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Life on the Quads
A Centennial View of
the Student Experience at the
University of Chicago
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Two students leaving Jones Laboratory, 1940s.

Two students leaving Jones Laboratory, 1940s.

 

Undergraduates testing their courage on the frozen surface of Botany Pond, undated.

Undergraduates testing their courage on the frozen surface of Botany Pond, undated.

Introduction

In later decades, some of the extracurricular enterprises of the earliest days disappeared; others survived, although usually changed in various ways. Educational policy had its effect on the character of student life - this being dramatically true of the Hutchins era - but the student body responded to these changes with resiliency, vigor, and strong opinions.

This exhibition traces the student experience at the University over the past one hundred years, and in so doing, provides impressions of the University at every point in the educational passage from registration to graduation. As the exhibition proceeds, one may note that the original energetic quality of student life was succeeded by altered and more restrained moods, responding in part to academic leadership and doctrine as well as to broader influences in the world beyond the campus. It is also possible to detect a shift in the balance between extracurricular and academic emphases, roughly by contrasting the University's first half century with the second. President Harper actively sought to enrich student life (even personally leading the organization of a student band), and his immediate successors were equally committed to, if less heartily involved in, the busy world of student activities outside the classroom. President Robert M. Hutchins, on the other hand, regarded many extracurricular activities, at least to the extent that they were conducted in most American universities, as frivolous, expensive, and possibly subversive of the educational enterprise as he defined it. Even at the height of Hutchins's curricular reforms and the retreat from the conventional trappings of carefree college life, however, student talent and enthusiasm continued to find expression in many ways, including an extensive, flourishing program of intramural athletics.

In extracurricular activities, as in the more critical and demanding academic arena, student life at the University has been indelibly influenced by the distinctive history of the institution. Yet students of the University have skillfully adapted to their campus environment and created meaningful roles for themselves as they confronted shifting intellectual and social demands. The University has shaped its students over the span of one hundred years, and student achievements in their turn have helped to define the University's character and confirm its commitment to freedom of inquiry and individual expression.


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