Northwestern has an image problem–we’re the insecure teen who feels outshined by his more popular, better-looking peers (Princeton is such a babe). As such, we tend to freak out at every possible scandal in fear that it might make us look bad. Remember last year, just chock-full of controversy for us to chew on? Well it’s only fall quarter and the possibility of controversy has already cropped up in For Members Only’s decision to bring Jeremiah Wright to speak in November. And since Northwestern has gotten into the habit of over-scrutinizing every possible misstep, I’m here to remind you that these things may not be as big a deal as we think.
First, let’s recap the pretty-scandalous past academic year. Northwestern set up a committee to deal with an anonymous quote used by Dean Lavine and the story is now known as Northwestern’s “Quotegate.” The thing exploded: students signed petitions against Dean Lavine, Facebook groups were made, investigation after investigation took place, and the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times both featured editorials.
Then, the school rescinded its offer of an honorary degree to Reverend Jeremiah Wright following some rather inflammatory remarks that were only important because the man was Barack Obama’s minister. North by Northwestern received a letter to the editor from the coordinator of For Members Only, which received several conflicting comments and another from the President of the NU Black Alumni Association expressing anger at the decision.
To finish off the year, the seniors pitched a fit when Mayor Daley was chosen as their commencement speaker. They complained that Daley was not famous enough to be their speaker when the list of previous speakers includes Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Obama and John McCain. The Daily Northwestern’s website received over 300 comments to an article about Northwestern’s choice of speaker, complaining that Daley wasn’t up to their standards.
Through it all, there’s one thing to remember: no single event can change Northwestern’s reputation. Out of the five students I interviewed, only one student had even heard of the controversy surrounding Dean Lavine last year, and she was a Medill student. No Medill graduates I met before coming here could tell me anything about the controversy. And nothing lasting came out of it — The dean didn’t resign and Medill’s curriculum is still insane.
On the same note, while Reverend Wright’s inflammatory comments may have made national news coverage, they made it with very little connection to our school. Because, what matters more: Northwestern University and our offer of an honorary degree to a firebrand or the first black presidential candidate ever and how the comments reflect on him as a potential leader of our country? Obama wins by a landslide.
And when you are forty, you may remember the name of your commencement speaker, but you definitely won’t remember anything he said. Daley will be one speaker in a long line of other famous speakers who no one remembers anymore. Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt spoke at graduation? Besides, Northwestern’s only responsibility is to give us a good education. If we’re lucky will we also get an interesting commencement speaker as a fringe benefit. And perhaps we should learn a lesson from Harvard’s distaste for J.K. Rowling as a commencement speaker last year: complaining about such things reflects more poorly on us than having the worst of speakers.
Maybe Northwestern is not as famous as Stanford in today’s media, but many have said Northwestern is just as prestigious and academically competitive as an Ivy. Northwestern ranked 12th on the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings 2009 ahead of Cornell and Brown. Northwestern also ranked 11th on the Forbes College Rankings ahead of Brown, Cornell, UPenn, Dartmouth and Stanford. Regardless, Northwestern received a record number of applications this year, and the increase reflects the wonderful image most applicants see regardless of our controversies. And 32 percent of the entering class at Kellogg are international students. That should attest to the fact that Northwestern has a great international reputation.
It seems that despite our pretensions relating to being sophisticated college types, we still act like a bunch of gossipy thirteen-year-old girls. The truth of the matter is no one cares about college students as much as we would like to think, certainly not enough to damage this institution’s long-built reputation. So the next time a juicy controversy of little to no real lasting importance to the grand scheme of things pops up, do yourself a favor: get over it.