O U R R E A D E R S W R I T E
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Own your education
As a very satisfied alumnus, I greatly disagree with "Not-So-Great Expectations" [June, p. 26]. Hopkins promotes itself as an institution that allows students to grow without handholding. Indeed, it was this doctrine that enticed me to apply in the first place. And for the record, if I had had a crystal ball and could have foreseen my Hopkins education while still a senior in high school, I would not have even applied to other schools. Those students who exist in a vacuum at Homewood for four years and complain about faculty aloofness and lack of social activities contribute to the endemic atmosphere of a dearth of non-academic activities. I agree that the school can always do more, and the administration should continue to push for better student life programs.
I take issue, however, with the claim of faculty
non-involvement. In my seven semesters at Hopkins, I had
the opportunity to build lasting relationships with many
faculty who became mentors. While I agree that these
opportunities were not spoon-fed to me and necessitated
that I be somewhat proactive, they were nonetheless there.
The faculty should not be chided by undergraduates who
choose not to avail themselves of opportunities. I am (and
forever will be) grateful to my teachers and mentors who
helped me grow and learn. Thank you all.
Hopkins' persistent failure to upgrade the undergraduate experience is rooted in the mistaken belief that investment in undergraduate education will divert resources that could be used for research, the primary mission of the university. Whether or not that was true in the late 19th century, when Hopkins was founded, it has not been true for many years. Clearly, America's best research universities (e.g., Princeton, Stanford) are also its most popular undergraduate schools.
I look forward to Hopkins, with one of America's most
beautiful campuses and most distinguished faculties,
finally joining the ranks of the nation's leading
I matriculated at Johns Hopkins in the fall of 1960. I graduated from Johns Hopkins 4.5 years later and then went to law school at Tulane University in New Orleans. Your article "Not-So-Great Expectations" is correct in its concepts and sets out major problems that were occurring as far back as my period at Hopkins. I had looked forward to coming to Hopkins and felt only a cold shoulder and no cohesiveness during all my years there.
Please continue the work set out in your article, and
perhaps other students will have a better Hopkins
Ironically, we encouraged our son ('04) to enroll at Johns
Hopkins instead of several larger universities because we
thought that the school's size meant smaller classes and
more individual attention like our daughter received at
Kenyon College. Unfortunately, our family's experiences at
JHU have resembled those noted in your forthright article
Expectations." We, too, have been disappointed by the
indifferent advising, the large engineering classes, the
short academic year, and we, too, wonder who knows our son
well enough to write his references next year when he
graduates. We suspect our tuition payments have gone
primarily to fund faculty research. On the whole, the Johns
Hopkins undergrad experience has been an expensive
disappointment for our family.
Since graduating, I have persistently advised prospective students to the Johns Hopkins University undergraduate program that my experience there was "a waste of the best four years of my life." I am excited by the fact that the university has finally realized just how poor this undergraduate experience is. While I think this article covered a lot of the greatest deficiencies of the program, there is one truly glaring omission: grade deflation.
The article notes that Stanford and Duke both have excellent school spirit and a strong sense of community, proving the point that research universities can be "fun." However, this is lacking a critical context: According to a Washington Post article on 1/28/03, about half of all grades at Duke are in the A range. A 1995 article in Link Magazine reveals the same about Stanford University.
This contrasts greatly with my personal experience at Hopkins, where at one point, a recently hired professor in the math department announced to class that the grades in the class were too high and needed to be reduced to meet the norm of having a C+ curve.
With that level of grade inflation at these other research
schools in mind, a compelling argument can be made about
workload: Undergraduate students at Hopkins must work
harder to achieve lower grades compared to their peers at
Duke and Stanford. This cannot be good for morale, and
indeed it is not.
Surely you aren't going as far as many a top-tier university, offering the undergraduate experience as "Resort Complex U" (food courts, multimillion dollar spa and exercise facilities, full media/information access). Still, the silver platter on your cover may give pause. (Does anyone still wonder why college costs keep exploding?)
Two challenges to your commendable quest for the satisfying student experience may deserve consideration. First, a student's satisfaction with the personal experience of college must not become the mission of the university. Rigorous, challenging, and meaningful learning still comes first.
Second, university administrations should reverse the
fragmentation of higher education. The world is not
well-served by the reductionist view that learning in this
department, independent of learning in that department,
will produce the effective citizen and leader. And yet, if
anything, university faculties are becoming ever more
specialized. Administrators should ditch the reward system
that recognizes scholarly achievement in arcana above
achievement in innovation in classroom teaching. They
should change "faculty development" from the development of
the faculty members to the development of The Faculty in
collective endeavors to integrate knowledge and learning.
When and if this ever happens, the undergraduate experience
may become more satisfactory, in more ways than one!
I was disappointed in the "Ruminations" of Marian Smith ["An American in Chisinau," June, p. 12]. Granted, Smith was touched by the desolation of the Moldovan people, and her eyes opened to the harsh realities of the world outside of the U.S.
However, how can she be sure that the "virtues of private business," "free enterprise," and the "Western approach to agriculture, the economy, and politics" can or should be superimposed on an Eastern European culture? I cringed at her arrogance and condescending attitude when she wrote, "All I knew was that the word 'private' sounded like it came from a free country, so I knew it must be good." Ironically, what she explained as one of the most successful endeavors of her experience sounded suspiciously like socialism, where a number of farmers work together, sharing resources and benefits.
I think Smith, like many people, puts far too much faith in
what she assumes to be universal truths, and the analysis
of her mission remains simplistic and na•ve. It almost
seems like the purpose of her internship was to lead an
American propaganda campaign, which is regrettable when she
could have taken so much more away with her.
I enjoyed the article about the outstanding 1950 lacrosse
["Memories," June, p. 64]. Returning veterans on the
1947 team with pre-war experience at Hopkins were George
Blome '47, Tom Price '48, Ray Pohl '49, and myself. Brooke
Tunstall '48, Ray Greene '48, and Merle Debuskey '47 had
transferred from Union, Drexel, and Virginia, respectively,
after pre-war experience at those schools. A significant
feature of this team was two midfields of relative
equality, probably the first time a team had been so
fortunate. An aside, I also played on the 1941 team, which,
under captain John Tolson, defeated Mt. Washington and won
the National Open Lacrosse Championship, a feat never
achieved by the 1950 team.
I was chagrined to read the caption under the photo on p.12
of the June issue, which read, "In between her visits and
...." The use of consecutive prepositions has now spread to
our magazine. Our TV weathermen are fond of warning us that
"Rain is coming on in," or, "It's snowing out around
Washington County." Please don't contribute to the
deterioration of the language. We are still fighting the
misuses of "hopefully" and "thankfully" and are losing that
Regarding the picture on
pages 26 and 27
[June]: Where is the volleyball? Not the one on the ground
out of play, but the one that is supposedly in play. My
entire household and some friends can't find it.
Editor's note: The ball is that smudgy whoosh in front of the library, at the top of the third column from the right.
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