The University of Chicago Magazine February 1996
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Are We Having Fun Yet?"


Academic warriors catch their coffee buzz in style.

Is student life moving beyond the corridors of Regenstein?

Two years ago, "300" happened. If you are long gone from the University of Chicago, that sentence will probably mystify you. If you are still part of the University, you will understand only too well.

The "300" designation was foisted upon the U of C by the wise-guy editors of a magazine called Inside Edge. Perhaps it is relevant that the editors were Harvard students; perhaps not. In any case, they surveyed 300 colleges around the country to see whose students say they have the most fun. "Fun" was defined as how much beer gets drunk and how many female students have blond hair and compelling physical attributes.

The U of C finished dead last.

Responses went in several directions. Many U of C students adopted the "300" badge with defiant amusement and pride. You can't get a Chicago degree by majoring in basketweaving or by ogling bodacious babes, they said: Our school is tough, driven, and a bit grim--and we wouldn't change it for the world. Still others wholeheartedly agreed with the Inside Edge prognosis that student life at the U of C was DOA.

Meanwhile, the administration saw a problem, and an opportunity. If students don't or won't come to Hyde Park because they can have a better time elsewhere, wouldn't the very raison d'être of the University of Chicago be threatened? And if so, shouldn't fun perhaps be force-fed into campus life, whether students were clamoring for it or not? Administrators' rather academic response to these questions was to ask still more questions: An empirical study was thus commissioned to find out exactly how many students were moping, and why.

The funlessness study has been under way for more than 18 months. Allegedly, a conclusive report will be issued this spring. However, one wag who knows Chicago well predicts that "no main report and 40 minority reports" will actually result.

"It is a wonder," he wrote,
"that the shades of Harper and Hutchins
do not strike the administration dead."

Another sage calls the study a "self-inflicted wound that will cause more harm to the University than the barrenness it studies." Even Richard Taub, the sociology professor who heads the study, doubts that fun can ever be fed into Chicago life, by force or any other way. Taub told the Maroon in October that "cultural gloom" pervades the campus. "I think that it's partly that our students really like being gloomy," he said.

Meanwhile, Susan Kidwell, a geology professor, was asked to head up a Quality of Student Experience task force. She admits to groaning under the scope of the project. At a recent meeting of the Alumni Association's Board of Governors, she likened the task to being asked to "conquer all of Asia and pick up a quart of milk on the way home."

And yet, there is very good news on the fun front. There is plenty of fun to be had at the University of Chicago. Much of it is personal, quiet, and what you make it, as it always has been. But fun is also findable and being found publicly--on campus, off campus, days, nights, indoors, outdoors. And it goes far beyond a streetcorner smooch.


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