Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass: better than it seems

The University of Massachusetts has never really been good enough for me. It is hard to explain. Since high school, I thought this random, giant collection of ugly concrete buildings in the middle of a valley – surrounded by farms and so far from Boston it might as well be New York State – was just some school I had to get through for four years. I planned on transferring not once, but close to three times. Once a false stereotype gets implanted, it is near impossible to develop a different impression. Still, after three and a half years, things assuredly changed.

As UMass was last on the list of schools I wanted to attend – I was sent here because of financial considerations instead of any desire to go to UMass – I was reluctant to accept the University for what it is. Now, I see it as a gem of a public university that deserves more praise, appreciation and funding than it currently gets. There are certainly many things that can be improved, but overall UMass has been the perfect fit – and I know I am not the only one whose college decision worked out in such a fashion.

My misconceptions about packed lectures, mean professors and TA-run classes were eventually all disproved. My political science professors, particularly Dean Robinson and Tatishe Nteta, were engaging and involved in incredibly interesting research. The general education requirements, though certainly tedious, have a worse reputation than they really deserve. Nothing can be taken away from the quality of the student body, and class discussions are almost always inspired. In fact, I have come to view UMass as everything I hoped a college could be; comprised of engaged students, taught by exciting professors and offering a diverse course load.

Then, I took two classes at Amherst College.

Suddenly, UMass professors did not look so great. None of them were like one Amherst professor whose feedback would match the length of his students’ papers. Hand in a three pager? Get back three pages of criticism, argument and congratulations. For both courses, the first day of class was spent as an advertisement. This is what we are going to cover; this is why I think it is important; this is why I think you should take my class. Both times, I was sold.

A history class in which I am currently enrolled is all of 100 students and will maybe fill to be 130 students. To make up for the “out of hand class size,” which must be of epic proportions for Amherst College, the class is going to be taught by three professors, each of whom will be responsible for a few discussion sections. I quickly arrived at the logical conclusion: all Amherst professors must be this good and all their classes must be this awesome.         

David Foster Wallace describes this kind of feeling with uncanny skill in a piece about a luxurious trip aboard a cruise ship. After spending 18 pages going into minute detail about absurd levels of pampering available on his ship, the Nadir, he throws it all away when another, newer, bigger ship pulls up next to his. Suddenly, this new ship, the Dreamward, puts everything about the Nadir to shame. It looks whiter than his impossibly bleached Nadir; there must be more pools; the towel guys must be more professional. He imagines the Dreamward’s food being even more varied and punctiliously prepared, its casino less depressing, its stage entertainment less cheesy…its pillow mints bigger. Standing in the Caribbean, Wallace could not help but feel this surge of envy. All of a sudden, nothing on his cruise liner is good enough, most shockingly because “they don’t even have Mr. Pibb; they foist Dr. Pepper on you with a maddeningly unapologetic shrug when any fool knows that Dr. Pepper is no substitute for Mr. Pibb, and it’s an absolute goddamned travesty, or – at best – extremely dissatisfying indeed.”

It is this comparison that is so striking and true. He had everything he needed on the Nadir, but once he saw the Dreamward, it all became inadequate. This is what it is like to sit in a class at Amherst College. In an instant, every single positive facet of UMass gets thrown out the window. It was not until – as the bored nerd I am – I reread David Foster Wallace’s Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise when I placed my newfound misgivings about UMass in the trashcan where they belonged. I had come full circle: entered UMass with silly stereotypes about the school and then reformed them senior year. After rereading, the absurdity of it all became apparent. For all its faults, UMass ain’t that bad. I have been to the “promised land” of a liberal arts college and made it back alive. If nothing else, it beats being tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

View Comments (3)
More to Discover

Comments (3)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • P

    Phineas Q. ScuttlebuttJan 28, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Dear Sirs,
    Your prose is skilfully crafted and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say. Yet The person who wrote this editorial is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to understand the confounding logic of your arguments. Certainly you cannot deny that there is a wide range of course offerings at this fine university and quite a number of these courses are on the level of those at other nearby institutions, if not far superior. I find your assessment of this university shallow and pedantic.

    Also, addressing the commentary from “Ed”, I must inquire from whence such income would derive during one’s posited fifth year of studies, or first year of employment in this unforgiving economic clime. Many students choose to pursue an additional year of academic study as a result of the diverse array of areas of inquiry at the university.

    Adieu, adieu, adieu!

    Yours in journalism,
    Phineas Q. Scuttlebutt

  • B

    BJan 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    David Foster Wallace is a great source to quote from when discussing Amherst College: class of ’85, baby!

  • E

    EdJan 28, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    You need to look at cost (not price) and further at “opportunity cost” and not price.

    John Silber once told me that BU was cheaper than UMass — and I pinned him down and he had his figures right, the COST (not price) of BU was less. My guess is that the COST (not price) of Amherst is not that much more than UMass.

    First, the state pays about half the price of UMass. Who built the buildings, subsidized the bonds (tax free munis get lower interest), pays for the retirement/health benefits (a third of salary) and other stuff at UMass? Not to mention the 28% directly given by the state.

    So the actual “cost” of a UMass education is supposed to be at what the out-of-state rate is.

    Second, when you figure that no one really graduates from UMass in less than 5 years because you can’t get the classes (and grad students are here FOREVER because we can’t get the professors), you have to multiply your price by 125% because of the extra year. And then add in the lost earning potential for the fifth year as opportunity cost.

    You don’t have to do this very long before you find that the cost AND PRICE of UMass is no longer the cheapest around. Then throw in level of service, and I don’t mean faculty as much as everything else. Amherst/Hampshire/Smith/MHC students simply are treated better all ways around.

    No, the only thing you really learn at UMass (that you won’t learn at Amherst) is how to fight. How to advocate for yourself against an administration that simply doesn’t care about individual students. Of course, now with the Aggressively Controlling Troublemakers group meeting each Wednesday, that too will be precluded…

    UMass is not a bargan.