Avoid conformity, make changes that suit your needs

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

I love, love, love General Tso — his chicken, his tofu, and sometimes even his beef are enough to send me into a food coma, where my dreams form an excited blend of ecstasy, nausea, and regret.

Why regret? Well, it only takes one trip to to realize that one dish of General Tso’s chicken provides enough calories to feed a small family for about a week. Wow.
Knowing this, do I wish that my beloved general offered some less caloric options? Would I prefer my food less fried, with less sauce, or just… less? (Perhaps a plate overflowing with chicken is, at times, a little over the top.)


When I want to eat healthy, I eat healthy. Don’t even get me started on the deliciousness of hummus and pita, salad, or sushi — I’m there. But when I want to drown myself in dark meat and dark sauce, there’s only one man for me, and his name is Tso. General Tso. I don’t want my Chinese food to be more like my healthy food, and I don’t want my healthy food to be more like my Chinese food.

I’ve tried the Lean Cuisine versions of the general’s oh-Tso-good creations, but they pale in comparison to their greasy restaurant counterparts. On top of that, they taste worse than most healthy foods do — I’d prefer a plate of celery to a microwavable bowl of rubbery chicken any day.

My point? Choices are important, and when you mix things that don’t belong together, like healthy food and General Tso’s, you wind up with a less-than-appetizing option. When you choose something, it reflects your priorities — do you care about calories, prices, or flavor? While some choices are better than others, there’s no perfect option — each is simply different from the rest.
Now, we all know that Chinese food is very wise — just look at fortune cookies — and, as such, I argue that we can apply this same choice-conscious argument to bigger topics, like universities.
When you choose a university, it also says a lot about you. For example, students at Carnegie Mellon probably don’t value packed football games and sunny weather as much as they value academically strenuous classes and a diverse student body.

To me that sounds like a fair trade, but some people would hate it, which is why there are plenty of other colleges out there to choose from. Besides, no collegiate choice is final; students transfer in and out of Carnegie Mellon every year as they re-evaluate their college decisions.

This seems obvious, but things get a little iffy when the thing you choose starts changing.

People probably wouldn’t complain if the clouds parted, the snow melted, and students started tanning on the Cut, but what if our classes suddenly changed? What if Carnegie Mellon turned into a party school overnight, stopped offering computer science or musical theater, or doubled in size?

These changes wouldn’t only be radical; they’d be stupid, because schools with those characteristics already exist. If a student really wanted a party school, he or she would have chosen one.
For a less radical (but more tangible) example, think about the Tartans Bikes debacle from early 2007. Student body president Karl Sjogren and vice president Andrea Hamilton endowed our campus with unlocked bicycles in order to help students move around campus and instill a feeling of good ole togetherness within the community.

This idea was doomed from the start, mostly because Carnegie Mellon is not the kind of school to foster such touchy-feely programs. We’re big and we’re in the city, and unlocked bikes will (and did) get stolen faster than you can, well, paint them plaid.

Moreover, students at Carnegie Mellon didn’t enroll in a touchy-feely school for a reason — clearly, other things were more important. Perhaps some students would have enjoyed a more successful bike program, but the majority seemed indifferent.

Now, Student Senate is proposing a new set of changes that could go the way of the bikes: a pass/fail fall semester for first-years and +/– grading for undergrads.

There are plenty of other schools that already have these policies, especially +/– grading, so changing Carnegie Mellon to match would only be changing our school into something that current students didn’t choose.

Still, not all change is bad — the proposed grading changes have some potentially positive consequences, including smooth college transitions for first-years (pass/fail) and increased feedback from faculty to students (+/–).

The important distinction here is whether a pass/fail semester or +/– grading would alter the identity of the university. Would they turn it into a school that caters less to the current student body? Or, are these two policies too insignificant to make an impact on Carnegie Mellon’s identity as a whole?

My personal opinion is that neither of these two policies mesh well with the current Carnegie Mellon identity; a pass/fail semester would only set first-years up for a shockingly tough spring semester, and +/– grading would make academically crazy students go even academically crazier.

However, I’m not fully educated on the issue, so don’t take my opinion as your own. Instead, my point is that the question is not “Would the policies be good?” but rather “Would the policies be good for us?”

In the end, our agenda as students should be to better Carnegie Mellon. We chose it, just like I so often choose General Tso, and now all that’s left is to embrace it — in all of its fried, greasy glory.