RHODES COLLEGE (visited 4/22/13)
I was impressed with Rhodes; it lived up to all the things I’ve come to expect from a Colleges That Change Lives school. Not only is it a beautiful campus (it falls into the small group of colleges, along with places like Bryn Mawr and WashU, with lots of gothic stone buildings), but they’re also rightfully proud of their “focus on the 4-Rs: Rigorous academics in the Real world on a Residential campus showing proven Results,” as one of the admissions rep puts it. They boast a high retention rate and an impressive 91-100% acceptance rate to grad school over the last 10 years, so they’re doing something right.
The admissions rep gave a very enthusiastic, quick overview of the school before splitting up the group among the 3 tour guides: “It’s their job to show you their home.” There were four college counselors touring Rhodes on the day I went, so they sent us out with our own guide. Rob was a fantastic, dynamic senior from Texas majoring in International Urban Politics; he said that we’ve probably never heard of it before since “I made it up.” Before leaving the office, one of the tour guides put a large map up to show us where we would be going. This was a great idea and helped us get a sense of campus; I don’t know why more schools don’t do this.
Much of the campus has a wooded feel; I drove up to the admissions office under a canopy of trees, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the campus is a federal arboretum. When Rhodes built the new library, they had to cut down a few trees, but they incorporated the lumber into the building. Their library is now ranked among the top 25 most beautiful libraries in the world, and is one of two earthquake-proof buildings in the state, designed to “split in half.” On the first floor is “Middle Ground,” the 24 hour section of the library. Rob told us that it’s “where people go to pretend to study. You hear all sorts of typing, but people are really on facebook.” The rest of the library is where the real work gets done, and the floors get progressively quieter on the higher levels. The Star Room on the second floor was co-designed by the art students and the astronomy students. The ceiling has as astrological chart of the way the school looked on the night the university opened.
About three-quarters of the students live on campus all four years. The freshman dorm we toured was great! It even smelled good. Rob had sent pictures to his friends back home who were at the state flagship university, and they were definitely jealous, comparing his large suite with stained-glass to their little cinder-block rooms. They just finished building a Junior dorm that acts as a “bridge” between the freshman and sophomore dorms and the Senior apartments (which have 6-8 rooms connected with 2 bathrooms and a common room). The junior dorm is a little more independent, has some kitchen options, etc. For students who want to move off campus, it’s easy to find housing. Rob rents a house from a prof with six other students. There are also housing options listed online in the Marketplace section of the website. There are no Greek residences, even though about 50% of students get involved in Greek life. The groups are inclusive with most activities open to anyone. Rush happens during the second week of classes.
Newsweek ranked Rhodes as the #1 Most Service-Minded school; students are active on and off campus. Like any campus, there’s a lot to do on campus, and the city of Memphis is easily accessible (downtown is about 10 minutes away). On campus, one of Rob’s favorite traditions is Rites of Spring in which there are concerts, parties, and other events. There are several unofficial “To-Do-Before-Graduation” things including jumping in the fountain, climbing the sphere (which was created during a contest between the physics and the chemistry departments – Physics won and then placed it outside the Chem department to brag), and riding the statue of the lynx (their mascot). Rob finds it funny that the lynx is in a fighting stance since real lynxes will initially curl up and try to roll away from danger. Rhodes’ fight song includes the line “Roll Roll Roll” which is like saying “Run away!!” . . . “kind of like what our football team does, so I guess it’s appropriate!”
Rhodes has a completely student-run Honor Code (1 of only 17 in the country). If there are violations, students get called in front of the council which deals with the entire investigation. Students could get expelled, but he doesn’t know if that actually has happened since everything that happens is confidential.
Rob appreciates having such easy access to professors and other adults around campus. The president gets rave reviews by the students, and I can see why. Although we didn’t know who he was at the time, he came out of an office as we were walking by, and he stopped to say hi. He talked to us for a few minutes and bragged about Rob: “I bet he didn’t tell you he’s already got a job for right after graduation, did he?” After he walked away, Rob said, “That was President Troutt. That’s pretty much what he’s always like. He talks to everyone!”
In the presentation at the beginning of the morning, the admissions officer told us that the average class size is 14, so we asked Rob what the reality of that was. He is currently in an individual study (so a class of 1) but of the regularly scheduled classes he’s taken, the smallest has been 3 (he’s had several classes with fewer than 10 students); his largest has been in the high 20s. He said that people here who succeed are engaged in class; students can’t get away with NOT be engaged in a school this size. “We’re all big fish in a small pond.” He knew two people who transferred: one wanted a specialized medical field not offered at Rhodes, and one was disillusioned by the size; his parents had pushed him to Rhodes when he was choosing between Rhodes and LSU. He likes that the students can utilize the resources of Memphis for internships and for research as part of classes. There are nine Fortune-500 companies in the area including FedEx, Auto Zone, and International Paper. St. Jude’s Research Hospital is nearby, and Rhodes is the only undergrad institution allowed to send students to work there.