceremony by dorms is a clueless and ham-fisted solution.
While some universities do follow the model of breaking up their diploma ceremony by residence hall or dorm, UChicago is not ripe for such a model: most students leave the dorms after their first or second year, and do not feel a strong connection with their dorms (and it doesn’t help when UChicago shuts down the smaller, quirkier dorms that did have tight-knit communities). To be clear, there are a lot of students who do feel a strong connection to their dorms, and they are amongst the most enthusiastic and awesome UChicago students I know, but not all UChicago students fall into that category.
It would make a lot more sense to divide the ceremony by division (a division at UChicago encompasses multiple departments; e.g., the Physical Sciences encompass Physics, Chemistry, Math, Computer Science, etc.). In fact, given that handing out diplomas to the entire graduating class in a single ceremony will soon become unsustainable, the ceremony will have to be downsized eventually, and I would be totally fine with dividing it up by division. I already love attending the ceremony and mingling with all the happy students after the ceremony, and would gladly attend a Physical Sciences ceremony. Now, I’m forced to choose a dorm where only some of my students will be present (and it is not clear whether faculty members will be involved in these dorm ceremonies).
All that said, what I actually found most amusing about the announcement (sent by notorious letter-writer Dean Ellison) is how oddly cheerful it was. It started with this:
The College is pleased to share with you exciting changes to the College Convocation taking place this spring.
The rest of the message presented the changes to the ceremony as a fait accompli, and put an almost Orwellian positive spin on them. The changes to the ceremony are presented like manna from heaven to our students when, in fact, no students were consulted on this change (not just that, most of us, including the faculty, didn’t know this was coming, and we found out about it at the same time as the students).
Take a moment to think about that: the university made a gigantic change to the College Diploma Ceremony, one of the most important days for any student (in any university, not just ours), and did not even think to consult its students. The hubris and opaqueness of our administration is truly mind-boggling. Building a greater sense of community in our dorms is a lofty goal, and one I actually agree with, but doing it in a top-down manner without student involvement is wrong.
So, in that vein, I guess we have the following announcements to look forward to:
Dear students, we are excited to announce a change that will greatly enhance one of our favorite campus traditions: Dollar Shake Day! Instead of serving shakes at the C-Shop, the shakes will now be served in the dorms, where you will be able to enjoy them in the company of your Resident Master and all the other students in that dorm! Unfortunately, students who are not in the housing system will no longer be able to enjoy Dollar Shake Day. Also, the shakes will now cost $10 and will only be available in vanilla (artificially flavored)
Dear students, we are thrilled to announce a series of changes to the yearly University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. As you know, “Scav” takes place in the middle of Spring quarter, which can be disruptive to classes and other activities on campus. Starting this year, “Scav” will take place during the Winter Break and, more specifically, during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. While we realize that most students are not on campus during that time, the students that do remain on campus will be able to continue to build ties with their houses over the break by participating in this event. Go Maroons!
Dear students, we are writing to let you know about an exciting change to our university that will reinforce and strengthen our house culture. Effective immediately, all students who are not in the housing system will be expelled from the university. While we realize this is inconvenient to those of you who moved out of the dorms, we hope you will understand that this is being done for the greater good of the university, and we wish you all the best wherever you decide to continue your studies. If you have any questions, please refer to our Compulsory Expulsion FAQ.
Dear students, I am writing to make you aware that our beloved administration has just published House Culture Edict #31, perhaps their best edict so far. This edict will bring greater strength and glory to a house system that is already the envy of all universities around the world. Effective next quarter, students will only leave their dorms to attend their classes. Students will be accompanied to class by a chaperone, and accompanied back to their dorms as soon as classes end. I have to admit I am a little jealous: I wish I could be a student again, so I could spend so much time in my dorm!
I would also like to take the opportunity to remind you that, as mandated in House Culture Edict #14, all discussion of House Culture Edicts on social media or in unsanctioned discussion groups is not allowed. Your compliance is appreciated.
Dear students, after a lengthy legal process, we are overjoyed to announce that the University of Chicago will be officially renamed as Chicago House. All mentions of our beloved institution’s old name will result in immediate expulsion without the possibility of appeal.
Unity Through Housing.
Strength Through Obedience.
Compliance Guarantees Graduation.