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Fun Czar

Yes, yes, I've seen the story about the new Harvard "fun czar." I wouldn't say that Harvard is actually unfun in the way that a sharp, stabbing pain or Harvard Law School is unfun. Rather, it's more a case where other colleges seem to be really and truly fun experiences that people look back upon fondly years later while Harvard is kind of blah. A lot of cold weather and wishing HUDS would serve popcorn chicken more often. But of course that has less to do with lack of czars than with the fact that the student body consists of almost shockingly unfun people. Most of those folks, I think, would be unfun no matter where they went. Indeed, they're probably happier being surrounded by lots of lame people. But from my perspective it kind of sucked. I like my post-graduation life a lot more. My younger cousin and then my younger brother are both at America's premiere safety school right now, and though I'll talk trash as much (if not more) than the next guy, it's not at all an unreasonable decision.

At any rate, I'll be interested in reading Ross' book, though based on the publisher's description I couldn't agree less with his assessment. Who cares about "the trumping of intellectual rigor by political correctness and personal ambition?" Things seemed, you know, rigorous enough. Not as rigorous as they could have been, sure, and maybe some other colleges and universities have more rigor, but Harvard (and, I assume, just about every other major American university) involves a lot more intellectual rigor than any non-academic pursuit I've witnessed. It just doesn't seem like that big a deal. I mean, no what's Ross doing? Writing a blog just like me. Where's the intellectual rigor in that?

January 13, 2005 | Permalink


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» Going pro with the whining game from The Ethical Werewolf
what this old Perspective editor really wants to do is pick a fight with former Harvard Salient editor Ross Douthat for going pro with the campus conservative game of whining about how awful academia is. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 13, 2005 11:58:42 PM

» Cross fire from Geekable.com
Fun Czar Cross Fire Time! The Wayne Review thinks that Harvard should focus on teaching... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 14, 2005 1:01:18 PM

» Goddamned Snobs from Blistered Avalon
I have just learned that safetyschool.org redirects to Yale University. Back in the day, I applied to several Ivy League schools and was rejected by both of them. Someone over at Yale apparently has a sense of fun (which, coincidentally, is somethin... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 14, 2005 5:04:55 PM


Personally, I went to a school that took pride in not being fun. There's still this controversy over MLK day, not because of race, but because the school is almost emotionally incapable of granting time off. They had to threaten the national guard on the school once to get them to call a snow day.

Posted by: Michael Collins | Jan 13, 2005 7:48:23 PM

Hmm. Bad weather and no fun. I never had that problem when I was in school.

Posted by: Greg | Jan 13, 2005 7:53:17 PM

Fun Czar

I think that's a Cabinet level position in Australia.

And possibly Barry McCaffrey's nickname. OK, probably not that.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Jan 13, 2005 8:14:42 PM

As I'm sure Ezra Klein would tell you*, UCSC sure as hell didn't need a fun czar. I probably could have used an academic czar...especially on those warm spring days when I would accidentally head out in the opposite direction from class, and instead go trespassing in the meadows west of campus...but fun was something we had down cold.

*By all accounts, UCSC in recent years wasn't nearly as much fun as it was in my day--they even have fraternities now, ferchrissake--but I'm sure it's still a good school for fun.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jan 13, 2005 8:20:27 PM

You should have gone to America's premire school for classics concentrators, instead of American's premire safety school for classics concentrators. There, overachieving is all for the sake of personal fulfillment, not for the sake of showing off for your parents, peers, or your law school/med school/grad school application. Plus the Italian food is better in Providence.

You can always be thankful you didn't go to U-Chicago, which is so un-fun they started closing the libraries at 10pm to reduce the amount of time students spent studying.

And of course, Captain Evans' statements show that the fun exists at Harvard, it's just not properly distributed.

Nick Beaudrot, Brown '02

Posted by: niq | Jan 13, 2005 8:23:22 PM

U of Chicago's unofficial motto was (is) "Where fun comes to die". Runner up was "Hell does freeze over". Paring back the library's hours must have been tough, because that's where students would look up from their books periodically to steal glances at each other, then have sex in their heads.

Posted by: Gene Adam | Jan 13, 2005 8:54:47 PM

There are probably lots of answers to the problem of why Harvard isn't fun. I'd be interested in hearing what Matt's definition of an "unfun" person is. In my experience, the unfun weren't really the nerdy introverts whose idea of a fun weekend was a 48-hour Chem 30 p-set marathon. You didn't even see those people much--the problem was with the:

--people who tried too hard to be social and cared too much about what other people thought about them

--people who thought a fun party meant allowing 200 people into a common room, putting a keg at the end of the in-suite hall and turning up the Alice Deejay, seemingly unaware of the fact that there was no longer room to dance in their junior quint suite

--priggish, fake finals club dickheads and the girls who loved them

But there are also environmental factors at work: bars in the Square are expensive and Massachusetts bars card everybody. Public parties in Houses have curfews at 1 am (and were never that much fun to begin with). The administration is completely unwilling to build a functioning student center. So that plays at least a part. But I think it's also that Harvard is mostly populated by Type A personalities who would actually be fairly tolerable if there were only enough Type B people to balance them out. Unfortunately, probably 80% or more of the school ends up being these Type A people (since these people were more likely to be maniacally ambitious in high school). The result is a total social clusterfuck.

Posted by: B | Jan 13, 2005 9:09:36 PM

You should have gone to America's premire school for classics concentrators, instead of American's premire safety school for classics concentrators.

One of the reasons that I went to Brown was that, during my junior year of HS, when I was first looking at colleges, Playboy put out a ranking of the top "party schools" in the country, of which Brown was the only good academic school. (Hey, you got a BETTER reason to choose a school?) Alas, it was not all that Playboy promised. And I doubt it has substantially improved since. Nonetheless, I'm confident of it being ahead of Matthew's school in that regard.

It does have excellent italian food tho - especially if Caserta's is still around.

Posted by: Al | Jan 13, 2005 9:10:55 PM

hmm. well, no one's weighed in for my alma mater yet. i went to columbia because i thought nyc would be more fun than cambridge, mass. then didn't have any fun because i'm one of those unfun people that should have gone to harvard. now regret those years partially wasted in my objectively unfun but as fun as i'd be capable of anyway academic career. schade.

Posted by: some guy | Jan 13, 2005 9:32:08 PM


2nd warm day in spring on the esplanade. Can't beat it.

Boston just makes you earn the nice days. It makes it taste better.

Posted by: stress | Jan 13, 2005 9:32:38 PM

Ha! Ivy League schools are for suckers. For fun, try "Canada's Harvard," my alma matter, McGill University. You are in a truly kick-ass city, the tuition is at least half of what those Ivies cost, Montreal's an amazingly cheap city to live in (although the USDollar's woes cut into that a bit, but not much), and its quite easy for foreign students to get in to. Drawbacks: if you don't like cold weather, you'll struggle at McGill. Also, unless you speak fluent French, your employment opportunities include: telemarketing or stripping (or if you're lucky, becoming a succesful DJ).

Ben P

Posted by: Ben P | Jan 13, 2005 10:23:34 PM

Did you read the article on fraternities in the Sunday NY Times. The writer graduated from Northwestern in 97, went back in 04, and noted how much less fun it was today. No big parties allowed, generally no fun. I agree, I went back to Cornell this year (my alma mater) and it was beyond lame. But this guy from 97 needs perspective because his four years absolutely sucked compared to my four years in college, 86-90. And over my four years, things got less fun every year. And it was even better before me. One of my best friends graduated in 82 -- that was BIG fun. 50 keg parties. Beer trucks on the lawn all day, with ten or twelve live bands to keep things lively. Everyone getting together in open parties where you can meet new people every week -- and, of course, pre AIDS. That was fun.

Posted by: pj | Jan 13, 2005 10:38:18 PM

I went to the all-time unfun school, the University of Chicago (A.B. '78), and I see some other commenters have beat me to the punch in pointing that out. We were so miserable that the school has had trouble raising money from their alumni (we all hate the place), and we also don't send our kids there (that would be child abuse). According to the alumni magazine, they're trying to make the place more "user-friendly," but color me skeptical. THAT'S a school that DEFINITELY needs a "fun czar." And furthermore, the winters in Chicago are WAY worse than in Cambridge.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Jan 13, 2005 11:00:33 PM

Oh, and I forgot to point out that U of C people are deadly serious most of the time; very unfun.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Jan 13, 2005 11:02:06 PM

I went to boston colleg and spent most of my freshman year in harvard square at a palcae called the Crimson(I think the harvard kids called it the grille).The BC crowd pretty much took the place over--I always felt like the square was wasted on the unfun people discussed here

Posted by: future man | Jan 13, 2005 11:47:47 PM

Try drugs. In fact try lots of drugs. They're a rather effective palliative for boredom/northeast winters/lack of sex, and of course the more entertaining ones are also good for obesity and narcolepsy as well. In any event they were about the only thing to do at my alma mater, which (for hopefully apparent reasons) shall remain nameless, although Brett Easton Ellis did refer to those of us who attended this particular school as assholes in one of his books.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 13, 2005 11:54:56 PM

I can't believe I forgot to mention the ultimate clincher. There was a joke circulating on the U of C campus when I was there. (Yes, we did occasionally tell jokes. This one also happens to be a true story.) It had to do with an ongoing argument in the campus newspapers of Chicago and Northwestern about which was the Harvard of the Midwest. Students of both schools wrote in presenting arguments about why their school was better than the other one. The debate was brought to an abrupt halt, however, by a U of C student saying that NORTHWESTERN, not Chicago, was the Harvard of the Midwest. His rationale? Harvard and Northwestern were both overrated party schools. So take that, Matt!

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Jan 14, 2005 12:16:04 AM

Isn't Cal Tech still less fun? Probably no one from there hangs out on the net, even decades after graduation.

My son went to Tufts and says that the whole city of Boston is unfun. He says that no one there ever hangs out, and that no one will talk to you until they know who you are. (I don't think it was just because he was from Tufts -- slogan: "What was your first choice school?").

The townies reminded him of his friends, but when they found out he was a college student a chill set in. He also said that people talked about the janitors right in front of them, as if they were furniture.

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 14, 2005 12:22:49 AM

John, I don't know how true that bit is about people being cold to strangers. I can think of two random nice conversations I had with total strangers in the past week up here.

It's true to an extent that people don't "hang out" as much here, if by hanging out you mean parking your ass somewhere (not anyone's place of residence) with some friends and doing nothing in particular. Hanging out outside is of course out of the question between November and April. So that restricts hanging-out venues to...coffee shops and bars, I guess. And inter-school hanging out is somewhat restricted because it's a schlep if you take public transportation. Getting from Harvard to MIT is pretty simple once you learn the bus routes (something many Harvard students never do). I never went up to Tufts but it sounded fairly simple from Harvard. Getting to BC or BU from Harvard, however, is a pain in the ass requiring either a long, circuitous T ride or a transfer between the bus and the T. I can't imagine it's any easier to get from Tufts to any of these other schools.

Posted by: B | Jan 14, 2005 12:40:15 AM

I realize Harvard has at least a bazillion dollars, but I hope this doesn't set a precedent. Schools already spend so much on extraneous nonsense (sports programs, flashy new workout centers, etc) while the whole institution of tenure is progressively dismantled (50% of all professors are now adjuncts, and they typically earn a fraction of what tenured profs get, not to mention having few benefits, and no job security...many are scraping by on 8k or 12k or 15k a year, and having to take second and third jobs), and tuition costs are spiralling out of control.

PS O/T but is anyone going to stay up to see if our friends the Europeans find any little green men on Titan?

Posted by: Kenneth | Jan 14, 2005 12:43:23 AM

green dem: Bennington?

Posted by: ehle | Jan 14, 2005 1:07:32 AM

B, probably it was your distinguished air, which made them think that you were someone. Or to put it differently, they don't have to know you personally, but just to know enough about you to be able to put you somewhere in their heierarchical universe. Being known to be from Tufts doesn't help in that one.

Portland, remember, is one of the major national centers of hanging out.

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 14, 2005 1:09:40 AM

Why was Harvard not fun for you? I enjoyed it (class of '91) and made lifelong friends. Maybe it's easier to be jaded about Harvard when you came there from an elite private school in Manhattan. Coming from a big public school in the heartland, with few minorities, few challenging courses, and little access to the culture of a big city, it's a great place to go to school.

Posted by: desmoinesdem | Jan 14, 2005 1:10:45 AM

My alma mater Reed college is the hippy school with the highest academic rating, BTW. It actualy is sort of unfan and depresive, but in a flamboyant way.

Posted by: John Emerson | Jan 14, 2005 1:13:03 AM

"green dem: Bennington?"

Points, but only if we're playing horshoes. BEE went there though, didn't he? I guess you could say we were its rival school, even though neither has sports to speak of. Curiously, it occurs to me that I also went to the rival high school in LA of Ellis (the one he based Less than Zero on.)

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 14, 2005 1:21:15 AM

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