In 2012, Brandeis University was ranked number six by Unigo for the happiest universities in the United States for the 2012-2013 year. Don’t believe me? I don’t either. Yet, it’s on the university Wikipedia page, and more importantly, a skilled user of the wayback machine can find it on Unigo itself. Naturally, I am not inclined to believe this arbitrary measure (nor should you). Now, I could simply disagree with a nine-year-old measure, as I would if it had been declared by an actual nine-year-old, and happily do my chemistry homework. But, Brandeis University’s motto is Truth Even Unto its Innermost Parts. So, as a freshman trying to be both a good student and a Proper Brandesian (with a capital P), I felt compelled to discern the innermost truth to this metric. Besides, the rare and accidental insight of nine-year-olds is not something to be ignored; they just need to be investigated. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Brandeis University was founded on the principles of justice and equal opportunity to education (unless you’re an engineer—more on that later). Though the university hasn’t always kept to this commitment (prohibitively expensive tuition), since the mid 1970s the administration has been remarkably faithful to the founding principles (if you ignore tuition). But unlike some schools, which appear to be charging their students $50 thousand a year and their souls, Brandeis seems to be trying to charge $50 thousand a year and save the souls of at least some of their students. I should point out that the business of saving students’ souls is far easier for a university when it doesn’t have an engineering department. However, Brandeis does have a computer science (COSI) department, and in it, many salvageable souls. To this end, the university and COSI department have come up with an ingenious solution. I’m talking about a specific course, arguably the most important course offered here—COSI 45a: Effective Communication for Computer Scientists. Even the University Registrar agrees with the COSI department and thinks the course is important—COSI 45a is offered every semester and is required for the COSI major. Generally speaking, I consider this course a keystone in the COSI degree path, and for that matter, any degree path—effective communication is the singular most important skill anyone in this day and age can have. There are plenty of undergraduates that are aborid at communication; those older than us will proclaim it a trend with our generation (to which I say: tbh idrk and idc). That being said, there are two groups of students who stand out as, on average, being worse than normal communicators (though only the latter is at Brandeis): engineering students and COSI majors. Regardless, this discovery does nothing to solve my original question: Why was Brandeis considered within the top 10 happiest universities?
Let’s go a little deeper.
Now, full disclosure. I’m a prospective neuroscience major. I haven’t decided yet, but COSI might just fill the void that a lack of bioelectric engineering left. Anyways.
First and foremost, my discovery of COSI 45a reinforced the overall undergraduate stereotype that computer scientists, especially COSI students, are (on average) more socially inept. Though this conclusion was met with dismay from my COSI friends (and bouts of laughter from everyone else), my older sister, who is graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (an engineering school) with a degree in computer science, had one thing to say: “That’s one hell of a weed-out class.”
Secondly, more digging into third party statistics found that around seven percent of the undergraduates at Brandeis are COSI majors. By extrapolating national COSI degree and enrollment trends from 2012 to present day and regularizing them for enrollment numbers for COSI majors at Brandeis, since 2012, I estimate the amount of COSI majors at Brandeis to be around four to 10 percent of the student body. Furthermore, by 2012, every self respecting engineering college and university had a well established and growing COSI department, even if they outright lacked an engineering department, or in one notable case (Brandeis), seemed not to even have a plan to start one. (In case you’re on the edge of your seat, engineer a way to get comfortable waiting till 2025).
Now, there’s still one critical piece of the puzzle missing: timeframe. Did COSI 45a exist back in 2012? The answer, surprisingly, is yes (though not in its current form). With my personal delorean, the Wayback Machine, I discovered COSI 45a’s direct predecessor circa 2012—itself an approved elective for the COSI major— LING 140a: Architecture and Pragmatics: The Discourse of Conversation. (Shockingly, “Effective communication for computer scientists” is a less insulting name than this). Realistically, this course was an elective in name only: it (and only it) fulfilled the Oral Communication requirement for COSI degrees at the time (the existence of which I think is as hysterical as it is damning for COSI majors). The COSI department and University Registrar wanted people to take it so badly that they made it a one-hundred-level course with absolutely no prerequisites, and it was taught in the same building as the other COSI classes at the time. It was clearly a class by computer scientists for computer scientists: The class page displays a particularly linear exchange from Alice in Wonderland. (Frankly, the page is a work of art).
Now, you’re probably wondering about how I’m gonna fit this under a main loop that defines how COSI 45a and LING 140a relate to the happiness of the university. You’re probably wondering if I still have all my marbles after this (the answer is: maybe?), or if my chem lab report is overdue (probably). You might even be feeling a little targeted up to this point—which means you’re probably a COSI major.
Here’s how this all works.
As my sister and Brandeis itself seem to confirm, the average computer scientist isn’t the most socially adept person on the planet. Engineers have a similar reputation. Being socially challenged (NOT that I would know anything about that…) is a pretty stressful thing to be, especially at a school like Brandeis. Curiously, COSI 45a and LING 140a seem to be exclusive to Brandeis—not one of my engineering friends from Yale, Boston University, Boston College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Cornell or Worcester Polytechnic Institute could immediately think of a course similar to ours in their general offerings. (That being said, I would not be surprised if parallels exist in at least a few of those schools). Additionally, the earliest recorded mention of LING 140a or anything related being offered at Brandeis to it was in—you guessed it—2012. So, in 2012, it seems like Brandeis decided it was time to teach their COSI majors (and engineering majors if applicable, which for Brandeis it wasn’t) how to have a conversation with people (scary, right?). They probably figured it would boost postgraduate opportunities and the overall strength of the COSI department, which it undoubtedly achieved in spades. However, in a stroke of accidental and (for a university) unusually innocent genius, they also gave a major boost to morale for somewhere between four to 10 percent of the student population by strengthening the tools required to intermingle with everyone else… which likely had a domino effect and raised the morale of the entire student body in a small but noticeable way. In other words, Brandeis unwittingly (and seemingly successfully) created a new, cutting edge type of COSI major that existed at no other university at the time: the sociable COSI major. (If I get any angry emails from COSI in my inbox, I’ll know for sure their strategy has worked. If you’re a COSI professor, from the bottom of our collective hearts, thank you). Here we arrive at what I think is one of many innermost truths concerning the 2012 ranking of sixth happiest universities—for one glorious year, Brandeis led the pack in quality of students by looking after its own students and doing a uniquely Brandeis thing: unintentionally (but successfully) overachieving in the process of doing so.