The University of Chicago less fun than Hopkins? Outrageous!


INSIDE Edge, a magazine published by and for college students, has rated 300 colleges and universities as most-fun and least-fun schools. The bottom five (absolute least-fun) are:

296. U.S. Naval Academy

297. Johns Hopkins University

298. Rochester Institute of Technology

299. U.S. Military Academy

300. University of Chicago

As a graduate of Johns Hopkins, I am distressed by this list. The assertion that the University of Chicago is less fun than Hopkins strikes me as outrageous.

In my student days the University of Chicago was constantly boasting about its superior funlessness. This claim rested mostly on the fact that Chicago had quit trying to play the expensive, professional brand of football which flourished, even in those days, in colleges of the Middle West.

Its boast about being a no-fun school entirely ignored the fact that anyone of college age lucky enough to be situated in Chicago was very close to the fun capital of America and had only himself to blame if he didn't take advantage of it.

At Hopkins, of course, we had Baltimore, the San Francisco of the East as we said to incense our California friends.

Baltimore was not bad. It was certainly not as funless as Washington. Downtown there was raffishness in "The Block," where poor girls dreaming of strip-tease careers peeled off what often looked like cast-off window drapes for the edification of blue-collar beer drinkers.

Still, Baltimore was five or six times as funless as great Chicago, city of the big shoulders, hog butcher to the world. As for football, at Hopkins we had already reached peaks of football funlessness far beyond the University of Chicago's.

Our football was so futile that Hopkins had never even bothered to give it up. Not only had we not given up football, but the team quarterback was an English major. And not only an English major, but a writer of poetry.

The funlessness at football games was intense. There was no stadium, just a green field with a few rows of permanent bleacher-type seats on one side. When the weather was good a few dozen students might abandon organic-chemistry lab to sit in the sun and practice their Chaucerian English accents while watching the football game.

Fun was watching the ROTC cadets drilling at lunch time. When that made you giddy, you could go into the YMCA hall and eavesdrop on engineering students discussing flaws in their slide rules.

For uproarious fun, a bunch of us would congregate in an unused classroom and roar with laughter as a fellow student did his hilarious imitation of our mathematics professor by solving an incomprehensible calculus problem on the blackboard.

Johns Hopkins played lacrosse, a sport even more incomprehensible than calculus to almost everybody who hadn't attended a Baltimore prep school. It involved a hard rubber ball, a net, much running and sticks with which the players were allowed to hit each other according to no discernible rules.

Since Hopkins was said to be famous for lacrosse, many of us went to the games and pretended at deep immersion in fun. Those who understood may even have had a little. Fun, that is. It was not wise to look overly amused, however.

The campus paper, a weekly, was afflicted in my time with a sports editor who suffered constant ridicule because of his insistence on deploring the utter absence of "school spirit" on campus. The poor kid never realized that at Hopkins everybody was proud of not having any "school spirit."

At Hopkins you were proud of getting an A in history, of simply passing chemistry, and this heavy concentration on the chalky pursuit of academic splendor had to leave you with some compensating satisfaction for the funlessness, didn't it? So we got tremendous fun out of our contempt for having fun.

The Hopkins spirit is still in my marrow. This is why it galls me to have these fun-college raters rank the University of Chicago below Johns Hopkins on the fun scale.

Wait a minute: That makes me sound like somebody brimming over with "school spirit," doesn't it? Forget the whole thing.

Russell Baker, a native of Baltimore, is a columnist for the New York Times.

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