Nov 15

School Comparisons

The scandal that has erupted at Penn State has hit me so hard. As anyone who has known me can tell, I have very ambivalent feelings about Penn State that I do not have about U of A. I’m glad I got my MBA degree at a large, relatively prestigious (or, at least formerly¬† prestigious) university. I am glad that, with each college degree I have received, I’ve been able to more than double my salary. I think that’s a great thing you can say about education, and about the institutions that have given me that education.

I’m not a big fan of money-making institutions inspiring loyalty in people the way that religions do. I didn’t attend pep rallies in high school, I certainly didn’t like going to them as an adult. And that’s what I loved about UA: it was a good school where I could be myself, learn about things and really expand my horizons. Were all my experiences there super-fun? No. But there was a wider world there.

At Penn State, I think because it comprises its own city, everything is more insular. Your life is Penn State there, people say that they “bleed blue and white,” and it’s all about giving back… to the school. Yes, they have the largest student-run charity that gives millions to children with pediatric cancer. And, up until last week, I would have said that they have the largest charity for disadvantaged kids in Pennsylvania. They also have one of the largest alumni networks in the country. And Penn State wants you to know that those are all affiliated with them… at least until a scandal rocks that charity, and then it’s like they were never, ever affiliated.

At UA, it was expected that I wouldn’t cheat on my papers or I would just fail or be kicked out. At Penn State, I was forced to sign an honor code that said “We will not engage in any action that is improper or that creates the appearance of impropriety in our academic lives…” while, when I brought to light that someone actually cheated to a professor, I was told it was “just a misunderstanding.” I was harassed constantly for being more “professional” during business school, because business school was my life 24/7 and it is hard for me to be at work at all times unless I am asleep. But I was harassed because people would “look to me” to represent the school.

I also feel like UA never asked anything of me other than to learn and to be a force for good in the world. Which is surprising, because they covered my tuition and my book money for four years. At my graduation at Penn State, the keynote speaker suggested that we all donate to the school rather than our own children. That we would be really taking care of more children that way. Never mind that I am now already in debt for $40k to Penn State that I despair about ever paying off. I had decided during that speech, that if I were to donate the money, it would be to a school that really did help me, that provided me with scholarships and opportunities I never would have had. Any money that I would donate to a school would go to UA.

Having been so ambivalent about Penn State in the first place (because, to be fair, it wasn’t the right fit for me although it is for a lot of people), this scandal has hurt more. I remember the forced honor code signing, the need to have everything look good on the surface. And it pains me that there was this rot, a deep seated tumor underlying the fabric. So many people feel betrayed because they thought the school was so good. I was always more cynical than that, but the hypocrisy of those at the top makes me bitterly regret my diploma there and really relish the time I spent at other universities.

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