Friday, June 13, 2008

Ivy League of the Whatever

Every so often, one hears a current or former student of a non-Ivy League school refer to their college/university as being part of the "Ivy League of the ..." [fill in the blank with geographical term other than "East" or "Northeast" -- e.g. West, Rocky Mountains, Dakotas, -- or the name of another country/continent or another descriptive term*].

I personally do not know of any circumstances in which this has produced the desired impression, which presumably is something on the order of "You may not know much about my school and may not even have heard of it, but it is a really really good school and you should be impressed." It may well be a (very) good school, but if someone isn't familiar with it already, there's not much you can do at this point.

Another inadvisable approach is to mention a famous person who graduated (or briefly attended) your school. This, at least, is a factoid rather than propaganda, but should only be used as an 'interesting trivia' kind of conversational element, rather than an attempt to impress.

Students and graduates of certain small liberal arts colleges may find that their schools are not as widely known as they had thought/hoped, no matter what the ranking of the school in US News & World Report. In this case, it is best to accept this fact and come up with a brief but informative description, even if only to mention that it is in Massachusetts or Ohio or California.

Alternatively, when talking to someone who isn't well informed about your school, you may know from experience exactly what you need to say. For example, my friends from Vassar College say that they still have to explain that Vassar is not a women's college and has not been for nearly 40 years, and my friends from Cornell College are perpetually explaining that their school is in Iowa. And a certain person who went to Smith College, when confronted with the need to provide further information, likes to say "The "p" in Psmith is silent" (literary allusion few people get but she thinks it is funny anyway).

If you're going to do the "Ivy League of the Whatever" thing in conversation, at least choose your audience. If you say this to a group of students/graduates of schools that don't use this description, you might come off as kind of a jerk. If you say it to an advisor or potential advisor, they will already have their own opinion of your school, and the news that your school is Ivy Leaguesque will not impress. Presumably your own abilities and/or potential will impress or not, no matter what school you went to.

So, to whom can you mention the Ivy League of the Whateverness of your school? You do have some options, including fellow alumnae/i, your parents, and most small mammals, though even among these, not all will care.

* e.g., Women, Tundra, Interstate 5, Latvia

26 comments:

PhysioProf said...

"P in pSmith is silent". Ugh. Your friend must be a real hit at parties!

I always tell people, the university where I work is in the Ivy League of the Slope of My Ass!

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...

The Psmith line is wonderful. The rest, well, one hopes that in an academic context, people talk about what they've accomplished (learned, done, etc.) rather than where they were. It's a bit like fame: there's no point saying that someone is famous. Either they are, or they're not, and you can't fix either!

Anonymous said...

My school is moderately well known (top-20, but still a bit regional).

But the main thing I tell people about my school is that the founder of (Huge Multinational Corporation) attended our school for one semester, and apparently it was a really fantastic semester, because HMC has donated tons of money to us. On our campus you can find lots of (extremely well-known commercial product made by HMC).

All this money from HMC is the main reason we're a top-20 school. Yay for money!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it goes the other way. I was recently talking to a professor in another department who had heard that my undergrad was at MIT. "Ah, the Harvard of engineering," he said.

"No," I said, feeling mildly insulted by the comparison, "We're much better than that."

Perhaps it's because of my education on the other side of Cambridge, MA (which yes, leaves me with a less exalted view of Harvard), but I'm always rankled by the Ivy League of the Whatever phrases, no matter who is saying them.

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde said...

Also, if your audience contains real live Ivy Leaguers, these assertions provoke hilarity. Especially because it's a sports league.

Anonymous said...

I go to UPenn, which is in the Ivy League of...the Ivy League, and while people in academic circles know that, the rest of the world has a tendency to confuse us with a certain state school better known for football for academics. At what point when trying to field questions like, "Penn State has a Philadelphia campus?" or "Why the heck did you go all the way to Pennsylvania when there are plenty of good schools right here?" or "University of Pennsylvania? I've never heard of that. Now Penn State, that's a great school..." is it socially acceptable to say, "The University of Pennsylvania...you know...the Ivy League university?"

There's no way to do it without sounding like a pretentious snob. I'm sure Penn State is a great school...it's just that I don't go there.

Carl said...

I wager most people couldn't name half the Ivy League schools without referencing Wikipedia anyway. Ivy League translates to "snotty and rich" for most folks.

Having gone through both extreme ends (undergrad at a very small private engineering college & grad school at a very large public university; both well regarded in the science/math/engineering fields) I can honestly say people don't have a clue unless they heard it watching football. Maybe if it's famous in their major. I don't know of anyone in my current (non-physics) life, who would have a clue how good a place UIUC (Ivy League of corn fields?? Ivy League of two hour drive from Chicago?? I know I can do better...) is in physics/engineering/computer science/etc...

I have lived with this for the last 10+ years and I can say you're totally right. I barely bother to say the name of my undergrad institution. I tell them it's science oriented and my graduating class was probably smaller than your high school's.

Helen said...

Heh. I just state the name of my school, and don't worry about it.

Those who know my particular discipline get all excited and/or impressed. Those who don't know enough to be impressed probably won't care. In the rare cases where they don't know but would care, I can explain easily enough.

Am I a woman scientist? said...

I went to one of those top liberal arts colleges that was the Harvard of the West... or the Yale of the West... I don't remember now. However, my favorite t-shirt, which I still have and wear with pride, says "X College... yes, it's accredited!" (with X being the name I'm not willing to say, lest I lose what last bit of anonymity I have left).

Don't Panic said...

when i hear a phrase like "harvard of the south," it's irritating. don't exalt your obscure university with a hackneyed phrase meant to convey its prestige in the region.

my undergrad institution graduates 150 students per year, and we tend to look askance at small-school grandstanding.

Average Professor said...

anonymous 9:30, it may soothe you to know it goes both ways. I did my undergrad at Penn State, and outside of a certain radius from the keystone state (and even within, interestingly, other Big Ten univerisities) I have found a tremendous amount of confusion. I have had numerous conversations something like this:

"How did you like Philadelphia?" (Or some similar opening statement hinting at misinformation)
"You might be thinking of Penn - the University of Pennsylvania."
"Um, are they not the same?"
"No. Penn is a private Ivy League school. Penn State is public [sort of] Big Ten school."
"REALLY?"

(Much as you ponder how to point this out without sounding like a snob, I wonder if pointing this out makes me sound bitter - which I'm not. I just like precision.)

Recovering Academic said...

Even if you are a graduate of the Ivy League, life isn't that easy. I am a proud alumnus of X (which I won't name) and frequently I avoid mentioning it because people get huffy one way or another.

Once someone petulantly asked me if anyone good ever graduated from X. I mentioned a professor who was a very famous name in our specialty. In return, I got a snarl "Well, he overcame it!"

In truth, I think the only time an Ivy League degree helps is if you are dealing with other people from well-known schools. I once worked for a company whose founder - a very bright guy - had degrees from Harvard and Yale; he and I got along fine. The same held true when I dealt with senior faculty at a very prestigious research university where I held a technical position. Other institutions with not-so-stellar people were much more difficult to deal with.

I think the same also holds for subjects as well as institutions. At Palookaville State, where I was on the faculty for too many years, people would expound on the importance of Mathematics and their knowledge of it at length until someone from the Mathematics department - like me - would walk into the conversation. Then Mathematics became much less important.

Unaccomplished people will be happy to build themselves up any way they can. Failing that, they will try to tear others down.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Penn State / U Penn confusion. I'm from the midwest, I didn't know they were two different schools until I got a postdoc at U Penn.

Anonymous said...

I had a conference interview with a hiring committee from the University of Pennsylvania, and at the very beginning of the interview, the chair of the committee said "The first thing you need to know about Penn is that we are an Ivy League school." Really? Is that really the first thing one needs to know?

sandyshoes said...

Hm. Maybe the p in psmith is silent, but it somehow makes the p in pretentious even louder.

I went to Mount Holyoke, and was always having to tell people that no, it isn't a Catholic school. Also that it is a women's college, not a "girls' school," but sometimes that's just too tiresome to get into.

MattPatt said...

As a Rice alumnus, let me just say that if I had one wish in all the world, it would be to permanently strike the phrase "Ivy League of the South" from the vocabulary of every pretentious English speaker on the planet. Just two quick reasons: 1) Exactly who else is in this mythical new "league?" A league of one is rather uninspiring. 2) Had I wanted to attend an Ivy, I probably would have at least attempted to do so. There's a reason I didn't.

(I also wish people would stop asking me if the place is still free, as it has now charged tuition for 43 years and counting. Though I am impressed that this particular bit of university-related trivia has managed to persist, continuing to bring it up in light of the massive student loans I racked up is just a cruel joke.)

Denise said...

These stories make me feel slightly better about my family's jokes about "Penn State or State Pen?" My usual response is a wink and, "That's 10 miles down the road."

I can't imagine calling a school I attended "The Ivy League of" anything without very big sarcastic body language and tone. Or something suitably crass, like "The Ivy League of East Bumble f*** — we always beat those rich kids at football because we didn't care about facial scarring."

Anonymous said...

To the third poster (anonymous post at 8:26am), your school sounds exactly like Emory to me. With HMC being Coca-Cola.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

I wonder why people feel so compelled to convince others that their schools are really, really good--promise. Hypocritically enough, I have recently found myself doing the same thing (minus the annoying "Ivy of the...) in regards to the school that I'll be teaching at in the fall. Why do we do this??!

MScGirl said...

It's human nature. I go to a non-US school that's internationally known for STEM (well, TEM) stuff, but the universal reaction back home is "you couldn't get in anywhere in the US?". I always say that I chose this place over Cornell, (Ivy league!) which accepted me. I try not to be defensive, this is a really good school, damn it!

Shay said...

The small four-year university I attended used to refer to itself, somewhat desperately I thought, as the "Oberlin of the North." Since Oberlin is in Ohio, that was good for a chuckle.

Now, when I am asked where I went to school, I usually say "The University of SMC."

I'm out the door before they figure that one out.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised to read the negativity about the 'ivy league of the' trope. I was present when one young man (friend of a relative of mine) told another where he went to college, and was met with a blank stare. "It's one of the Musical Ivy League schools," he said. That was pretty informative, I thought. Also true, although it's not a formal league or anything.

anonymous 8:26 am said...

To anonymous 6/14/2008 10:46:00 AM -- yes, you guessed it, I'm from Emory. Working here, you learn all of the products in the Coke family -- Minute Maid juices, Dasani water, etc.

Anonymous said...

I must be one of the dumb Psmithies, because I went there and I don't get it (I asked a Psmithie friend to explain it to me and she didn't get it, either).

Now I live in a place where anything ending in 'college' is considered a community college by most, but I'm finally secure enough with myself that I really don't care what people think. Usually I just say that I went to school in Massachusetts and people assume I mean UMass. Oh well.

Female Science Professor said...

Don't ask a friend, ask Google. Search on "Psmith".

Anonymous said...

I did ask Google, and got that it was some allusion to Rupert Psmith, but beyond that I don't get it. Maybe there's nothing beyond that to get, though.