Time for a careful evaluation.

December 31, 2010 Comments Off on Time for a careful evaluation.

On December 18, I completed my undergrad by emailing in my last paper. I am officially done, after 86 classes and 227 credits. But the other day Simon brought up an important question to which I did not know the answer: am I glad I went to Madison?

I certainly didn’t hate it, at least not usually, because I do love the city. It’s pretty and has great restaurants and things to do, and my apartment is pretty awesome and I can make Simon borrow books from the library for me still. I am happy about that.

I had some amazing professors who taught some awesome classes. There was Ritt Deitz, the awesome horn-blowing French professor; Karen Britland, the snarky British Shakespeare professor; Sherry Reames, the tiny fireball British Lit professor; Thyra Knapp, who was sweet and friendly and made German Conversation un-terrifying; Susan Craft, who saved my life in the music school and then recommended Wendy to me; Brian Hyers, who was unapologetic about being dorky and touchy-feely about music (you wouldn’t think that would be that uncommon); Marie-Christine Ricci, who basically taught me French in Paris; Nicolas Baudouin of “tak-tak-tak! chuk-chuk-chuk! fuck-you-fuck-you-fuck-you” fame; Shanan Peters, who blew my mind in one of my first geology courses even if he did let me down this last semester; and Anja Wanner, the dry but hilarious syntax professor.

Then again, I had terrible professors who taught terrible classes. The infamous and complacent Beverly Gordon who taught Comparative World Dress; racist and incompetent Richard Young, who taught English in Society; Clay Kelly, who joked in the middle of one of his stultifying lectures that Mickey Mouse was sexually mature; Jeffrey Steele, who talked us through every instance of racism in a Melville short story without even touching on the masterful writing; and then, of course, classes that I hated but not because of the professor, like Intro to American Politics.

And I really hated the administration. Of course, there was all that drama with the School of Music, which is related but not really the main issue. SOAR was truly awful, with too few and too incompetent advisors who pointed you in the direction of “fun classes,” without giving even the most obvious advice such as: “Try to get your ethnic studies out of the way as soon as you can” or “At some point you will need x credits of social science—here are some good social science classes.” The administration is cumbersome and unhelpful, slow to respond, which might be the result of the sheer size. The Degree Audit Report System is ancient and hard to read because it was designed to be printed on dot-matrix printers with perforated edges, and for some reason it is not as good as an advisor, even though I bet I could write a program that would be 99% accurate if you gave me a book and a month. The Student Center on the website is slow to load and difficult to navigate, loves to make you select a term every time you switch pages, and preferentially directs you towards stuff that doesn’t matter, at least not as much as things like grades. Automated emails and links direct you to the wrong websites. In short, almost nothing about my dealings with the administration has been satisfactory.

So am I glad I went to Madison? Not really, I guess. Classes are always kind of hit-or-miss, and the chances of getting a good professor are probably better at a huge university, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with the ratio of good to bad. The music school led me to waste a couple years of my college career. It was good that the size of the university meant I had a lot of options, and the geology department is well-respected, but not many things blew me away. Is it unrealistic to be dissatisfied with a school because it didn’t blow you away? I kind of think it isn’t. It’s as if you’re teaching a class of low-IQ losers and one of them, one time, turns in a B- paper. It’s still a B-, even if it is head and shoulders above the rest of the class. Just because it looks good by comparison doesn’t mean you should give it an A. And that’s what I think of Madison. I’m not sure there’s a specific place I would rather have gone, but I’m not sure I can, in good conscience, tell people that I’m glad I went here.


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