Perhaps you've heard of the schools that are called the "public Ivys"--some of us refer to Ohio University as Harvard on the Hocking.What's that, you say? He's referring to the Hocking River, which meanders its way around the southern part of the OU campus. Oh--that--yes, he's also referring to Harvard University, a quaint little school in Massachussetts. I was still a graduate student at Duke University, and this incident reminded me of something that some of the undergraduates there--presumably the ones who couldn't get into Princeton--used to say about Duke: it's the Princeton of the South. Right.
At the time I assumed my tour guide was just joking around. Philosophers are rarely, if ever, very serious, and on those few occasions when they actually are being serious they certainly have no right to suppose that anybody else is going to take them seriously. But when I came to OU that fall I found that there are certain people here, mostly administrators, who take the bon mot about Harvard on the Hocking more than half seriously.
At least, when it suits them. During this past academic year, with a new president recently installed, the administration decided to jilt our long-time "peer institution", Miami of Ohio, in favor of the sexier University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (the University of Michigan of the South). Nobody in their right mind thinks that there's much chance of OU becoming even remotely like UNC any time soon, at least not with the current president and Board of Trustees in place; but then, you have to be out of your mind to take these things seriously anyway.
An even more outrageous example of administrative wackiness occurred last year, when the Board of Trustees mandated a $500,000 increase in the athletics budget while mandating cuts in academic budgets across the board. The reason? Our football team stinks. It is one of the worst teams in one of the worst conferences. So lets throw a ton of money at it. (Great thinking, that--maybe if I want to grow the budget for the philosophy department, I should start handing out more Fs.) The "thinking" seems to be that a big and successful athletic program goes hand in hand with a big and successful academic program.
Yep, that's how they look at it at Harvard on the Charles, all right! You won't find a better football team anywhere.
Anyway, what about this selectiveness thing? Are the students here as good as the students at Harvard? Or UNC? Or Miami?
Well, not all of them. I recently had this exchange with a student in a class in which we were reading Plato's Gorgias, a dialogue about, among other things, the differences between living a life characterized by self-control and foresight as opposed to a life characterized by self-indulgent hedonism (I wonder which life they prefer at that Other Harvard?):
Magister: What can we say about the soundness of Socrates' argument that a wrongdoer is bound to be unhappy?
Discipulus: I think it's dumb.There's that Harvard Attitude again.M: You think it's a dumb argument? What about it strikes you as dumb?
D: I think the whole thing is dumb.
M: The whole argument?
D: This whole thing [flips book on desk].
M: You think the whole dialogue is dumb?
D: I guess so.
M: How do you think it fails?Well, you get the idea. Or, you would get the idea if there were any ideas there to be got. Fortunately, having just hired Frank Solitch (another great administrative idea--lets you know where our priorities are), we can be assured that our numer-1 ranked football team will pull Ohio University into the Ivy League in no time, and those intellectually curious students will be banging down our doors.
D: I dunno. I just think it's dumb. I guess. Never mind.