Northwestern went to the Rose Bowl in 1996. My strongest memory of that season is a co-worker, knowing that I’m an NU graduate, naively asking if I would be attending the big game in Pasadena.
“Well ...” I responded, amused that someone could imagine I might, “given that I never went to a football game in the four years I was a student there, it’s kinda late to start now.”
Why didn’t I go? The honest answer is: Going never crossed my mind. Campus culture in Evanston had a distinct hierarchy, with Greek life, sports and money at the top, and the rest of us, supernumeraries filling in the background. We were admitted, given a break on tuition and tolerated. But it wasn’t as if the university was about us.
Part of this might have been my personal outlook. I never went to games, didn’t own a Northwestern T-shirt. The school evoked in me a sort of lip-curled contempt that only got worse, in part thanks to episodes like the current Wildcat hazing scandal.
Indifference was the school’s business model. During my four years, I saw the president of Northwestern, Robert Strotz, exactly twice. At the opening prayer welcoming freshmen. And at graduation. The rest of the time I assumed he was busy attending to Northwestern’s primary purpose: building the school’s endowment. That was the entire point of the endeavor. The students were just afterthoughts, widgets, products on which the money was made.
This is a harsh view, and I know classmates who would disagree. Classmates who give money to the school, for instance, which to me is just unfathomable. I did have wonderful teachers, learned German literature from Erich Heller, international relations from Richard W. Leopold, magazine writing from Abe Peck.
The campus is lovely. I don’t want to tar the place with too broad a brush. I went to NU purely for the Medill School of Journalism; it served me well, and I must laud the reporters at The Daily Northwestern who revealed the “absolutely egregious and vile and inhumane” hazing that NU administrators winked at.