Friday, April 11, 2014

Competitive College: Does competition help or hinder our academic performance?

“What obligations do we have to our adversaries?  Do virtue and integrity enhance or impede our quest for victory? Is competition an obstacle to or an essential component of a meaningful life? How should competition be effectively regulated?” These questions and others will be addressed by visiting students and scholars from across the country in this year's Undergraduate Ethics Symposium, which will take place at the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics April 10-12. The topic for the symposium is “Virtue and Victory: Ethical Challenges in Competitive Life”, a topic that is very relevant to our everyday lives as university students.
Competition is glorified in our culture as healthy and a necessary way to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and drive people to do their best. Those who participate in athletics likely benefit from the motivation of competing against others, and competition is a key part of the American economic system. In many ways, it is built into almost every aspect of our lives. As students, we feel pressured to excel in the classroom in order to get a good job after graduation, a Fulbright scholarship, a Teach for America position, or a spot in a graduate school program. We know that all of these outcomes are ones we will have to compete for, and this can add a level of stress to our learning that wouldn’t otherwise be there. 
However, competition in academics is not always a good thing. In fact, several studies suggest that competitive learning environments can actually hinder a student from doing as well as she is capable of doing, and may impede her from learning as much material. 
A book called Top Dog by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman talks a lot about situations where competition drives people to excellence, but also has examples of when competition can be a hindrance. One such example is an experiment in which two almost identical tests are given to two groups of Princeton students after they took a questionnaire designed to make them feel like they had been lucky to get into Princeton. One of the tests was called an “Intellectual Ability Questionnaire”, and the other was entitled an “Intellectual Challenge Questionnaire”. Students who took the test with the more threatening title, the “Intellectual Ability Questionnaire”, got scores that were 18 percentage points lower than the other experimental group. By manipulating the level of competition perceived by the students, the experimenters obtained significantly different performances. 
Academic performance depends on a multitude of factors, and because we can feel that our academics reflect our intelligence, a characteristic that we perceive as a set value and innate, competition in academics can actually be demoralizing and hinder a student’s progress. However, this is not to say that students shouldn’t have goals in mind when they set out to learn. But confidence and interest are essential parts of academics, and competition can dull both of these. Cooperative learning methods, on the other hand, like group discussions and group problem solving activities, can be an effective alternative to classes that are set up to increase competition. Our grades may affect what we are able to do after we graduate, but while we are at school, it may be more effective to focus on why we enjoy what we are learning instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others.
Noelle Wittwer is a sophomore intern at the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics. She is creating an interdisciplinary major in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology and is from Bluffton, IN. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The A-Listers: Can College Rankings Define a School?

How important are college rankings? As prospective students size up educational institutions, what is it that attracts them, their parents? Time and time again, we’ve seen DePauw’s name on the top party school list across the nation, but does that invalidate the academic standard we hold ourselves to? A new list was recently published by the Business Insider that appears to cast a redeeming light on “party schools." Is this enough to simply put aside all the images we have created in our minds about the type of environment DePauw cultivates? Some believe so.
Based on the return on investment, DePauw is number ten for schools most worth your money. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree costs about $192,600. The return on investment winds up at an estimated $312,800 – just over $100,000. Their methodology? “…PayScale looked at salary data for employees with bachelor's degrees, not including any jobs that would require a graduate degree…The net cost of each school was determined by looking at graduation rates, financial aid, and campus costs...”. The ROI was calculated by finding the total earnings and subtracting the cost of the bachelor’s degree and average earnings over someone without a college degree . In my mind, this calculation provides a fair comparison of the economic gap in lifestyles between someone with a bachelor’s degree and someone without. 
So, while administration, faculty, and even students are getting hyped up about the “outrageous party ranking” DePauw has received, it is not a single, defining status. DePauw University has a facet of attributions that cannot all be confined to article rankings. The success of DePauw students speaks on behalf of the  university’s caliber and we should not look solely to the Princeton Review or other outside sources to define our institution or decide if it is a place we want to invest in. For students paying their own way through college or for those with a stronger need for financial assistance, the ROI rankings seem to hold much more clout. One might be willing to take out loans, work, etc. in order to attend a university with a higher ROI rate in hopes of securing a solid job for the future. In this sense, the party ranking might be overlooked. 
This begs the question: can all that DePauw offers be quantified? Some have explained that the DePauw experience is unique in its liberal arts education, 10:1 student-faculty ratio, and more. All of this plus DePauw’s high academic ranking speak great volumes while others choose to interpret the prevalent party scene as a negative aspect of our campus that takes away from its prestige. I say the opposite. DePauw represents a group of intelligent individuals capable of balancing both studious and social aspects that come with being a college student pursuing and landing prosperous careers. 
Madeline O'Brien is a sophomore intern at the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics. She is a Spanish and Geoscience double major from Aviano, Italy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Privilege at DePauw: A Personal Perspective

In light of recent discussions on campus, I’d like to offer up my own understanding of privilege. The notion of privilege has frequently come up in conversations around campus, but rarely does it seem to be understood. I have heard numerous complaints that discussing privilege demonizes someone for something they cannot control or that it is some sort of boogeyman of reverse discrimination. This understanding of privilege is far from the truth.

By only thinking of privilege as a personal attack on someone for factors they cannot control, we ignore the destructive effects that privileged society continues to have on marginalized peoples.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

TOMS: When ‘Conscious Capitalism’ is Not Enough

With great anticipation for TOMS Founder Blake Mycoskie’s visit radiating throughout DePauw’s campus, I had to do a double take every time I saw the words “Conscious Capitalism” broadcast on posters. The term “conscious capitalism” has arisen out of the assumption that through making ‘helping’ fashionable, we are somehow working to end poverty. The reality, however, is that philanthropic enterprises such as TOMS allow us to feel that we are helping the world without having to relinquish our role as consumers.

According to the DePauw website, while traveling in Argentina in 2006 Mycoskie was struck by the daily struggles faced by shoeless children. He consequently decided to create a for-profit organization that would provide impoverished communities throughout Argentina, Ethiopia and South Africa with shoe donations. As a result, TOMS ‘One for One’ campaign emerged, and for every pair of TOMS shoes purchased in the US, one pair is donated to an impoverished community.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ubben Lecture by TOMS founder offers chance to think and act

On Sunday, March 2nd, Blake Mycoskie, the president and founder of TOMs will deliver a speech about his story and his revolutionary Buy One Give One (BOGO) business model.

I don’t need to point out that the Ubben Lecture Series has a reputation for bringing in impactful speakers from varying fields. The Ubben guests I’ve heard from over the course of my time at DePauw have opened my eyes to a bigger picture and given me an opportunity to connect the wonderful privilege of my education to a new and interesting narrative. Part of the aim of bringing in these speakers seems to be to motivate us to do everything we can with the knowledge we take from DePauw. That’s why I find this choice of speaker particularly intriguing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sochi Olympics' ethical problems overshadow spirit of cooperation

Photo: Flickr 
We have all seen the stories about the less-than-perfect conditions of the 2014 Winter Olympic games. There are stories of un-flushable toilets, malfunctioning snowflakes, and even an athlete breaking out of a jammed bathroom door like something out of a Kool-Aid commercial. Despite all of this, you can’t say that the Russian government didn’t try to make this year’s Olympic competition a showcase of a new and improved Russia. With an initial bid of $10 Billion, Russia was willing to pay for the most expensive Winter Games to date. However, according to Forbes Magazine, the total cost of the games has risen exponentially to an astounding $50 billion, more than all previous Winter Olympics combined. Although the economics of the situations are incredible, digging deeper into the facts gives us a more complete understanding of the humanitarian and ecological price we pay for the Olympic Games. These issues darken the mood of what is supposed to be a competition representing international unity.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Belafonte’s speech powerful, no one there to hear it

During my time at DePauw University, I have listened to lectures from esteemed guests such as Leymah Gbowee, Bill Clinton and Ron Paul. But this week, I heard a speech more critical than any other that I have heard on this campus: a speech from 87-year-old activist Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte comes from a time when a tweet was not the endpoint of a political movement, but rather from a time when social activism was rampant. Known to be a beacon of controversy, Belafonte delivered a straightforward lecture about the growing plague of complacency and immorality that has been dominating American society and the global community. His ideas are the most important ideas I've heard at DePauw.