Summer is always the time for movies about college. At least I believe that. Among those I have never seen, this summer's Monsters University. So, if I have never seen it, why am I writing about it? Because I have seen their virtual presence. And, because you may not know this, but how one "shops" for college is very different from my youth -- and even from 5 years ago. Leading indicators show that (in addition to the traditional campus visit, tweaked in many ways in recent years), the two things that shape how your child -- or you - choose a college are their website (and various peer created review sites, a la the blogs that review restaurants, replacing professional restaurant critics. Urbanspoon is a good example from beyond higher education. Rate My Professors is a -- sometimes horrifying -- example from within higher education, with loads of commentary associated with its use.)
So: Monsters University intrigues me because the film has an (admittedly fake) website. Here it is. With several very key differences, this looks a lot like websites from colleges and universities everywhere -- focused on admissions, on sports, on alums and on . . . . more. What is missing, as others have noted are things like financial aid and related topics. And, of course, this is a dot com not a dot edu. Even so, its use tells us a lot. (I find myself wondering how many potential students have tried to apply.)
Websites are on my mind, in part because Shimer is working hard to change ours (a new one is "Coming Soon"). As a result of that -- and my profession -- I have spent a lot of time looking at college and university websites. They matter. And this despite the fact that they may render quite literally visible the ways we are all the same while trying so hard to differentiate ourselves. (I admit it: Shimer is NOT the same and we have insisted on a quirky website. And, we are getting one. Coming soon. . .not to a theater near you, but to your computer, if you click through to it.)
In any case, I thought some comparisons might entertain us all. So:
First: Here are some sentences from the president of MU -- by the way, her name is Victoria Gross, so she is one of the non-majority of university presidents -- a female.
"Welcome to Monsters University, one of the great institutions of learning in the world.
While we have built a campus known for its diversity, academic disciplines and excellence, MU is also an institution that lives by its intellectual curiosity, as we foster a willingness to challenge what is blindly accepted, and seek what is quantitatively true. We are a unique group of educators and students who, by the rigors of exhaustive focus and effort, demand more from ourselves. Because excellence is a word that is not awarded by inclusion into this fabled institution, it's a word that must be earned, protected, and treasured." (Here's the source of the quotation.)
The letter goes on to use such words as interdisciplinary, and is salted with an anecdote about a student.
How does this compare to president's letters from Chicagoland? I have not looked. But of the websites representing Chicago(land) higher education, I am willing to bet that diversity, interdisciplinarity, excellence, and more of the buzzwords chosen by the designer of Monsters University appear repeatedly. And, I am willing to bet that the sites look more than a bit like the one for Monsters U.
The question is: who is imitating who? (Or is it whom?)
For another comparison, consider the notion of the MU Store (my favorite: the hoodie with four arms). Or consider the section on giving to MU (yes, I have written about philanthropy here at Chicago Now).
Are you shopping for college or a movie? Hmmm.