Loren Tate: Party on, Illini!
It’s good to be king — Mel Brooks said so — or to be ranked in the Top 10 in something. Even if it’s not exactly positive.
And so it evolves that the University of Illinois takes its position, as prescribed by a Princeton Review survey, as the third-ranked party school in the country. Not that the UI comes close to challenging Iowa’s reputation for rowdiness on football Saturdays or booze-filled bashes.
But Illinois is listed in a strong No. 3 slot behind Iowa and Cal-Santa Barbara. And leaders of the Champaign-Urbana campus shouldn’t expect anything less, not when bars-promoted binge drinking has been accepted and celebrated (not by everybody, obviously) on Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day each spring. It’s only one weekend, but the reports of 10,000 participants foster an assumption elsewhere that the culture here is complicit.
But, surely it’s not fair to characterize the C-U campus on the basis of one popular shindig. The university is a mix of grand accomplishments and marginally embarrassing characteristics. There’s bad, but the good overwhelmingly outweighs it.
The good: Illinois ranks Top 10 in engineering, ahead of Big Ten rivals Purdue and Michigan. Hooray! And, according to U.S. News and World Report, the UI is No. 1 in civil engineering and graduate library studies.
The bad: It’s Buyout City. Former coaches Ron Zook, Bruce Weber and Jolette Law are in the process of receiving $7.12 million for not coaching here. Chancellor Richard Herman and President Michael Hogan, both removed, continue to draw hefty salaries, and Hogan’s special assistant, Lisa Troyer, received a buyout. So if Zook lost $550,000 in selling his house here, he’ll get by with a cool $2.6 million from the UI.
The good: With its state-of-the-art research centers, the UI has welcomed 65 Nobel Prize winners through its halls, 22 of them (John Bardeen twice) earned by alumni and faculty.
The bad: The extension of Bob Easter has stopped a stream of dissatisfaction with short-lived university presidents. Dysfunction at high levels and a law school scandal have hurt the university’s nationwide reputation.
The good: If the annual marathon isn’t a Top 10 event on America’s campuses, it should be so considered.
The bad: Illinois ranks high among football programs with the most empty seats, even though Memorial Stadium has been reduced in size by the press box expansion. Football failures have hurt the university brand.
The good: Inventions like transistors and the plasma screen have changed our world, and notable alumni have founded such enterprises as YouTube, Playboy and Netscape.
The bad: This is in the eye of the beholder but it must be reported that all arousals stirred by Hugh Hefner have not been of an entirely constructive nature.
The good: The Assembly Hall, soon to be renovated as the State Farm Center, is an architectural marvel.
The bad: The building is too important to be dismantled and too outmoded to be retained. It will never be an ideal basketball arena, but it’ll have an awesome appearance when it’s finished.
The good: Successes in men’s gymnastics and golf (four Illini in the PGA this week) have brought national attention to the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The bad: These are not revenue-producing sports, and, with attendance falling across the board, the UI no longer charges admission in 15 of 19 varsity sports.
The good: The Ebert Film Festival will continue to celebrate the greatest of film critics, Urbana’s Roger Ebert, and ranks high among independent film festivals.
The bad: The university is a national co-leader in suspended and abandoned mascot-symbols (it’s a symbol if you favor it; otherwise a mascot). Chancellor Phyllis Wise rebuffed a determined effort to revive, on a limited basis, the popular but divisive (can you be both?) Chief Illiniwek.
The good: The most reasoned conservative voice in America is, like Ebert, a native of Urbana and the UI. George Will offers opinion that is popular downstate and frowned on in Chicago.
The bad: It’s an unscientific opinion, but Illinois surely ranks in the Top 10 in terms of diminished revenue from state coffers and flagging loyalty from the state’s major population center. The institution is unfortunate to reside in a state that is going broke.
The good: There are few more pleasing musical groups than Union Station (with 28-time Grammy winner Alison Krauss) and REO Speedwagon. You gotta love ’em.
The bad: See, I’ve run out. Didn’t I say the good outweighed the bad?
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.