What your tour guides don’t tell you about Case Western

The Elephant in the Room

Andrew Breland

A couple of years ago, a professor told me that newly hired faculty at Case Western Reserve University are told “You can assign lots of work and reading. Students here don’t do anything but study. They use all their time to study and read for class.”

Sadly, this image is not nearly that of the typical CWRU student. The people I have met here are some of the most involved and community-oriented students in the nation. But the workload put on students is enough to have us ranked in the top one percent of “Least Manageable Workloads” among 1,380 colleges in the country. We fall above such “easy” schools as Carnegie Mellon, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago and all but one of the Ivy League schools (sorry, Columbia).

Students applying to and visiting CWRU are promised years of class work balanced with plenty of time for extracurricular activities, a social life and a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, the truth is far from this. There’s an old college adage that seems to fit here “Good grades, a social life and sleep – you can only pick two.”

But this isn’t nearly the only false promise made to the prospective students of CWRU.

Students touring the university and thinking of applying to spend four years at the university are showered in the knowledge of our “library that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week” and the “great food we have on campus run by Bon Appétit.” We hear about the 500 pages of free printing per semester and the fantastic SAGES program that everyone enjoys and uses for the rest of their lives (in the interest of honesty, I must confess that I am a tour guide for the university and have said each of these things numerous times in the interest of keeping my job).

But what students do not hear is that the library is completely closed during university holidays (Labor Day, anyone?) and there are no 24/7 hours during breaks, both instances where students are more than likely to use the space. Finding assistance in the library is nearly impossible, as librarians remain cloistered upstairs in a locked room, leaving students with the displeasing choice of asking fellow students or bona fide office assistants working the front desk.

Bon Appétit, our “fabulous” food provider, is one of the worst institutions on campus, preventing other (read: cheaper) food options from encroaching on their monopoly. While putting up a façade of “listening to students” Bon Appétit serves the same thing day after day. Students will complain by the second month of the semester that the food is terrible and boring. But the management never responds.

And who can forget the 500 pages of free printing, only accessible on printers that are broken about 80 percent of the time. And the SAGES program, the biggest joke of an institution on campus, which forces students to take uninteresting classes from largely unprepared individuals, simultaneously removing time that could otherwise be spent in a major or minor class that would actually prepare students for life after graduation. Proponents of the program claim that it teaches students to write and communicate. But sadly, all it has taught me is that engineers and humanities majors should never be taught writing techniques in the same class.

This is not to say, though, that all my experiences at CWRU have been bad. I’ve met friends that will last a lifetime, been taught by professors who have challenged my thinking and forced me to become a more worldly thinker and gotten involved in organizations that have allowed me to travel nearly 10,000 miles in my first two years all the while maintaining a course load requiring approximately 1,000 pages of reading a week. And yes, I have even had a good SAGES class, although this was mostly in part due to the inventiveness and creativity of the professor and not the SAGES curriculum, which we wholly ignored (for the most part) in the course.

To supplement the dearth of assistance and experience provided by the university, I have reached out to professors and students alike. In a few professors, I have found mentors and friends I will keep for years. They have opened doors and suggested paths that have put me on the road to being a more successful person, and I’ve heard some great stories along the way. With friends, I have found some of the most reliable people imaginable – a second family, one could say. And despite the university’s efforts to inundate students to the point where none of this is a possibility, I have found success.

For the next few months, this column will focus on the parts of campus people do not want to talk about, from the unspoken truths among students to the insane and debilitating struggle to find something to do in Cleveland, Ohio. I love Case Western and I cannot imagine going to school anywhere else. Sometimes, I just imagine a better situation than the one we’re in right now. I look forward to further exploring, enjoying and critiquing the many sides of our lives at CWRU.

Andrew Breland is a junior planning to triple major in political science, English and history. At CWRU, Andrew serves as the vice president of the Case College Republicans and the treasurer for the Case Western Mock Trial Team. After graduation, Andrew plans to attend law school and pursue a career as a civil litigation attorney specializing in Tort defense.