Case Western Reserve University’s campus identity question

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Stepping onto campus, it’s evident that Case Western Reserve University has an issue with identity. The campus itself is split into the Mather and the engineering Quads, bracketed on either side by the much more modern Peter B. Lewis Building and the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center buildings and cut across by the Tinkham Veale University Center, which many have termed as resembling an airport terminal. Just by looking at the buildings, CWRU struggles to define what kind of university it wants to be.

Entering university, a SAGES professor once started a class by asking his students if they were a group of Ivy League rejects. Many students can name times in class where professors try to bring up other prestigious institutions, tacking on CWRU at the end of these lists as though the university has something to prove by being on these lists. However, what the CWRU community must come to terms with is that we may never be at the top of the rankings for the top universities in the nation, but that does not have to be a marker of the success of CWRU. 

Initially several different universities, CWRU is an amalgamation of five older colleges, and carries part of each identity with it today. CWRU’s emphasis on medical education and engineering has often relegated students in the College of Arts and Sciences, which has far more majors, but significantly fewer students than the Case School of Engineering and the Francis Bolton Payne School of Nursing, to the side. At the same time, the introduction of the Baker Nord Center for the Humanities and other humanities efforts seem to signal a new focus on the humanities at CWRU. The university too often feels unfocused in its efforts, and struggles to find ways for students to connect across disciplines.

As childish as the sentiment may be, CWRU must lose its obligation to be the best as compared to other universities and instead focus its efforts into finding a cohesive identity and creating an environment to foster that mission. As of now, the university administration seems more preoccupied with reshuffling administrators by creating new offices and dissolving others that results in no significant change for students.

If there is one word to describe CWRU, it may very well be “generic.” This university tries to be too many things at once for a campus of only 5,000 undergraduate students, and must settle on a set of values and traits that bind the student body together instead.

However, this incohesive identity does not only harm students, but also the faculty the university employs. Students have often highlighted that CWRU has a plethora of impressive professors, who have been recognized by institutions from Forbes to the Pulitzer. The university tends to swing on a pendulum with how often they highlight professors as opposed to how well they treat their faculty.

Ultimately, a university’s priorities lie in its students and its professors; this should be a place of education and discussion that centers around a campus identity that makes students proud to be alums of this university. As of now, without a strong sense of purpose and an administration that shuffles its administrators around like cards, students ultimately rely on their own merit to propel themselves forward in their academic careers.