The Best Student Experience for Some, Not So Much for Others

Posted: September 10, 2011 in UWO
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University of Western Ontario Professor Emeritus Paul Davenport

Since the day oh so many years ago that Paul Davenport coined the phrase, The University of Western Ontario has prided itself on having the best student experience (at a research intensive university – funny how that part gets forgotten).

This year campus and London-area event planners seem to have out-done themselves by featuring a long line-up of acts that includes Lights, Basia Bulat, Avicii, The Sheepdogs, and Said the Whale.  And that’s just this coming week.  Later this year King’s has booked acts such as Bedouin Soundclash and Stars while The Wave is bringing in acts such as Keys N Krates.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But is this really the best student experience that Western – and the USC – can provide?

Simply put, the aforementioned groups/artists really only cater to a certain segment of the 30,000-strong Western population.  They cater to the popular music-loving, generic techno-loving, line-up-at-8pm-to-get-into-Jim Bob’s crowd and are being put on in conjunction with promotions companies such as Premier Life whose main goal is to make students buy over-priced alcohol.  And I can guarantee you that the segment of the Western population mentioned previously make up only a small fraction of Western students.

So, what’s in it for the other 22,000 or so Western students that don’t care about that kind of music or that kind of scene??

Sadly, not very much.

In one example of Western doing it right, last night the Arts & Humanities and Music Soph teams put on a good event, featuring a talented band who played some of their own tunes as well as some classic rock and country favourites.  That was followed by an open mic that featured an eclectic array of performances with something that everyone could enjoy.  It was fun, friendly, and inexpensive (in this case it was free).  The catch you ask??  The event was for Frosh and Sophs only.

Now, when Dr. Davenport became President of The University of Western Ontario back in 1994 the school had a reputation as a bit of a party school.  That reputation was something Dr. Davenport set out to change.  The slogan “best student experience at a research-intensive university” was meant to show a balance between Western’s “enjoyable student atmosphere” (read: rowdy shenanigans) and its outstanding academic record.  That Dr. Davenport served as President for fifteen years (a feat only exceeded by W. Sherwood Fox and George Hall who both served 20-year terms) is a testament to his success.

However, a recent survey of Western alumni shows that the school’s reputation has floundered.  Western is seen once again as a party school, and this coming from people who attended this institution back when it was in its partying heyday.  Western’s VP-External, Kevin Goldthorpe, has made it his responsibility to change that perception.

In this writer’s opinion a good place to start would be providing events or a range of events that cater to all students.  Stop putting on events exclusively for the Richmond Row crowd and start putting on events for everyone, even those who don’t seem to care.

Events like this year's Avicii Frosh Week event only cater to select elements of the Western population.

Because what exactly are events like Avicii saying to people outside of that crowd?  Events like that, when they are all that’s being run, tell alumni, parents, and interested parties everywhere that the school is more focused on getting wasted and listening to a guy play music by clicking a button on his MacBook than being academically-focused and promoting creativity.  The USC’s partnership with Premier Life and other promoters to put on the event points to a culture that is driven by the downtown bars, not by academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge.

You might ask what having varied events might change about this picture?  After all, having different events does not necessarily mean more studying is going on.  What can change is the way student life at Western is perceived by those outside the Western bubble, not to mention making the lives of those inside it more enjoyable.  Let’s take the Arts/Music event of last night as an example.  There was no drinking involved, no promoters, the money for the event came from students, and the content was wholly student-driven.  It was, as you might say, good, clean, wholesome fun.  It was just a bunch of students innocently enjoying their Friday night.

To broaden the picture a bit more, having varied events showcases that the administration and student government actually care about what all students want instead of doing whatever they want and hoping students like it as well.  And one thing that many studies on academic performance indicate is that happy students do well in their studies.  Students who feel left out, who don’t have a good student experience, don’t.

In short, caring about students goes a long way to bandaging your damaged reputation.  Not caring got us the reputation we have now.

  1. Lol says:

    This is a good article but there is gaping hole of a flaw in your argument… Why aren’t there a variety of events that differ from the typical DJ/rave show? Where are the promoters for those events? If you need such heavy reliance on students’ council, where are those individuals who sit on council who enjoy alternate programming? Why are they not taking similar effort to host large events? I doubt the USC has anything against different kinds of entertainment… and I doubt promoting agencies have anything against a market where there is potential for profit, if there is demand, surely the promoters will seek to capitalize on the opportunity. Simple economics: no demand. No supply.

    Oh and ps. Saying all a DJ does is click buttons on his/her laptop is equivalent to saying all a guitarist does is move his/her fingers over strings…Please do your research and refrain from ignorant rambling before giving your say on the branches of creativity and music you clearly don’t know much about.

    • Andrew Shaw says:

      Some very valid points there. However, you make the point that USC councilors should work towards what they enjoy. That confuses the purpose of the USC and its voting members completely. For one, voting members of the USC are meant to vote on behalf of the students within their constituency. Sometimes that vote lines up with what the councilor wants, sometimes it differs greatly. Going along with that is the implication that the USC does what students want/enjoy/need. It implies that the USC listens to students. But if that were the case we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all because alternative programming would already have been provided. That such programming isn’t readily available indicates a severe flaw in the culture of the USC as the organization has clearly lost track of its mandate to listen to students. I personally have a huge problem with the current attitude of the USC, which you would know if you knew me personally.

      Now, I’m sorry for poking a little fun at DJs out there. I didn’t realize that everyone was so sensitive about their music that I can’t make a joke about how a DJ looks on stage. I happen to know a few DJs and have friends that have dabbled in DJing. I’m not as ignorant as you might think. However, there is a huge gap between legitimate DJs that deserve respect for producing original works and some of the more mainstream DJs who remix the work of others and look to make a profit. I wasn’t trying to call the entire DJing community posers or anything, but you seriously need to grow up and learn how to take a joke.

      – Andrew Shaw

      P.S. If you’re going to call me out on something or call me ignorant, at least have the decency to put your name to it. It’s hard to take you seriously when you hide behind a three-character username…

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