Or so it appears in the viewbooks. The truth is, behind that facade lurks another world, of nasty dorms and techno-geeks, of vicious social cliques and classes that put you to sleep or fry your brain. It's a world that drives sane women to sororities and strong men to drink, from the heights of Beachwood Place to the depths of the Flats.
It's a punishing, depraved, angst-filled life.
And it's the most fun you'll ever have.
Case Western Reserve University
Tuition (including room and board): $24,824
Undergraduate student body: 3,900
Team Nickname: Spartans
Sobriquet: Case Women 'R Ugly
It is not true that everyone at CWRU is an aspiring engineer or doctor. Nor is the school populated exclusively by overachievers who scored 1600 on their SATs. And it is absolutely not true that every Case student is a dorm-bound computer nerd with no life beyond the reach of an Ethernet card and optic cables.
It just seems that way.
The question about student life at CWRU isn't whether you're going to spend most of it online. You are. The school was twice voted the most wired campus in America, and those computer hookups in every room aren't just for show. The basic equipment recommendation for incoming freshmen reads like Bill Gates's Christmas shopping list: Intel Pentium III 450 MHz processor, 8 gig hard drive, 128 megs RAM, 17-inch monitor, DVD drive, video and sound cards, and all the latest Microsoft officeware.
If the Case crowd seems overly stiff, it's only because drinking and drugging might burn up precious brain cells. Which doesn't mean you can't have fun on campus. One of the social highlights every year is the Math Gala, the marathon review session for stressed-out freshman math students. Then there's that charming coffeehouse on Juniper Drive, appropriately renamed "Arageeka." And did we mention the excitement of checking out sites like www.virtualsex.com?
Give the CWRU administration credit for recognizing that their students are ill-equipped to party, and for taking appropriate measures. After a tragic fatality on campus earlier this year was attributed to alcohol, strict new rules were put in place for fraternity parties. Now everyone has to hire security guards and submit guest lists to a faculty adviser ahead of time, with three-quarters of the people on the list over 21. Expect a lot of food and nonalcoholic beverages, and bring your ID you'll be carded at the door.
In keeping with the sedentary nature of computer screens, physical activity at Case tends to be minimal. Most students' idea of exercise is getting up from a game of "Starcraft" to run downstairs for a pack of Reese's Sticks and a Pepsi. The kids streaking through the Quad during pledge week, wearing nothing but running shoes and a stocking cap, tend to move a little faster. But for an all-out, adrenaline-pumping rush, nothing beats that magic stroke of midnight before finals every semester, when windows across campus are flung open and students scream maniacally into the night.
Once you've gotten the electronics hooked up and have abandoned any hope of a life beyond studying, survival at Case is a snap. Avoid the lagoon at night. Skip the cereal when the milk dispenser gauge drops into the danger zone. Don't give money to the guy begging at the corner of Euclid and Ford his car isn't really broken down. And be very nice to Susan D'Arcy in the Office of Undergraduate Studies. Whether you know it or not, she controls your future.
John Carroll University
Tuition (including room and board): $21,424
Undergraduate student body: 4,500
Team Nickname: Blue Streaks
Sobriquet: J. Crew U.
The self-deluded "Harvard of the Midwest" has toned down its billing to "The Jesuit University in Cleveland," but it never changed in character. The majority of that student body are still upper-middle-class yups, coasting through school on mommy and daddy's money. Sure, there's a clutch of hard-working commuters usually passed out in class after humping the late shift and the city kids who are too sharp for JCU but too poor to go to a better school. For the most part, though, it's business major central, a haven for corporate scions rich enough to have their own SUVs, but not smart enough to leave them in the parking lot when they go drinking.
Miami University likes to claim the title of "J. Crew U.," but John Carroll had it nailed even before Beachwood Place became the unofficial campus clothier. Eddie Bauer and Abercrombie & Fitch are also acceptable, particularly with the brand name splayed across your chest. And don't even think about wearing a white T-shirt that costs less than $55.
The prep fashion reinforces the social snobbishness and cliques, which are tough to crack. No khakis, no friends. If the gossip and inbreeding are disturbingly reminiscent of high school, congratulations you've learned an important lesson about JCU. And if you're not fitting in, don't fight it. Instead, find some other misfits who will look at you as a person before they check out your clothes and your friends.
One thing that's never been debatable about John Carroll is its sterling academics, a product of Jesuit teaching and the theory that more homework equals better students. You'll whine about taking nine hours of philosophy, but thank the good fathers one day for the intellectual training. At least the academic rigors help explain the pathetic party scene at JCU, where sneaking beers in a dorm room crammed with a dozen of your buddies is considered a good time. Unless you're doing the bar run on Lee Road, the only alternative is one of those awful campus parties with a cover charge and meathead jocks, and a keg that's already kicked.
Still, you've got to love the free e-mail and the two-page treatise in the student handbook on marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and extracurriculars like glue-sniffing. It seems a bit much until you realize that the biggest story on campus last year was the ban on premarital sex in dorm rooms. Was that really in response to roommate complaints? Or were the young fornicators just too slow getting out of the sack during the after-hours fire drills?
Morality aside, no one can complain that John Carroll doesn't prepare its charges for the real world. The sons and daughters of faculty get free tuition and other special treatment. The only thing you can rely on the campus cops to do is tow your car if you don't have a parking pass. And diversity is a concept you're most likely to encounter in the foodservice line.
Kent State University
Tuition (including room and board): $9,654
Undergraduate student body: 16,300
Team Nickname: Golden Flashes
Sobriquet: Kent Read, Kent Write, Kent State
May 4th. May 4th. May 4th. May 4th.
Sick of hearing it yet? Not nearly as sick as the new generation at Kent, where the past is prologue to losing more parking spaces for yet another memorial to Allison Krause and Co. It's not that Kent students begrudge the constant reminders or fail to understand the significance of the 1970 shootings. It's just that the carnage looks different from this time and distance like the National Guard were kids, too, and maybe the protesters got what they deserved for running wild in a war zone.
Which is not to say that Kent has abandoned its activist heritage. In fact, it's hard to walk across campus without bumping into a disgruntled group of gays, lesbians, socialists, various ethnic minorities, or seven white kids convinced that The Man is bringing them down. The fever runs particularly high on the first day of classes, which is like a cross between a Lenny Kravitz concert and the running of the bulls. Herded in lines from one class to the next, you're bombarded by Gideons pushing their Bibles, Preacher Chuck wannabes, and more student groups than you ever imagined exist. One wrong step and you're either on the floor or in the middle of the latest Mumia Abu-Jamal protest.
If Drew Carey dropped out of Kent, imagine what the graduates can do. The school is justifiably proud of its architecture, fashion, and journalism programs, and if you don't believe it, check out the student magazine, The Burr, or the Junior Intimates line designed by Kent students for Sears. Though the school recently raised its admission standards, the truth is that you can do as well as you want academically at Kent, depending on how much you study or give in to the many distractions.
And what distractions! If you don't drink when you come to Kent, you will by the time you leave. The town harbors one of the great college drinking strips in America (rivaled only by Ohio University), where even a semidecent fake ID will get you spinning the shot wheel or hurling in some stranger's car. And don't be daunted by the fat lady guarding the door at Panini's. Every weekend, there's at least one good frat party just follow the beer scent and throb of overplayed dance music. Or wait long enough, and the party will come to you. Halloween and St. Patrick's Day are huge.
For a group that constitutes about two percent of the student population, Greeks wield an inordinate amount of influence at Kent. Maybe it's the money they raise for the school. Maybe it's the way they've stacked student government and the sports teams. Call them sexist pigs if you must, but smile when you say it.
And by the way, it's not "Kent State." Everybody from here to Vietnam knows the name Kent State, for all the wrong reasons. It's Kent, plain and simple.
Kent. Kent. Kent. Kent. The activists will never get sick of it.
Tuition (including room and board): $20,000
Undergraduate studend body: 2,750
Team Nickname: Yellow Jackets
Sobriquet: Too dull to have one.
Are we in college yet? It's hard to tell when you're still going to freshman mixers and free pizza nights, and constantly being encouraged to get involved just like in high school. Join some clubs, make friends, study hard and with the right test scores and a little luck one day you'll get into a good school.
Baldwin-Wallace is in the southwest suburbs, but it might as well be in Kansas. It's white-bread city, upstanding and clean-cut with a distinct religious backbite. And boring as a cheese sandwich. When the hottest thing going on campus is a concert by that swinging religious choir Voices of Praise, it's time to head for the Flats.
Or maybe everyone is just studying too hard to have fun. You don't so much learn an instrument as marry it if you're in the Conservatory, which is why it has a first-rate national reputation. Coursework in general is more demanding than liberal arts slackers have a right to expect, but B-W students suck it up. The only thing longer than the dean's list is the waiting list to get into the dorms.
One reason the dorms are so crowded is because that's where the Greeks live. What's the point of joining a fraternity or sorority if you don't get to live in a house? It doesn't seem to matter here, especially during Spring Reign, the annual Greek athletic competition if you consider tugs-of-war and such athletic. Brothers and sisters are out of their beds at 5:30 a.m. to practice, dragging into morning classes dirty and tired. And the rest of the school turns out big-time for the events.
Even B-W students have a difficult time explaining the odd sensibilities on campus. When The Exponent, the school newspaper, ran a story last year about a student who died in a car crash, a lot of people got really upset, especially over the picture of the smashed car. Reality was apparently too much to bear. On the other hand, the voyeur who allegedly stalked the school last year was a lot less tangible. But the campus cops were roasted for not producing a warm, guilty body.
And if anyone doubts that freedom demands constant vigilance, look no further than the purge at The Exponent. It wasn't faculty, but a group of students under the guise of the Student Publications Board that walked into the paper one day and fired the entire staff, with no more justification than some nebulous complaints about "the direction of the paper." Never mind the personality clash between the editor and president of the student body, which would have made for interesting reading. But kudos to News Editor Amy Pennock, who skipped last year's graduation ceremony in protest.
Okay, so you won't see anyone making out in public at B-W or smell pot in the dorms. On weekends, the campus will be about as exciting as an economics final. Tattoos and piercings will seem like something from another planet.
You'll get used to it.
Cleveland State University
Undergraduate student body: 17,000
Team Nickname: Vikings
Sobriquet: Can't Stand Up
On paper, Cleveland State looks great. A downtown campus, an enrollment that gives new meaning to the word "multicultural," a wealth of classes and majors, and co-op programs that practically guarantee you a job . . . and somehow it never jells into anything more than a concrete jumble along the barren canyons of Euclid and Chester Avenues.
Being a commuter school will do that. When your best dorm is the YMCA, it's tough to attract resident students. Of course, you don't expect people with kids and jobs to be living on campus either. They should be home with their families instead of banging beers at Becky's or rolling another blunt in Viking Hall.
To their credit, the college-aged crowd works overtime to make up for the imbalance. Hard-core Cleveland State students are legendary drinkers who fear last call more than finals. They're the ones shaking in class with the DTs before noon. When the school decided it was losing too many students to the Flats, it opened a Panini's, thereby bringing the Flats to CSU.
Aside from a short flirtation with basketball glory a few years ago, Cleveland State is probably best known for the bizarre incidents that happen with disquieting regularity, some so odd that they border on urban legends. Last year, for example, The Cauldron, the student newspaper, ran an article listing the top ten reasons America does not owe blacks an apology for slavery. The city went crazy. TV stations sent camera crews down to interview black students and faculty, who denounced the piece as a racist sacrilege and called for the heads of the writer and editor.
What no one had noticed is that the writer and editor were black, and had run the piece as satire.
Or how about the woman with the seeing-eye dog who got all that attention when school officials told her she couldn't bring her dog to class? It was an affront to the rights of the handicapped but evidently not the three students who got bitten by the dog.
And what's with the rash of robberies in the men's locker room? Forget about places on campus where there might be money let's steal a bunch of smelly tennis shoes and jockstraps. Or the car stolen by some dimwit who dropped his wallet as he screeched out of the underground parking lot. As it happened, the owner of the car saw the whole snaky business and turned the wallet over to police.
Give Cleveland State credit for its world-class swimming pool and arguably the best radio station in town. And really, what more can you ask from an accredited university that's affordable and admits anyone who wants to go there? Perhaps only this:
Earlier this year, the CSU student government elections drew an all-time low voter turnout. But when campus officials decided not to serve beer at the spring festival, there was nearly a riot. Say what you will you've got to admire a place that has its priorities straight.
Tuition (including room and board): $30,442
Undergraduate studend body: 2,900
Team Nickname: The Yeomen
Sobriquet: Think one person can change the world? Neither do we.
Whining is one of the great traditions at Oberlin, which prides itself on being an ultraliberal oasis in the vast desert of the rural Midwest. Every conceivable political and social and minority activist group has a cause, the more esoteric the better. And everyone feels obliged to listen. Even the apolitical complain: about the surly service at the Feve. About the people who tell you capitalism is evil while selling you their paper. About being trapped in a small town.
But nobody leaves.
Maybe it's the freewheeling academics, with so many off-the-wall opportunities to amuse yourself. Where else could you pick a topic like organized mayhem or Tom Waits, build a syllabus around it, then teach your own experimental course for credit, no less!? Or indulge in the luxury of Winter Term, the January hiatus that lets you pick a research topic or community service project or a craft, for Chrissake and spin it into course credit? Granted, you've got to get faculty approval. But if you know the right professor, anything this side of "Prostitution in Paris" will make the cut.
Maybe it's the absurdist twist on sports not out of character at a small lefty school, but not what you'd expect from the coaching alma mater of John Heisman, either. The football team holds the record for the second-longest losing streak in all of Division III football (bowing only to Swarthmore) 40 losses, sometimes by scores like 74-0. There was a time when the team was good, until the players were all thrown off the squad one year for joining a fraternity, a practice still verboten. Now sports fans get their kicks watching women's rugby and ice hockey, which nearly led to a riot the time Oberlin skaters took the ice against a local high school team.
There's a distinct odor about Oberlin, a mix of body funk and cheap pot and vegan cooking, that wafts from the co-ops like practice scales out of the Conservatory. And if the rumors about white-line fever among the music crowd (Gotta stay up and practice!) are true, so much the better. The town was dry until last year, and while the Inn and the 'Sco and the Feve are doing their best to pick up the slack, Obies traditionally had to make their own good time. And lightsabers and the Amherst Denny's will only get you so far.
For such a free-thinking place, Oberlin can seem awfully sexually repressed until Safer Sex Night and the Drag Ball, the premier social events of the year. Those may or may not live up to their billing of a guaranteed lay. But the sheer explosion of music, porn films, and risqué clothing (or lack thereof) is an incredible release, like some wild combination of Halloween and pagan fertility rites. All that and free condoms too!
With seven publications (at last count) and Brother Jed on campus, no issue goes unexamined, no edict unchallenged. Last semester, the hiring of an unpopular dean of students even prompted an attempted takeover of the administration building. One question lingers, though: What's with all the pyramid shapes on campus roofs?
Campus Correspondents: B-W, John Gonzalez; CWRU, Betsy Davis and Arun Subramanian; CSU, Sean Carlin and Michael Oatman; JCU, Lisa Foster and Nick Kovach; KSU, Mike Pfahl; Oberlin, Lauren Goodman and Dan Herman. Coordinated by Angie Piscitelli