Student Life Archives (2001-2008)

So which school is the real ‘Harvard of the Midwest’?

It’s become almost a tradition for some columnists at major newspapers to publish their Christmas wish lists after Thanksgiving. Case in point: St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. On Nov. 27, he penned a column sharing his Christmas wish list for various public figures and institutions at the state and national level. Overall, the list was fairly intuitive. President George W. Bush could use “a way out of the civil war in Iraq.” Missouri Governor Matt Blunt could use “a federal solution to the problem of poor people and health care” for his state. And then there was Washington University. McClellan remarked that Washington University could use “some of the research money that Amendment 2 was supposed to bring.” However, something interesting also happened. He casually referred to Wash. U. as the “Harvard of the Midwest.”

Now whether you like the nickname or not, the “Harvard of the Midwest” label has stuck with Wash. U. since it first grew beyond a regional university. But like any nickname, the “Harvard of the Midwest” label has probably been used before by other schools. So the only question to ask now is how many other schools refer to themselves as the “Harvard of the Midwest.” The answer? Dozens. Beloit College alumni Brian Gallagher once wrote that “by some curious convergence of geography and attitude, just about every college in Missouri is self-billed as the “Harvard of the Midwest.” He really wasn’t kidding. Schools across Missouri, as well as schools such as the University of Kansas and the University of Michigan, have taken up the nickname as well. So it might be beneficial to look at a few of the more obscure schools that have used the “Harvard of the Midwest” title.

Truman State University

If you happen to travel up to the northeastern corner of Missouri, you’ll eventually come across the town of Kirksville. On the surface, it appears to be merely one of many sleepy small towns that dot the rural Missouri landscape. But ask any resident what the town has to offer and you’ll find out that it has two treasured landmarks: a Civil War battlefield and Truman State University, a.k.a. the “Harvard of the Midwest.” Truman State was formerly known as Northeast Missouri State University until 1996 when it petitioned for a name change to reflect its growing regional reputation. At that time, the school also began informally referring to itself as the “Harvard of the Midwest.” But what made this nickname stick is that the U.S. News & World Report also began ranking this medium-sized school as the number one public university in the Midwest. It has done so for the past decade now. Yet due to the growing usage of the label at other schools, the “Princeton of the Prairie” nickname is now becoming more popular with students.

Eastern Illinois University

This medium-sized school in Charleston, Ill. began marketing itself as the “Harvard of the Midwest” after an Illinois state senator described it as such during a formal campus visit. Afterwards, Eastern Illinois University began officially referring to itself as such and even recently made reference to it on its school Web site. Last year, the student newspaper ran an editorial asking the university administration to stop using the nickname because “it proved that colleges pretty much will say whatever they want to further publicize the school itself.”

Medical University of Ohio

This is actually a medical school located in Toledo, Ohio, but that hasn’t stopped it from using the nickname. The “Harvard of the Midwest” tradition was actually crafted by the school’s first president, Dr. Glidden L. Brooks, in the 1960s. During the initial wave of expansion, Brooks made it clear that he wanted the new school to become one of the best in the nation and eventually the “Harvard of the Midwest.” One faculty member even went so far as to say that “someday in the future Harvard will be striving to become the Medical University of Ohio of the East.” While the school doesn’t campaign on the title anymore, you’ll still hear it from time to time.

Nathan is a junior in Arts & Sciences and a Forum editor. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

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