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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis Lacks Grammatical

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

So there’s a new sign on the side of the Campus Center, proclaiming all the virtues of a “Brandeis Education.” That’s aall well and good, albeit I haven’t a clue why this sign has suddenly appeared or why money has been spent on it. I love Brandeis. I’m proud of it, and if we want to proclaim to the world and prospective students how terrific we are, I’m all for it. Except that the sign is written incorrectly.

It’s not right. On the top right there is a list of “Core Skills”. They are: Communication, Quantitative, and Critical Thinking. Communication is a noun. Critical thinking is a noun. (It’s actually an adjective and a gerund, but it still works as a noun, so we’ll let it slide.) Quantitative, however, is an adjective. It’s not the same part of speech as the other two things in the list. That’s not how lists are made. It’s just plain wrong.

Granted, if one places each thing listed in front of the word “Skills,” it sounds better: “Communication Skills,” “Quantitative Skills,” “Critical Thinking Skills.” But as a list, it still just does not work. Lists can’t contain both adjectives and nouns. They can’t contain different parts of speech. That’s not how English works. A very easy fix would have been to change “Quantitative” to “Quantitative Reasoning.” Then it would be a noun, like everything else. It would also be the name of the actual university requirement. It would be what’s written in the University Bulletin and my Sage account. Someone actually took something that exists and changed it to something wrong when making this sign.

I’m aware that there are people who don’t know this rule. I know this because I’ve seen it before, and felt indignant about it. I’ve ranted to my friends about it. But the reason I’m not stopping at simply complaining to my friends this time is that I’m embarrassed. Brandeis has produced an enormous sign touting its academic virtues to the world, and it has written it wrongly. As an English major, I’m embarrassed and honestly insulted that my education is being represented by this, proudly, in six inch high letters. If I were a prospective student and this were one of the first things I saw at Brandeis (as I guess it’s meant to be) I would seriously consider crossing Brandeis off my list entirely. I speak English, I want to study English, and my first impression of Brandeis is that it is getting it completely wrong.

If I saw the same mistake at a restaurant, I’d be annoyed, I might mention it to the person with me. But I would still eat there, because I’m interested in the food and the service, the things for which the restaurant is responsible. The thing for which a university is responsible is academics, so I’d really like to think that it could get that right.

My goal in writing this article hasn’t been entirely clear. I certainly don’t want Brandeis to spend more money on a new, edited, replacement sign. I’d just like both students and those responsible for this sign to realize that, to the people who know about this kind of thing—a pretty decent portion of those touring a well-regarded liberal arts college—we’re presenting ourselves as being pretty stupid.