As graduation approaches, I've become a bit nostalgic about my time here at the University of Wisconsin. As a result, I wrote a column yesterday about my thoughts on higher education, today I will discuss UW's role in undergraduate success, and tomorrow I'll talk about getting involved in student organizations.
There's something about the University of Wisconsin that enraptures hearts and enthralls minds. It might be in the water — and actually I think Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is looking into that — or it might be in the history, the merits and the powerful ideals behind this place.
Look no further than Bascom Hill, Observatory Drive or even State Street — it doesn't take long to realize this school has something special. We're a community steeped in the tradition of a pioneering spirit, dedicated to pushing conventions and making real change.
And we have a good time doing it, to boot.
But not everybody is happy with the way UW provides for its undergraduate student body. For one reason or another, some think the administration isn't doing enough to keep our 28,000 peers on the right track.
At a question-and-answer session with students during the dean of students search earlier this semester, now-Dean Lori Berquam asked members of the crowd to rate their experiences here at UW-Madison on a letter-grade scale.
Some replied with D's and C's, and a general air of negativity about the university began brewing — it seemed UW wasn't going to get through the discussion with more than a 2.0 average. Most respondents cited the Offices of the Dean of Students' lack of adequate student support services as a reason for the dismal report card, but I have a feeling a major Big Ten research university just might not have been the right fit for them.
Perhaps that group at the question-and-answer session was looking for a private tutor, not a lecturer, to provide their education — maybe they wanted a taxi to commencement instead of a public transmit map and a stack of change.
The undergraduate experience here at the University of Wisconsin isn't about being handed an education; it's about tearing one away from this campus by brute force. While many see colossal lecture halls as an indication of an impersonal and even hostile learning environment, our cavernous halls are the mark of an institution that gives students the sort of freedom they need to find whatever it is they're looking for.
And while what UW provides for students might not be a well-funded support services office — even though UW does actually provide such an office — the university creates an environment in which students can make their own way.
UW officials are quick to mention that the University of Wisconsin is tied with Harvard for having educated the most CEOs in the S&P 500 and quick to add that UW also led the country in producing the most Peace Corps volunteers for 20 years.
It's clear that the University of Wisconsin breeds leaders.
Leaders are people who can get where they're going when they're given a map, not people who need to be delivered to their destination by yellow chariot.
And I believe the University of Wisconsin is successful at creating them because our community, and everything within it, is a microcosm — a more or less liberal one — of our society as a whole. Life out in the real world, as this delusional college senior would believe it, is vast and nebulous: There's no clear path, there's virtually no support net, and just as at UW, you need to rely on your ironclad will to get through it all.
With a campus 42,000 students large, the administration can't be expected to personally nurture each and every student — when it comes down to it, peers should provide the most guidance at a level students can understand. And with a history of esteemed staff and alumni leading the country and the world in the corporate and academic success, students have everyone at UW to look up to.
In the end, the administration should promote and nurture an environment in which students and student groups can prosper. And by that measure, UW is right on target.
Look for the final installment of this series tomorrow. Until then, Taylor Hughes ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in information systems. Please don't fail him.