Sunday, May 01, 2005

Response to Comment

Suzy asked, in response to my previous post : PY, tell me if I'm too nosy, but what do you think about the point this guy's making? Agree, disagree?

Simple answer: Agree.

Not-so-simple answer: It's not so simple.

My first reaction was to think back to the students I had interacted with at Admit Weekend. I found that the stereotypes usually affected to the school are definitely dated. There were a bunch of very smart, friendly and nice folks at the school. Maybe the author's frustration has to do with his expectations of his classmates unmet? Was he extrapolating from his specific experiences? But, I realized that that line of thinking was missing the point entirely.

The subject of the piece was the Chicago community. What, pray, is a community ? According to the dictionary, it is defined variously, as:

1.a) A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government.
-.b) The district or locality in which such a group lives.
2.a)A group of people having common interests: the scientific community; the international business community.
-.b) A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society: the gay community; the community of color.
3.a) Similarity or identity: a community of interests.
-.b) Sharing, participation, and fellowship.

This is telling. There is no standard defintion of what a community, or a better/stronger/tight-knit/loose-knit/etc one is. The way I see it, it's entirely up to the members of a community to make what they want to of what they have. No shit, Batman - you say? indeed, i'm mouthing the obvious, but that's what it is.

In the context of b-schools, I guess most of us walk in with a certain expectation of what the 'community' is going to be. For some, it may be a very social one. For others, serious. For some, it may be filled with people on the same career track. For others, it may be one which gives them the freedom to be a maverick. At some level, I think one may tend to be satisfied with their 'community' if their expectations are met. Or, dissatisfied, if they are not.

But, I also believe (hope, really) that b-schools are filled with the kind of people for whom attainment of personal aspirations is coupled with a healthy motivation to support others in the pursuit of their own. It is on this point that I find myself agreeing strongly with Mr. Sharpe. Does that necessarily mean more people should show up for rugby practice or write for the newspaper? Not. Everyone has their own passions, and oftentimes one may not find enough people interested in what they want to do. That's fine. What really matters is that there be a vitality at the intersections of these interests. To be fair, the essays does not say that there isn't at the school.

The reason I felt strongly enough to post his essay was because I got the sense that his expectation of the community, to use the definition above, tends to 3(b). Sharing, participation, and Fellowship. In my experience, there are always a few people in every team/group/organization who do more to foster the group dynamic than others. What I found surprising in his piece was his contention that the inverse 80/20 rule exists at Chicago. I'm not saying that it's a super special place where it shouldn't, but then again it's a carefully selected group of individuals.

If true, it raises an important question. The school has ostensibly admitted candidates who have, in addition to their outstanding personal achievements, contributed significantly to their communities. What happened once they got there? And, it has implications. I have heard Dean Snyder speak twice, and both times he listed improving alumni relations as one of his top priorities. I'm actually glad that it's recognized and being addressed, but in this context it stands starkly compared to schools like Tuck where the involvment of alumni is a matter of pride. I can't help think that the issue of community is somehow related.

My personal expectations for the community going into b-school: quite frankly, I don't know what to expect. It's both a factor of Chicago not having an outwardly singular cultural theme, like Team Fuqua, say, and the reality that each incoming class plays its own jazz. The one very strong hope I do have is that none of my classmates, me included, feel compelled to write a similar essay a year down the line.

So, dear reader, tell me if I'm too nosy, but what do you think about the point this guy's making? Agree, disagree?
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