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Reputation and Humor

Given that the Law School is spinning their 'Andy Bernard' ad as a way to demonstrate that 'they don't take themselves too seriously', and that I have been likened elsewhere in the blogosphere to the crazy uncle that nobody quite likes for not having a sense of humor, I think it's important to distinguish between the relative merits of reputation and humor. (And also between actual opinion and attention-getting, hyperbole-laced blog titles.)

While Andy Bernard is a humorous character, unfortunately there isn't anything very endearing to his personality. His fictional associations with Cornell paint the University in a light of both arrogance and ignorance. Nothing about his values channel the University's traditions of 'elite without being elitest', 'freedom and responsibility', 'any person... any study", or a 'private institution with a public mission'.

And nothing about him suggests the Law School's tagline of 'Lawyers in the Best Sense'. (Unless of course, the Law School is now interested in producing ambulance chasers, which would be a pretty good occupation for Andy.)

As Homer Simpson once wisely said, "It's funny because it's true." And the dirty little secret is that there is more than a glint of truth to the character of Andy Bernard -- the writers for The Office didn't pull the material out of thin air.

A healthy minority of Cornellians like to blindly brag about their association with a certain athletic conference, their difficult coursework in one of the applied social science departments of the Ag School, or their parties, that quite frankly, are meek relative to what you might find in the Big Ten on any given Saturday. So I can think of a handful of my peers who fit the 'Nard Dog role pretty damn well.

And I don't know about you, but that's not something I really want to advertise. It would be akin to Princeton advertising their ridiculously status-conscious bicker process, or Dartmouth prominently featuring its beer-soaked party scene, on Harvard reveling in the fact that is a soulless corporate bureaucracy focused solely on money (with a crappy hockey team, to boot).

So by all means, let's have a sense of humor about ourselves. And let's poke fun of our own bourgeois attitudes. But let's keep it to the pages of the Cornell Lunatic and not in public as a recruitment tool. Especially for a professional school that leans heavily upon its own reputation -- as opposed to research or scientific contributions -- for its success.

We can save the weather for our front page jokes.

Matthew Nagowski | Posted on March 11, 2010 (#)

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