Saturday, November 19, 2005

On Chicago vs. Waukegan - or how not to discuss the move

Waukegan is a strange place (any disagreements here?).

However, the notion being tossed around that moving the College into downtown Chicago - and making it a small appendage of a professional school - may improve enrollment isn't based on much.

Waukegan and the College are within an affordable hour's ride of Chicago. Many liberal arts colleges are even further away from metropolitan fun than that. The Waukegan campus is - in my opinion - pretty nice (landscaping, historic buildings, etc.) and has improved through the hard labor of many over the years. My big complaint was that we didn't have enough books and our library was locked away in the basement of Waukegan Public (which has since changed, no?)

Waukegan itself is even nice. The lake, old houses on Sheridan, parks and whatnot, the diners. I was a bit nervous about being there my first year. But I also appreciated its remove, for the most part, and appreciated the opportunity to learn about Waukegan and find my niches there. (too bad Irene's is gone.)

My class schedule (at times including a 4-day weekend) allowed me to spend every other weekend in Chicago with friends and do all the exploring and getting-away I needed. A few days of city bustling then prepared me well to look forward to returning to the relatively more quiet - even quaint - surrounds of Waukegan and the campus.

From what I've heard, the IIT neighborhood is no great shakes either. Given this, and the benefits of the Waukegan campus noted above, exactly what are people thinking when they talk about students wanting to be there rather than Waukegan? How do you 'market' an industrial looking campus in a much more urbanized area, where - from what I've heard - students are instructed to not even leave the boundaries of the campus? How can this be better than Bob+Ann's and Prairie House?

Yours at the barricades,
John McGough
Class of '98


PJ said...

Well, tastes aren't universal.

IIT's campus is an architectural landmark. The modernist style of most the Mies van der Rohe buildings is a bit passe at the moment, but it certainly has a distinctive style and character. The two new additions to the campus are really well-executed pieces of post-modern architecture; I personally think they're gorgeous.

The school lacks expanses of green space, but that's hardly unusual in an urban university, and the lack of it doesn't stop tens of thousands of people from attending not only IIT but also DePaul, Loyola, UIC, Columbia, the Art Institute, and Roosevelt every year.

As for the neighborhood: it's not the nicest neighborhood in Chicago, but it's hardly the worst, either. I live in a Chicago neighborhood with a somewhat shady reputation, and I've never felt especially fearful or depressed by my surroundings. IIT's crime statistics are a matter of public record (as are those of all major universities); a quick look at those should dispel the notion that people inevitably get jacked the moment they set foot in Bronzeville.

I would point out that IIT is a short bus or train ride away from the lake, beautiful old houses, huge and beautiful parks, and more diners than you can shake a stick at. (Not to mention theater, music venues, ethnic restaurants, landmarks, libraries, etc., that are not remotely comparable to anything in Waukegan.)

I'm not trying to say that Waukegan (or the Shimer campus there) has little or nothing to offer. Nor am I saying that all people, like me, would rather be anywhere in a city than anywhere in the 'burbs. But I do know that people leave Shimer because of Waukegan, and that there are a lot of people out there who don't see "urbanized" as a dirty word.

Alan said...

Some time before attending Shimer (90-92)I studied film and theater in the near south side of chicago at Columbia, one of the schools PJ Mentioned. I also knew a lot of Roosevelt and Art Institute students at that time. I have many fond memories of the area not unlike those of Bob and Annes and Irenes. There are large parks between Michigan avenue and LSD near the southern part of downtown. They would require a bit of a walk or a short train ride. There are food establishments I like in the area and bars. I bet they even had some sentimental restaurants that were left behind in Mount Carrol. There really isnt much substance to these arguments beyond sentimentality.
The things that Shimer college has been trying to do in Waukegan for 3 decades do not seem to be working. When is it ok to try something new and innovative?

D. R. Koukal said...

I'll admit to some sentimentality about Waukegan; after all, it is my hometown. But I'm on record as being in favor of anything that will reverse Shimer's fortunes--up to and including this proposed move--and beyond. Hell, I'd be in favor in moving the school to Detroit if there were reasonable prospects of this helping the school.

The problem is, I've yet to see evidence that the IIT move would likely help Shimer.

Are we caught between soft-hearted sentimentality and unreasonable hopes?