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And he ain’t even gotten to sports yet!

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Thomas Frank’s hit piece on the American university is swell (I’m still reading it), but Scathing Online Schoolmarm would caution against sentences like this one:

When the board forced the president to resign last June, they cloaked the putsch in a stinky fog of management bullshit.

Mixed metaphors are bad enough (cloaking your putsch in a fog?) but when you bring in bullshit… When you make the fog’s composition the shit of a bull… No.

Note that the sentence in my headline also mixes metaphors.

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Pointless money-drains like a vast administration, a preening president, and a quasi-professional football team should all be plugged up.

Finally he gets to football.

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Ours is the generation that stood by gawking while a handful of parasites and billionaires smashed [the American university] for their own benefit.

The problem with Frank’s cri de coeur resides in sentences like this one. Too much cri, too much coeur. Not enough compelling, rational analysis. Phrases like a handful of parasites and billionaires are a major target of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell rightly notes that in our time “political writing is bad writing.” And bad writing fails to persuade.

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6 Responses to ““[V]irtually every aspect of the higher-ed dream has been colonized by monopolies, cartels, and other unrestrained predators—[...] the charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two.””

  1. MattF Says:

    It’s entertaining… but has there ever been a time when formerly-respectable cultural institutions were not canine-o-tropic?

  2. charlie Says:

    In my first go round with college, which took place in the 80’s, one of my accounting professors told us how colleges changed immediately after WW2. The GI Bill created a whole different kind of student. These were battle hardened men, only a couple of years removed from combat. When a prof tried to pull the bullshit that they had gotten away with when their classes were composed of callow teenagers, many of those profs were thrown up against a wall, or out a window. The GI Bill students demanded answers, didn’t put up with nonsense, had seen too much, bled too much, to have anyone attempt to sandbag them. As my professor pointed out, it made the campuses much more dynamic, the students were far more involved in their own education, than prior generations.

    Now, nearly seven decades later, we have a subdued student body, one that has been plied with luxurious dorms, easy credit, spa like recreation centers, who are lured to colleges with the implied notion that one can receive a degree without any curtailment of the need to get laid, loaded and drunk. They will become animated if their team wins games, any political awareness has been bred out of them, as one would do with cattle in order to get rid of some unwanted genetic trait. What the hell will it take for them, and their alumni brethren, to realize their universities are a scam and do anything about it?

  3. tamade Says:

    I like the Baffler, but this is a whiny, overwrought rant by someone who seems dimly aware at best of the complex factors driving diminishing returns in higher education. The solutions Frank proffers are especially cute: maybe “we,” whoever that is, should demand nationalization of universities—not a bad idea, but what stakeholders in higher education have any incentive to champion this? Or maybe students, whom frank said a few paragraphs before were unknowingly being preyed upon in their ignorance, should go abroad as some form of protest—as if this were a solution open to anyone but the upper middle class, and as if navigating the complexities of the global higher education would be easier. And the best of all, a nationwide student strike, as if the same kids who demand plush dorms and food courts with seared ahi tuna, whose awareness of these issues is even dimmer than Frank’s, will risk their futures to do that. Cool bro—see you at the sit-in on the quad, and don’t forget your hackey sack!

  4. Margaret Soltan Says:

    tamade: Couldn’t agree more.

  5. charlie Says:

    @tamade: Are you familiar with the book, “Academically Adrift,” by Arum and Roksa? They point out that while undergrads aren’t learning, for the most part, they’re happy with that outcome. A bargain of sorts has been struck between universities and students, don’t demand too much from professors, and they won’t demand too much from students. Instead, come for the good times and sushi availability, and don’t worry about all that debt…

  6. tamade Says:

    @Charlie: someone just lent me that book! I can’t wait to dive in.

    The parents of this generation, many raised in comfortable and prosperous conditions by the battle hardened GI students you mentioned in an earlier post, are equally complicit. I took my little sister to a tour for prospective students at my alma mater and was astonished by the asinine questions I heard parents ask prior to the tour. I almost feel like the students can be forgiven for caring too much about amenities because they’re 17–but it makes my ears bleed to hear a parent ask if the dorms have a concierge. So it was no wonder that as the tour guide walked us through campus a minute later, nothing was mentioned about the university’s incredible commitment to student retention, faculty engagement with students, and opportunities for undergraduate research.

    The tour represented a heartbreaking inversion of the values I developed as a student there. I know graduates of this place who got incredible jobs, started successful businesses, got published in peer reviewed journals as undergraduates, obtained prestigious fellowships and scholarships, went on to the best schools for graduate and professional training, and who are now tenure-track professors.

    This having been said, I got the sense that this tour wasn’t exactly for the demographic that aspires to those kinds of things anyways. And that lack of ambition and interest in the world is less innate than it is inculcated.

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