Beloit College's popular Mindset List has anonymous critics

  • Article by: KAREN HERZOG , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • Updated: August 25, 2013 - 2:52 PM

Beloit College’s popular Mindset List has anonymous — and vocal — critics.

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L.L. Cool J is part of the older generation for this year’s crop of college freshmen.

For most teens starting college this fall, a chat has seldom involved talking, GM means food that’s genetically modified and a tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has rolled out its internationally known Mindset List, originally aimed at giving faculty witty glimpses of the pop culture that has shaped the lives of incoming freshmen, so they can avoid dated references.

Over time, the list has become a public relations gold mine for the small liberal arts college in Beloit, each year generating a million hits on its website.

The Class of 2017 may be the last to have its own Mindset List, though, if two anonymous professors — one from a large public university and the other from a community college — can torpedo it.

The two — who write as “John Q. Angry” and “Disgruntled Prof” and say they have no connection to the college — launched a blog called Beloit Mindlessness, “dedicated to the mockery and eventual destruction of the Beloit Mindset List.”

The blog’s introduction says it will lay out the case against the Mindset List “through a thorough examination of each of the 1,000 plus items that have appeared on the list over the past 16 years.”

Why all the hate?

The list “is a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors, and based on nothing more than the uninformed speculation of its authors,” according to Beloit Mindlessness. “It inspires lazy, inaccurate journalism and is an embarrassment to academia.”

The Mindset List is the brainchild of Ron Nief, emeritus director of public affairs for Beloit College, and Tom McBride, an English professor there.

McBride said they “welcome critiques of all sort” because the list is intended to spark discussions.

“The most important thing, I believe, is the two at Beloit Mindlessness seem to be in a distinct but very small minority,” McBride said last week, after this year’s list was released.

“Millions seem to look forward to the list every year. We get constant contacts about it, and the number of hits on the Beloit College website each year is in excess of 1 million,” he said.

McBride said he and Nief work hard on the list “to make sure its research is accurate and that we stay within time lines. But the main thing to know is that the list is just the tip of a much more thoughtful set of ideas and reflections about what is after all the subject of ‘King Lear’ and of nearly all Shakespeare’s comedies: the generation gap.”

As a discussion-starter, the list provides a chance for those of different generations to trade “when I was 18 stories,” McBride said, “and it’s a great stimulus for discussion of such issues as the cost of college, the perils of multitasking, the meaning of entering ‘cyberspace,’ and whether or not this ‘sharing’ generation — for that’s what we think they are — will become the next great force in American life.”

McBride and Nief , who get speaking requests, have a blog of their own and a book, “The Mindset Lists of American History” (Wiley, 2011), which uses the list as an approach to studying American social history over 150 years.

“Yes, you do have to be a bit thick-skinned,” McBride said of critics, “but we wouldn’t give anything for the fun we’ve had in so many conversations about the generation gap and the future with people from so many walks of life.”

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