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Think we've got it bad? U. Chicago has it worse

Two weeks ago, I visited a friend at the University of Chicago. A renowned research institution, Chicago's undergraduate program is better known as the school "where fun goes to die." With a quarter system, Chicago students endure three sets of finals per year. But here at Princeton, we're complaining about exams after winter break.

Compared with students at most schools, we are spoiled. We have 24 weeks of classes, compared to Chicago's 30. This week is designated "midterm week," and most professors schedule assignments accordingly. Yes, there are professors that schedule midterms and papers outside this period, but most do not. As many Chicago students can confirm, midterms there run from Week Four through Week 10.


Certainly, we are an exception when it comes to reading periods: nine days before exams devoted to catching up. The University is even gracious enough not to count Houseparties weekend in those nine days. Chicago designates two days that begin immediately following the last class of the quarter. So does Columbia. Penn allots three days. Yale students are lucky, with seven. I am not advocating change, because I think Princeton's academic program has evolved to fit the nine-day reading period. But I am asking that we put our situation into perspective.

As fortunate as we are, why do we complain about too much work? Last spring, when Chicago administrators proposed a plan to weaken their core curriculum, students there protested for months to preserve what many see as cumbersome academic requirements.

Too many Princeton students act as though they are owed "better" — less reading, fewer papers, longer vacations. Actually, we are owed nothing. Professors are the employees in the academic world; we are merely the clients. They are paid to challenge us, to help us develop our minds and pursue our interests. To do so requires reading, writing, examinations and assignments.

Attending this school is not a job, and it is not something we have to do. This society has created a system that justifies our spending four years pursuing our interests and expanding our minds. As college students, most of us have little real responsibility. Yet somehow, some of us have come to place so much emphasis on our classes that we perceive them as something akin to a job and beg for benefits.

For those who say that an advanced degree is essential in today's employment market, and thus argue that completing this education is something we must do, I respond that you did not have to choose Princeton. You could have enrolled in a technical school, learned a trade and earned a decent living. A Princeton education is a gift that we are fortunate to have received. This is a luxury — to spend four years exploring anything and everything, from astrophysics to Zen Buddhism — but we are not entitled to any of this. What we take away from our Princeton experience is directly related to what we put into it. "Dean Hargadon and Company" offered each of us admission here because they believe that we are the individuals that will make the most of our time here and the resources available to us.

Whining about work is not making the most of the Princeton experience. If your work is such a burden, perhaps you are taking the wrong classes. At the same time, however, we must strike a delicate balance between class work, extracurricular activities and socializing. In this respect, we should not emulate Chicago, where the first Monday in February is an academic vacation affectionately called "Suicide Prevention Day." Chicago earned its notoriety because too many students there were unable to strike the appropriate balance between class work and extracurricular activities. Let us not suffer the same fate. But let us not suffer the worse fate of misunderstanding why we are here.