This article is devoted to those wide-eyed freshmen and other newcomers to the U of A. It's a big step heading off to college, one with equal parts excitement and dread. We're here to help ease the transition. By the time you're done with this article, it should be 51 percent excitement and only 49 percent dread.
You've probably been bombarded with information, much of which was carefully packaged by people who had real jobs before they disappeared inside the bowels of the university. What once was a journalist is now a public information officer. It is their job to put the best face on things, and it's really not that hard since most of your college experience will be positive (unless you join a fraternity, in which case it will be fraudulent). But more on that later.
You've got all the handbooks and the maps. Now we offer The Guide, a collection of facts and suggestions that may help you keep things in perspective.
(This is not to be confused with an entertainment guide published by the Arizona Daily Star a couple of weeks before any students arrived on campus. We tried our darnedest to figure out the timing of that one. We just figured the editorial meeting went something like, "Newcomers guide for UA students ... Gannett ... Gotta get it done before the takeover ... Gannett ... Does anybody know when school starts? ... Gannett ... Working for the Citizen ... Aw hell, just print it; somebody might read it."
To be fair, it was well done. It told where UA students could find the best museums, the best Broadway-style plays and the best orchestral concerts. We sincerely hope the three of you who are interested in that stuff got ahold of that issue.
What we offer here is but a supplement to all the other guides; we seek but to offer some advice and little bits of knowledge that may help things along.
HOW TO EARN A DEGREE FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
We're assuming that's why you're here. Unless, of course, you're playing ball for Lute Olson, in which case it would be "How To Get To The NBA." That section has a special class in "How To Get An Agent Or Two In Violation of NCAA Rules So You Can Drive an SUV and Dress Like a Pimp While in School," taught by Jason Terry.
However, if it is a degree you're interested in, pay attention. We assembled a panel of people who have earned degrees from the UA and have gone on to get real jobs in which at least some of what they learned comes in handy. Of the nine people in the group, three earned their degrees in four years, four did it in five years, and one person took seven leisurely years. One other guy, using extra winter and summer sessions, graduated in three years. He's the one whose skin is whiter than that of the British royal family.
Their advice, arrived at by consensus and agreed to by all, is as follows:
1. Go to class. This doesn't mean think about going to class, or drive around looking for a parking space before deciding to blow off class, or swear that this will be the last time you miss class. Show your butt up. This was unanimous; those on the panel who had trouble in college trace most of it not to work schedules nor study habits, but rather to attendance.
College classes are like movies in the Airplane series. They throw a hundred things at you in hopes that five or six will stick. But they can't stick if you're asleep in your dorm room.
2. Go easy on the parties. Remember, with freedom comes responsibility. Just because you're in college doesn't mean that you have to act stupid. Of course, it is your decision whether to do so, but it is not a rite of passage. Lots and lots of people have gone on to lead fulfilling, productive lives without an arrest record or ever once having awakened to find themselves on a strange couch, reeking of beer and/or urine, and creepily chewing on a piece of hot dog they could have sworn they consumed hours earlier.
3. Take good notes. This takes practice. We've all been there, where the prof is talking so fast you get every third word. Then, when you look at the notes later, it reads, "Green potato balls," and you wonder if you were even in the right class. Learn to recognize key words, write fast, and limit your reliance on electronic nonsense.
4. Pick a major and stick to it. Do we expect an 18-year-old to know what she wants to do for the rest of her life? No, but she can have an idea or two. Pick something and go for it. If you want to branch out later, go get a master's in something else.
5. Keep your eyes on the prize. You're not in college to work at the mall. Or to find a wife or to drink until you pass out. You can have side interests, but you're in college to get out. Focus your energy on the final goal and you'll be surprised how smoothly things work.
Frankly, I was expecting more from the panel of experts, but then I realized that these were people who had all graduated. That's boring. Had I wanted excitement, I should have contacted the former college students who now walk around with electronic ankle bracelets, who work in the nether regions of the service industry, and those who are "thinking about enrolling at Pima next semester."
What follows is an array of information that may help you better understand the swirling madness that is the University of Arizona.
MYTHS THAT SIMPLY WON'T GO AWAY
1. Jocks flock together in certain classes. This is largely true, but the old misconception that certain teachers are "jock-sniffers," enamored with athletes and willing to give them every imaginable break, is simply false. The great actress Harley Jane Kozak put that myth to rest once and for all in the immortal sports film Necessary Roughness, an uplifting tale of a 40ish guy who enrolls in college and leads his team to a brilliant 1-8-1 record. Co-starring Sinbad and soon-to-be Senator Fred Dalton Thompson, Roughness just missed getting an Oscar nomination by the razor-thin margin of all of the other 178 movies that were released that year.
As for jocks showing up in bunches in certain classes, be glad it's not Arizona State, where they don't show up to class at all. UA athletes tend to take only certain majors, like family studies (pun only sort-of intended). Furthermore, their schedules are such that they can't take afternoon classes because of practice, so that further limits their options. Plus, if they all have the same class, they can help each other find the buildings.
The UA football media guide lists all the players and their bios. The most common major listed is "undecided," followed by the aforementioned family studies, then communication, and media arts.
Let's face it: As the old saying goes, there are no atheists in the foxhole, and there are precious few football players in engineering.
To be fair, however, UA athletes graduate at a rate higher than that of the general student population.
2. Sororities are still bastions of de facto segregation. Simply not true. While researching this article, I drove by a sorority house and saw not one, but two, brunettes standing on the lawn! And they weren't wearing aprons and serving hors-d'oeuvres to the blonde ones.
I then got hold of a membership list and was shocked to learn that only 27 of the 42 members have names that end in "i," "ie" or "y." Clearly a societal shift.
3. The universities in Arizona and around the country have no good reason for raising tuition and fees every year at a rate far ahead that of inflation. This is truly a pernicious rumor that just won't go away. Ask anybody in charge and they'll tell you how there used to be inflation back in the 1970s and the university has simply spent the past quarter-century trying to catch up.
See, if today's students had been smart enough to have been born 25 years earlier than they were, they would have enjoyed a price break in college. So, in a way, it's the students' own fault.
FIVE DEGREES YOU PROBABLY DIDN'T KNOW WERE OFFERED (AND WOULD BE WISE TO AVOID)
1. Oboe. I can see it now. Poor guy goes in for a job interview and is told, "We're really sorry. We were looking for someone with a degree in bassoon."
2. Studio art 2D and Studio art 3D. Do you have to take 50 percent more classes to get the degree in 3D than in 2D?
3. Racetrack management. Don't even try to get into these classes. They're all full. They have to hold study sessions in Centennial Hall. Racetrack management?! The head of this department(?) must have some seriously dirty pictures of somebody in administration.
4. Dramatic theory. Perfect for anyone seeking long-term employment at Coffee, Etc.
5. Mexican-American studies. This is the academic equivalent of a pyramid scheme. The only thing you can do with a degree in Mexican-American studies is teach other people foolish enough to major in Mexican-American studies.
If you think this sounds harsh, I'm trying to hook you up here. When I first went to college, a lot of my African-American teammates got suckered into majoring in black studies. Half of them dropped out, and the other half that finished soon learned the hard way that their degree wasn't worth the parchment it was printed on. Half of that group got frustrated and got blue-collar jobs, while the rest had to go back to school to get degrees in something more substantial, like astrology or witchcraft.
This is not to say that learning about one's heritage is a bad thing. Just don't major in it.
OUR FAVORITE TRUE UA STORY
A few years back, a young woman from Guam enrolled at the UA. When it came time to pay her fees, she wrote a check on account with the Bank of Guam. The bursar's office wouldn't accept the check because they "didn't know what the exchange rate was."
For those of you who don't get the joke, Guam is part of the United States, so there is no exchange rate. Have fun at ASU.
· About half the time, there are more incoming freshmen from Maricopa County than from Pima County. In a way, this makes sense. They can get away from home (but not too far), the weather is actually better than in Phoenix, and so too, obviously, is the education they'll receive. Conversely, four or five Pima County residents enroll at ASU each year, virtually all of whom are from Salpointe Catholic and are pre-admitted to a sorority.
· The UA has more students from Alaska (49) than from neighboring Santa Cruz County (40), more students from the island of Cyprus (58) than from Pinal (37) and Gila (13) counties combined, and more students from Vietnam (8) than from either Graham (5) or Greenlee (6) counties.
· The UA has students from 130 countries, including at least one each from St. Christopher-Nevis, Comoros, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso.
· While the UA is able to attract students from around the world, its in-state numbers are oddly flat. Over a span of recent years, the number of students matriculating from various Arizona counties is suspiciously consistent. Among the data (in consecutive years):
Cochise: 84, 80, 83, 82
Gila: 13, 13, 13
Greenlee: 6, 8, 8, 8, 7, 6
Yuma: 61, 61, 62
Either this is just a very weird coincidence, or somebody's got a secret quota system going somewhere.
· Oddities: Around one out of every 100 UA students is under the age of 18. Roughly one out of every 1,000 is over the age of 60. And .05 percent of all students list their age as "Unknown." What are these people doing in college?
CONSTRUCTION IS EVERYWHERE
Old-timers who visit the campus will be distressed to learn that the mall is pretty-much gone, but they kept the sculpture at the end of it! Talk about your bad decisions! The UA mall was the centerpiece of the campus for decades, one of the most recognizable features in the entire city of Tucson. For years it was used as a place for a nice stroll, a Frisbee toss, or a spirited game of soccer played by people who would have been seated in a side room with the nerds and the handicapped in the opening scene of Animal House.
We should have allowed the university to keep growing outward until it reached its natural barrier, the Rincon Mountains. Instead, we forced the UA to infill and now the mall is gone.
And did I mention that they left the sculpture up?
THE MOST-ASKED QUESTION
Is there any place where people under 21 can drink alcohol? No, it's illegal, unless you're certain UA athletes, in which case some establishments have a wink-and-nod policy.
DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
An alarming number of classes (especially in math and science) are taught by people with only a casual acquaintance with the English language. These folks tend to be smarter than heck in their chosen field of study, but often lack the ability to share their knowledge with others. We know of one physics instructor from Pakistan who would say "Good morning," after which several bewildered students would ask him to repeat the question.
In these politically correct days, you're not supposed to talk about such things, but this problem has been plaguing universities for years. Unless a lot of people complain, the UA will simply pretend the situation doesn't exist.
It's not their fault that their English is limited or stilted. But if you're paying thousands of dollars a year to get an education, it ought to be offered in your mother tongue. Put it this way: Would you want your nearby nuclear power plant to be operated by a recent graduate who received his instruction in a language other than his own?
There are 25,000 computers on the UA campus, of which only 127 have never been used to play solitaire, to e-mail friends back East, or to download porn.
THE ULTIMATE TRUTH ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
There are 327,096 square feet of classroom space. There are 1,524,411 square feet of research lab space. Now you know where you stand.