Monday, April 28, 2008

The Princeton of the Mountains, or, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of BYU-I Elitism

When I was younger, I remember Stanford being called the “Harvard of the West.” According to Wikipedia, that’s the name for the University of Michigan, but I think it applies more to Stanford. Stanford, since their inception, has been known for their academic quality and excellence, especially in relation to the Ivy League schools of the east.

With Kim Clark coming to BYU-Idaho, there has been much talk in the University about the quality of education that we are receiving, and the wonderful opportunity of having a former Harvard Business School dean as our school president.

Here’s for hoping I can start a new catch-phrase: As far as undergraduates go (especially those looking for business degrees), I submit that our university has become the Princeton of the Mountains. Nothing against Yale, or Cornell, or Harvard, or any of those other Ivy-Leaguers, but Princeton just has a nice ring to it.

But there’s one problem with making an assertion that we are the Princeton of the Mountains. In fact, asserting that we have a quality of education comparable to Princeton or the other Ivy-League schools brings out the good, the bad, and the ugly of elitism.

The Good

1.) Location – BYU-Idaho is located in Rexburg, which is at least 20 minutes away from civilization. Yes, we have a Wal-Mart, and a first-run movie theater, but we also have a lot lacking. Because of our location, it is difficult for the university to get noticed. Thus, with this elitism, people who would most likely not come to recruit are now coming.

2.) Quality of Education – I’ve stated many times before, but I would take a BYU-Idaho undergraduate degree in business rather than a BYU-Provo undergrad degree in business. I cannot say the same about other degrees, mostly because I have no experience in other areas. I am a minor in the communications department, but that’s almost as wide as the business department. Here’s some generalizations I can make:

a. Smaller class sizes – I would say the average class size is about 20 people

b. More emphasis on participation in class – I have been in more classes where participation was a part of your grade rather than lecture-based settings

c. 14-week semesters – I used to be able to skate along until midterms, then re-evalute to see where I stand and try to salvage my grades. This is not the case anymore. Midterms are 85% of what your final grade is. I haven’t seen that many people jump that much in grades. 14-weeks forces you to prepare every day and forces you to work

The Bad

1.) Students who don’t want to be Students – My father, to get himself through school, worked 40 hours a week and his last bit of school went on 3-4 hours of sleep per night, and still has lasting sleep effects from that situation. My mother, who was by no means a normal college student, took 21 credits ON A BLOCK, and went through her masters program with a 4.0 GPA, with 3 kids at home. Yet I see many people who don’t really work for their education (and mostly in a monetary sense). Mommy and daddy sent them here to straighten them out, or to get married, or…whatever. And don’t get me started on those people who work summer sales, and come back with $50,000, buy a new car, 42” flat screen, and blah blah blah. People need to act more like students around here.

2.) “We’re so much better than…” - This is something that I fall into some times talking about the business department, but it happens in a lot of areas here. If I had the opportunity to go to Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Browning, Cornell, even the University of Michigan over here, I would have a hard time deciding where to go. Just because we have a pretty conservative faculty who don’t really talk about politics and bring gospel-related themes into class doesn’t mean we are that much better than some of these spectacular universities

The Ugly

1.) The Lord’s University – There’s a joke around campus that “I’ve heard it said that BYU-Provo is the Church’s University where BYU-Idaho is the Lord’s University.” I don’t like this. I’ve never liked this. Yes, there is a dividing faction between us and Provo, but follow me on this: The temple is a place of learning – It (in my view) is considered a “higher” place, separated from the world, a deeper sense of learning – Learning can be called your “education.” Thus, the temple can be considered a place of “higher education,” where we are instructed from the Lord. Thus, is it too much of a stretch to consider the temple to be the “Lord’s University?” I know this may seem petty, but it adds to the presumptuous feeling that we are better not only from our Provo siblings, but from the rest of the academia realm

2.) All or nothing – because of this being a church-owned university, people forget sometimes that the administrators of the university (the dean, the VP’s etc) are paid, and their words aren’t gold. I respect President Clark. I think a lot of his insights are very valuable, and the time’s when he has come into our class, I’ve avidly taken notes. Yet people feel that his words are law. There really is no room for intelligent counter-discussion of things happening at the university. It really is an all or nothing attitude – “If you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere.” Seriously? That’s your answer? Let’s confront facts! If I am 90% satisfied with my education, my university experience, but 10% of my dissatisfaction comes through petty administrative things, let’s have an intelligent discussion instead of questioning my spirituality, church commitment, or banishing me to another university because of dissenting opinions.

I don’t know, am I off here? I really see this becoming a problem here at school, if it hasn't already become one .

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