Strawman U

“[The stereotype is] that people here just smoke pot and talk about Buddhism, but I’m pretty positive I haven’t had one conversation about Buddhism.”
The Insider’s Guide to the Colleges regarding the Evergreen State College

A school stereotype that permits assumptions about the type of student the school will attract. Knowing the character attends a particular school implies a set of characteristics.

The schools used for this fall into the following categories:

Berserkeley

Shameless is simply not enough to describe '‘Berserkeley'’. It is is filled with nudists, Granola Girls, Hollywood Atheists, drug addicts, Straw Nihilists, nudists, angry socialists/communists/anarchists/your choice of far-left political radical howling about how AmeriKKKa is pure evil and that we deserve to die in a ditch, pissed-off black nationalists, militant minorities who really hate white students, angry radical feminists who see sexism everywhere, irritating, pretentious, elitist hipsters wearing risible fashions and making nonsensical, offensive pieces of ‘art’ (read: trash) to complain about the mainstream, and of course angry marijuana-taking nihilist socialist feminist Nudists. The faculty will be all of the above — just with pieces of paper saying they’re better educated. And more often than not, they will engage in nude parties.

Every third storefront is a coffeehouse or bar with atheist nihilists Wangsting about Everything, or pretentious beatniks explaining how true their incomprehensible art is. The city council is packed with people who pass truly absurd ordinances … after they finish decriminalizing weed.

Real schools used to invoke this one:
  • University of California, Berkeley, of course. Useful for radical left political flavoring.Trivia 
    • The entire University of California gets this rap, especially UC–Santa Cruz, which belongs to an already famously liberal town (the town denied permission to the Navy to operate there, and forbade the police to press drug charges against marijuana smokers — especially if smoking in public, and has the largest 420 gathering in Northern California). Even the smaller UCs aren’t immune, as UC–Irvine had an incident where the black students’ club chained themselves together and marched into the student council meeting to protest a racist incident perpetrated by an Asian-American frat.
  • Wellesley College — This one is handy if you need a feminist overtone.
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor — Great for pegging the character as an activist. Actually active, that is, rather than just slinging the activist lingo. Good one for anti-animal testing shenanigans.
  • The University of Glasgow in Scotland fits the political part of this but not really the pretentiousness bit. That would be St Andrews or Edinburgh.
  • Reed College in Portland, Oregon — they only tell students their grades if specifically asked to, the administration has an extremely lax drug-use policy even for hyper-liberal Portland, and about half of their traditions are weird hippie injokes.note 
  • The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington — does not assign grades to students at all in favor of “narrative evaluations,”note  many of the courses offered are political in nature, and there are no “departments” like you’d see at other schools — all classes are a form of “integrated studies” which approach a single issue from several different academic angles, with freshmen and seniors often in the same class. Professors are addressed by first name most of the time. The school operates an organic farm and a nonprofit vegetarian restaurant staffed and operated by unpaid volunteers who manage cooperatively.note 
  • The University of Colorado at Boulder — Much like UC Berkeley. A liberal college in a liberal enclave in a conservative(-ish, see The Several States) state, referred to as “nine square miles surrounded by reality”. Ward Churchill (he of the infamous essay alleging that the 9/11 victims were “little Eichmanns”) was a professor here, and like UC–Santa Cruz, it has a large pothead population, and endorses a Halloween nudist run where revellers will wear nothing but jack-o’-lanterns on their heads, which annoys the local police to no end. It is an oddity in the University of Colorado system, since its sister school, University of Colorado Springs, is more known for being a haven for nerdy STEM students and business majors, and UC Denver is known for a high percentage of art students.
  • Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos from Perú, The National University of Saint Mark.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Particularly the school of Arts, is known for its highly liberal use of drugs and high amount of Hipsters.
  • Kent State University, Kent, Ohio — Popular for antiwar-style liberals, thanks to the 1970 National Guard shooting that left four students dead.
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison — likewise a history of 1960s Vietnam-era activism, long called “Berkeley of the Midwest.”
  • Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, has a reputation for ‘progressive activism’ where students were known to adorn the interior hallways with left-wing graffiti. Or, as Aileen LeBlanc of NPR’s All Things Considered put it, “The college stands proudly as a progressive place, with a reputation of breeding beatnik, toxic, hippie, gay, New Age, vegan weirdoes.” And she was being sympathetic. The college was closed from June, 2008 to October, 2011 for ‘restructuring.’
  • Although many (most?) religious colleges fit easily into the Jim Jonestown University mold described below, a few don’t:
    • Ashland University (Brethren Church) in Ashland, Wisconsin, is fairly left-wing. One of the largest majors offered there is in Toxicology/Environmental Sciences.
    • Earlham College (Religious Society of Friends — i.e. the Quakers) in Richmond, Indiana, is so left-wing that everybody is addressed by their first name — calling an instructor ‘Mister’, ‘Ms.’, ‘Professor’ or ‘Doctor’ So-and-So is definitely frowned upon.note  Students are often at odds with the local and regional Yearly Meetings (the Quaker equivalent of a synod) over sexuality and drinking. (In case you’re wondering, the Yearly Meetings are against both.)
  • The University of the Philippines (or UP for short) in metropolitan Manila, Philippines has gained a reputation as a hotbed for activists and radicals spanning the entire political spectrum. Historically, it has been stereotyped as being both Communist and far-left, though with their ideological rivals very close behind.
  • The University of Texas at Austin is noted for this, as Austin is very famously a weird and liberal place. It’s somewhat unclear whether the university is weird because it’s in Austin or the city is weird because UT is in it. Either way it often gets contrasted to Texas A&M.
  • Mexico has its Jesuit universities: the Iberoamerican Universities (Mexico City, León, Puebla and Torreón), the Pacific Loyola University in Acapulco, the ITESO in Guadalajara, and the Ayuuk Intercultural Higher Education Institute — the last one's name comes from the lectures and courses being literally taught in the local ayuuk language.

St. Jim Jonestown Academy

A Boarding School of Horrors run by the harshest, most conservative Corrupt Church imaginable and their goons, bordering on fascism. The school itself is filled with Sinister Ministers and fundamentalists who constantly teach lies and intolerance in the classroom and will give the worst punishments to those who even think otherwise, and Moral Guardians blaming the downfall of America on the lack of Jesus and the presence of boobs on TV. The faculty and students will often be incredibly racist, sexist, and/or homophobic, and anyone who doesn’t fit into the herd gets beaten down — literally, in some cases — or worse.

Anyone who has half a brain turns out to be either a Stepford Smiler, Holier Than Thou, or Ax-Crazy. The city council, if it exists, will be packed with oppressive, right-wing dictators who want to eject anyone who dares to be liberal. Being a historic university, its founding charter frequently comes with a long and detailed list of complex bylaws and regulations which just seem tailor-made for the Dean to abuse our plucky heroes.

Schools in this continuum:
  • Horrifically Truthin Television in Victorian Britain. Boarding schools were not a Victorian innovation, but the institution was embraced as a means of counteracting the softening, emasculating influence of mothers and preparing young men for the harsh rigours of the world of business and Empire. The move to purposefully harsh institutions as a solution to parental mollycoddling took place in the context of the early-mid Victorian love of childhood and doting parenthood, which it was later feared would render the new generation of the better sort of people - i.e. the middle and upper classes - too soft to maintain Anglo supremacy. Thus, boarding schools were intended to break the attendents and thus prevent them from becoming 'soft' and/or homosexual. More specifically they would instil discipline and self-discipline, deference to authority, strict morals, a vague sense of the Christian religion, and teamwork. This was of course in addition to all the usual things one expects a public school (a school open to the paying public as opposed to a private school, which was more exclusive) to do.
  • Religious schools that primarily turn out pastors and missionaries (Bob Jones, Regent, Oral Roberts, Brigham Young, etc.).
    • All of these schools (except BYU) are rather infamous for their morality codes which threaten summary expulsion for the heinous crimes of fraternizing with the opposite sex (or indeed the same sex, which is infinitely worse), dressing in immodest clothing, drinking alcohol, listening to contemporary music or getting an unconventional haircut. BYU has a morality code, but it's more concerned with things that go against Mormon beliefs, mainly alcohol, tobacco, and especially sex outside marriage. As for the other schools mentioned, Regent tends to be a tiny bit more laid-back than the others, mostly because a large proportion of the school is graduate students.
    • Liberty University used to merit inclusion on this list, but in the new millennium and particularly since the passing of its founder has become a lot more laid back on issues like clothing, tattoos and piercings, and other personal style choices. Drinking, drugs, sex & R-rated movies are still no-nos, though.
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (Pontifical Catholic University of Peru) is a private university that has this characteristic with granola girls in the mix.
  • Deep South schools big and small can get this treatment (Washington and Lee, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ole Miss).
  • Texas A&Mnote  gets a big (not exactly unwarranted) reputation for this, especially compared to its more liberal and diverse neighbor/rival, University of Texas. Until 1960, it was closed to women and minorities (then again, ‘liberal’ colleges such as Harvard were closed to women as well) and required all students to train as reserve officers in the Army (ROTC, basically). Even after the end of that requirement, A&M’s Corps of Cadets is far larger than the average and A&M remains one of the most conservative schools in the country.
  • Mexico has the Pan-American University, where law students are never once taught about divorce procedure, you're required to show up to your exams wearing a three-piece suit, you must always behave like a distinguished member of the elite in and outside of campus, you must always go to church every single Sunday and confess yourself regularly. They view Jesuit colleges as full of unruly potheads.
    • Monterrey Tech (ITESM), the National Polytechnical Institute (IPN) and the Autonomous University of Guadalajara are conservative too, albeit in a more filthy rich right-wing kind of way.

May overlap with a Wizarding School, Boarding School of Horrors or an occult-filled Miskatonic University. Will undoubtedly overlap with Politically Motivated Teacher.

Not to be confused with an upcoming Wii U title about scarecrows.

Examples:

Film
  • PCU, in the film of that name, somehow manages to be both. The campus is, shall we say, polarized. This trope was basically the entire point of the movie.
  • Faber College from National Lampoon’s Animal House is a Jim Jonestown University. Politics (and religion) don’t come into play, thank God, but it’s definitely a stuffy and stodgy place without Delta House’s Wacky Fratboy Hijinx. (Toward the end of the movie, the Deltas also go on a road trip and pick up some women at a ‘socially activist’ women’s college that is hinted at being a 1950s/early ’60s version of Berserkeley. The movie takes place in 1962, two years before the free-speech movement, when Berserkeley was still an Unbuilt Trope.)
  • Not a college, but American Eagle Christian High School from the film Saved! qualifies as a Jim Jonestown High School.
  • In John Singleton’s college drama Higher Learning, Columbus University is obviously supposed to be a stand-in for one of the University of California campuses — but the faculty, as represented by Professor Phipps, are actually quite reasonable folks who aren’t angry at the world. A disproportionate number of the students, however, appear to be unhinged militants in full-blown Berserkeley mode, screaming everything from “White power!” (even the neo-Nazis come off as lefties in this movie, thanks to their constant rants about reverse discrimination) to “Dead men don’t rape!” and calling the school’s namesake “nothing but a thief and a murderer.” Even the ‘good guys’ are misguided: one student, dismayed at the gang violence, organizes a school-wide “Peace Fest.” It doesn’t end well.
  • In Iron Man, Stark asks the annoying (but not evil) liberal journalist if she graduated from Berkeley. (She actually went to Brown.)
  • In the Van Wilder prequel, Coolidge College is portrayed as a Jim Jonestown University. Van is able to turn things upside down by the end of the film, of course.

Jokes
  • This is a common joke about Universities in Scotland: How many students does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer (or at least a variation thereof) depends on the school:

    Glasgow University — 96
    One to change the light bulb, fifty to protest the light bulb’s right not to change, twenty to hold a counter-protest, and another twenty-five to produce a pamphlet saying that we would have solar-powered LEDs that never need changing if it wasn’t for big business and U.S. foreign policy.note 

    Dundee — 10
    One to buy and fit the bulb and nine to petition for the electrification of Dundee.note 

    Caledonian — 7
    One to change the light bulb and six to throw a party because he didn’t screw it in upside down this time.note 

    Strathclyde — 5
    One to design a nuclear powered bulb that never needs changing, one to figure out how to power the rest of Scotland using that nuked light bulb, two to install it and one to write the computer programme that controls the switch.note 

    St Andrews — 5
    One to arrange the party, two to coordinate the press, one to call the electrician and one to get daddy to pay for it all.note 

    Heriot Watt — 3
    One to change it and two to figure out how to get high off the old one.note 

    Aberdeen — 2
    One to change the light bulb and one to crack under the pressure.note 

    Napier — 1
    He gets 10 course credits for it.note 

    Edinburgh - 1
    He holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.note 

    Stirling — 0
    Stirling looks better in the dark.note 

Literature
  • The titular school in Neal Stephenson novel The Big U manages to avoid either extreme version of Strawman U, but the SUB and the unionized professors would fit in well at a Berserkeley, and the administration and Temple of Unlimited Godhead (a fundamentalist Mormon offshoot) are close to a Jim Jonestown.

Live-Action TV
  • Mentioned in an episode of Dharma and Greg to show the grandparents’ personalities. The biological mother of the title couple’s adopted son wants him back, and the grandparents (a pair of WASPs and a pair of hippies) have this discussion:
    Kitty: We’ll tie her up in court. By the time she gets Daniel back he’ll be graduating from Stanford.
    Edward: Notre Dame.
    Larry: Berkeley.
    Abby: Oberlin.
  • Faking It has a Strawman High in Hester High School, a school that's so progressive, the outcasts are the in crowd, the coolest kid in school is gay, and the girl who would be the Alpha Bitch at most schools is at the bottom of the social ladder. And the principal? Went to Berkeley. Also, the school's in Austin.
  • On Awkward., Jenna visits a university that she expects to be like the "Berserkely" stereotype but is more of a generic state school (though not to the level of Jim Jonestown).

Newspaper Comics
  • In the early years of Doonesbury, Walden College was a Berserkley variety.

Theatre
  • If you think this is just a modern phenomenon, you’re wrong. In AristophanesThe Clouds, Socrates is running an ancient Greek Berserkeley and we see a debate with a strawman conservative from another school.
  • Extreme Jim Jonestown example: The ‘University’ in Sarah Kane’s play Cleansed is really a concentration camp, run by the evil Tinker, where there are peepholes in the showers that lead to Tinker’s private viewing room, for his pleasure, and students are tortured by Tinker and his goons.

Video Games
  • Echo Bazaar has both — Benthic College is Berserkeley (to the point of having a few devils on its roster) while Summerset College is a Jim Jonestown University.

Western Animation
  • The South Park episode “Die, Hippie, Die” features an invasion of hippies, the main group of which has a University of Berkeley bumper sticker. One of them continually called people “little Eichmanns,” a reference to controversial (and discredited) professor Ward Churchill, who used the phrase to describe the American victims of 9/11.
    • Side note: Ward Churchill was a professor at Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s school — the University of Colorado at Boulder (another example of a Berserkley), though it’s unknown whether they ever attended a class he taught, and they would probably not be eager to admit it if they did.
    • Side note #2: During the Colorado–Nebraska football game in 2007,note  Eric Cartman introduced the Colorado starters. He takes a moment after announcing the defensive secondary to take a shot at Boulder’s hippie population.note 

Alternative Title(s):

Berzerkely, Jim Jones University, Berzerkeley, I Cant Believe Its Not Berkeley