Friday, March 19, 2010

Senior exit survey

Case recently had its senior class fill out a survey on overall satisfaction with our tenure at the school. It included a long-form response concerning overall comments on our undergraduate experience. I think my response is a good introduction to a lot of the issues I’m going to be talking about in this blog. The full response is included below, edited only for typography.

Regrettably, I don’t have a clear answer for what went wrong with my Case experience. It’s not that I was working with incompetent people; far from it, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know the people I’ve met here—administration, faculty, and students alike. And it’s not just that any one thing or list of things was missing from the experience; I have my gripes with the current curriculum, and especially with SAGES and the computer science undergrad courses, but I don’t believe that these are what so negatively color my memories of this place. So I’m not going to enumerate such complaints here, and will instead attempt to explain in broad strokes why I feel the way I do.

I feel as though Case misrepresented itself to me when I was a prospective student. I remember thinking that Case was a possibility school—a place where it was possible to take one’s dreams and, with the help of a community of smart, dedicated people, turn them into reality. What I discovered on coming here was a different story.

When I say that Case suffers from bureaucracy, I don’t mean that bureaucracy is present at Case. I mean that bureaucracy is a cancer that the school has contracted. It has metastasized throughout the entire institution, and now it is slowly killing us. Every attempt I’ve made to do anything whatsoever somewhat outside of the ordinary—every time my undergraduate experience failed to fit into one of Case’s cookie-cutter molds—I’ve been met with inordinate amounts of resistance. I’ve learned that I can’t do X because of some political interplay between departments or professors A and B, for instance. Or that it might be possible to do Y, but there’s no official procedure for it—thus rendering Y essentially impossible. I can best sum up the mentality that I’ve encountered as “this doesn’t exist yet; that probably means there’s some reason it can never exist.”

I don’t know where this mentality comes from. Again, with very few exceptions, everyone I’ve worked with here is positively brilliant. I am forced to conclude thus that the experience I’ve had is not the fault of any person or people, but is the product of an ineffective system that all of its constituents are powerless to change.

I don’t have an easy answer for how to remedy this; indeed, there may be no easy answer for it. But it’s the reason that so many of the brightest professors leave, and that so many of the most promising students drop out or transfer. If this school wants to stop mimicking institutions like MIT or CMU and start setting its own leads for others to follow, then that is the problem that must be solved.