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Rice's distinct identity undermined by our focus on comparisons to other elite universities

By Christoph Meyer     11/29/11 6:00pm

Many Rice students from outside the Southern United States can attest to the fact that our university is not exactly the most well-known or prestigious school on the coasts. Indeed, when telling someone from Massachusetts or Oregon about Rice, you are likely to be asked whether it's a small liberal arts school or to receive a blank stare. While there are some who have heard of Rice and a few who know what a great institution it really is, the fact of the matter is that our eventual alma mater simply does not carry the same weight as schools such as Stanford or the supposed Holy Grail known as Harvard. Here's a thought though: so what?

When I first chose to come to Rice, I heard many people describe it as "the Harvard of the South." Over the course of my time here, I have seen this analogy on T-shirts and heard it incorporated into jokes like "Rice: because not everyone can get into Harvard" or "Harvard: the Rice of the Northeast." I'll admit that I found these amusing at first, but I believe the comparison to Harvard, among other schools, seems to have gone too far. During "National Philanthropy Week," I stumbled across a rather large and obnoxious sign that said "Rice: Better than Harvard." While this board called attention to Rice's distinctive quality of life and happy students, my frustration overwhelmed my pride when I read this caption.

As an institution that ranked number one in both categories and has continuously succeeded in these areas, we should not feel the need to continuously compare ourselves to our peers. A gracious winner does not boast a victory in the face of an opponent. Our university has too much going for it, and does not need to compare itself to other more recognized institutions at every available opportunity.

While rankings among academic institutions are important, they should not be the focus of Rice's ambitions. Many of our university's greatest traditions and discoveries, from Beer Bike to the buckyball, do not stem from our desire to be better than other universities but simply to be our best. Of course, we have borrowed and perhaps even improved upon many great ideas from other universities, such as the residential college system that first started at Oxford and Cambridge. However, as a university we should strive to improve for the sake of being a great university, rather than one trying to pull ahead in the rankings.

Next year, Rice will very likely rank similarly among the other schools as we did this year and in years past. I hope that we can acknowledge and be proud of our standing without feeling the need to always overcome our peer universities. We are the Rice of the South and should not seek to be anything different. Continuously comparing ourselves to older and wealthier institutions only makes us look insecure and discontent. We should not strive to become more similar to other universities but continue our own legacy and write our own great history.

Throughout my time at Rice, I have realized that I would not want to have attended any other school, including Harvard. Many of us chose Rice for Rice and should continue to make this university a place we love, not a place that rivals or surpasses another school. Let us try to build Rice's reputation independently of other universities and focus on the things that really matter.

Christoph Meyer is a Hanszen College senior.

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