Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Alumni Survey

I just completed an alumni survey from The University of Chicago. Of course these are really just fundraising devices but I decided to tell them what I thought since they had asked. After the expected sequence of radio button Yes-No choices such as “Are you working in the field you studied?” and “Is your support important to the University?”, answers No since I am not working at all and Yes which is hard luck for them they ended with this;

6. Please let us know if you have any suggestions about how we can serve you better.

So I told them as follows:

The University has seriously damaged its image over the last few years by allowing its name to be used for political purposes. The engagement of members of the faculty in the greater world can be a good thing. Their rights to speak and advocate are not in question. The University as an institution should have been more careful. There is reason to believe, certainly reason for the public to feel, that the Trustees, especially Ms Pritzker, used their position to advance a political agenda. This is especially true when it comes to Barack and Michelle Obama and their unusual positions at the University.

This does not mean that the school is expected to operate in a bubble, to become an Ivory Tower. There is a long tradition of the school engaging in the life of the surrounding communities. The Levy brothers were the most practical of men. The never endorsed a politician in their official capacity. The use of the school's name to advocate for dubious and untested theories, such as Global Warming, is also a departure from the standards of the past. Again this is not a criticism of the role of the school in encouraging individual research, only of prejudging the results and advocating political consequences using the school's institutional authority.

The value of the diploma and of the alumni relationship to the graduates is proportional to the perceived objectivity of it as an institution. Once that respectability is lost it is very hard to retrieve. You can serve me and other alumni better by stressing to the senior officers of the University that they must restore the aura of independence from the corrupt politics of Chicago that the University once had.

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