July 7th, 2014
“I swell with pride when reflecting on the draw of Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld.”

And why, wonders this University of Central Florida administrator, doesn’t our university have the same draw? Why doesn’t anybody come to our football games? Why can’t he swell with UCF pride at the same full attendance he sees at aquariums and amusement parks? “I … cringe when our football team is featured on national TV because the camera might pan up beyond the lower bowl or near the end zone, where seats are often empty.” The university has more than done its bit – it shuts down classes altogether when there’s a big game, for instance…

But here’s the thing about Central Florida University. Empty its football stands might be, but the school itself – qua school, if you know what I mean – is insanely overcrowded, with extensive reliance on massive lecture halls, online courses, PowerPoint automata instead of teachers, etc., etc. In fact, UCF is one of University Diaries’ online makeover schools, universities she believes should simply accept reality and shut down their physical campus.

Given the nature of UCF, would you go to a football game there if you were a student? What do you suppose this high-security (cheating and cameras are rampant) dystopia means to the typical student? A place to pick up a degree, sure. But little more.

Yet why, the UCF administrator asks, do students not understand that

the university’s investment in athletic programs and student-athletes is an important part of UCF’s move to enhance its brand and image, and full support by fans can be a major contributor to that end.

It’s the same deal at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, which is about to build a billion dollar football stadium:

[The university’s president] tied the stadium project to UNLV’s larger aspiration of becoming a top-tier research university.

What is there about spending all our money on sports will make us a great intellectual institution that these people don’t understand??

January 3rd, 2014
Where the Simulacrum Ends

UD has a category on this blog called Where the Simulacrum Ends, and it chronicles the many ways in which high-tech postmodern American culture is making the nuisance of conducting an actual life – a life outside of one’s bedroom, kitchen, and tinted-window car – a thing of the past.

This category has things in common with another UD category – Online Makeover – because among the education-related de-actualizing she chronicles (here, “actual” means going to public buildings and being with other physical humans) is the transformation of the country’s universities to – well, the strongest current model is Southern New Hampshire University, but pretty much everyone else is bringing up the rear. Public life in general in the United States is disappearing, and universities are no exception.


And of course that most salient feature of our higher education institutions – their football games – is also undergoing obsolescence. It’s happening in the professional leagues; it’s happening in the university leagues.

Before long, players may be performing in front of empty stands, with those most interested in the game sitting or standing miles away.

Why should anyone care, though? Ticket sales are no longer the main source of revenue for sports leagues. That may be a fair economical point to be made, but is there nothing to say about the toll this may take on integrity of the games played? Does the game gain a feel of becoming more of a simulation that we score through fantasy points as opposed to real-live action taking place right in front of our eyes?

Integrity… integrity… That strange word seems the core of this statement, yet what does it mean? What does it mean to say that a university or a football game has integrity?

December 2nd, 2013
“The value of the institution is being compromised at every level in order to pursue ever greater revenue opportunities.”

This sentence could come from a contemporary American commentary on the Kaplanization of our once-great universities; or it could come from a contemporary American commentary on the NFLization of our once-great universities.

This particular sentence happens to be about the sporty arm of the pincer movement; and coming as it does from Texas, of all places, it tells you something. It tells you something about why immense new Adzillatronned university football and basketball stadiums are full of gaping holes during even the biggest games… Why a growing branch of the digital and design industries is now devoted to making an empty silence look like a crowded blow-out on network tv…

The author of this commentary is telling you why people are leaving the American university stadium, but you don’t want to listen because you know that the problems are too basic to fix.

If college football is just entertainment, and entertainment is just a product, and products are created to make money, then I start to feel a little silly investing emotional energy in the A&M – LSU game. More and more the institution carries the distracting odor of a swindle. It’s hard to tell whether I’m the mark or whether I’m in on the grift.

… It’s hard to say what should happen with college football. Paying the players would certainly be fairer, but it would finish off whatever remains of an institution that once meant far more than money. The arcane rules put in place to protect college athletics from market forces have spawned a densely complex culture of cheating, a tradition almost as old as the sport. How long can Universities, bastions of enlightened rational values, continue this charade? What toll is it taking on the wider goals of those institutions?

College football may be a necessary casualty of a freer, more prosperous world. We are all likely to cling to the remains at least a little while longer. Maybe someday (next year?), when the Longhorns’ helmets are sporting a giant BestBuy logo and the program is playing two additional highly-paid exhibition games each year against the likes of Abilene Christian and the fighting Javelinas of A&M Kingsville we’ll finally have to give it up.

Try his first paragraph this way:

If a college education is just entertainment, and entertainment is just a product, and products are created to make money, then I start to feel a little silly investing emotional energy in the game. More and more the institution carries the distracting odor of a swindle. It’s hard to tell whether I’m the mark or whether I’m in on the grift.

Except that in the Kaplanization case, it’s not just emotional energy that’s lacking when the professor is a coached happy face on a jiggly screen full of funny little games. It’s also of course intellectual energy.

Stadium seats will go the same way as classroom seats: Eventually all university activity will jiggle on-screen. Imagine the University of Phoenix with a sports channel.

November 21st, 2013
Yeshiva University: Online Makeover

In his letter, President Joel wrote that the current fiscal crisis will force YU to “reframe the way we educate.” Joel noted, “conventional models crumble beneath the weight of fiscal hardship,” and discussed the need for a “new strategic vision” to increase revenue and efficiency in new graduate programs and online education.

This blog has followed, with disgust, Yeshiva University’s longtime irresponsibility in every imaginable institutional sense – hiring, trustee appointments, presidential compensation, intellectual freedom (put YESHIVA in my search engine for details). Now the Post-Bernard Madoff bill’s come due, and the only thing missing from the president’s statement is his acceptance of responsibility and his resignation.

“Yeshiva has suffered philanthropic walkouts,” writes the school paper, putting the matter diplomatically. Remember Andrew Sole’s letter, written all the way back in 2008, to Yeshiva? A letter the school blew off? Sole called for the resignation of the entire board of trustees.

… [H]arm has come to this distinguished University, both in financial loss and worse, in reputation. It is my view that the harm today is directly attributable to the failed performance of our trustees. As fiduciaries they lost sight of their primary mission, to safeguard the long-term interests of Yeshiva University. Whether their activities were merely negligent, or worse, that judgment is best left for others.

In my view it will take a generation to repair the damage inflicted upon Yeshiva. And that is very sad. But what would be even sadder, and which would also give grave concerns to Yeshiva’s many supporters, would be for the University to continue to allow the current Board of Trustees to serve as fiduciaries going forward.

The honorable course (and we have seen virtually no honorable behavior in American corporate boardrooms, nor in our public servants, in 2008) would be for the University’s President, and its legal counsel, Sullivan and Cromwell, to demand the immediate resignation of the entire Board of Trustees.

Fuck that! said Yeshiva. We like our boys (it’s almost all boys; they all seem to be in each others’ pockets; and one of them – Zygi Wilf – just got convicted of racketeering). We’ll just go our own way, and Sole can drop dead.

(This must have been one of the strategies featured in Leadership in the Non-Profit World, a class Yeshiva’s president gave just last January, with a guest lecture from the former president of George Washington University, a longtime defender of Yeshiva University’s way of doing things. Here’s President Trachtenberg. [You need to be a CHE subscriber to read the full contents of the article.])

But Yeshiva has dropped dead. Expect it to go almost entirely online, in the cheesiest, most desperate, way.

November 13th, 2013
There’s been a series of fine sunsets over the last three days…

… and fine sunrises too, like the one I enjoyed early this morning, walking to the commuter train steps from my house (Mr UD usually drives me to the metro, but he’s out of town).

I’ve been so busy from morn ’til night these three days that it’s been hard for me to blog… I watched last night’s sunset from an incredibly well-appointed meeting room on the top floor of a fancy building at George Washington University, where I sat listening to sales pitches from online vendors who’d like to run programs at GW. Yes, GW is exploring all sorts of online initiatives, and UD has been asked to be part of this exploration because of her modest MOOC acclaim.

Yet if you read this blog with any care, you know that despite her online poetry lectures, UD is way skeptical of online education. So she is an oddball, a misfit, a brother from a seriously other mother, on this particular committee… Though she thinks she may be of some use to it, since her elaborate resistance to what these vendors represent is perhaps representative of a certain slice of the professorati, and GW might as well know what to expect by way of trouble as it tries to get some of this stuff up and running.

Still, UD is reflective enough (though just barely) to wonder, as she squints paranoiacally at this techie parade, whether she herself is sort of like totally well like over. Hopelessly twentieth century. Apparently everyone’s supposed to want to learn things by sitting by yourself and playing Sesame Street-like games and watching coached professors on a screen. Or on a phone or whatever. Everyone’s supposed to be dying to have a university-level discussion that’s organized like the opening of the Brady Bunch except that instead of the Brady Bunch it’s your fellow discussants. Students want this. Students demand this. Said the techie parade.

And actually there’s a lot to like if you’re a certain kind of professor. UD gathers that some online teaching will appeal to the self-important among us – displaced German university professors who enjoy being fussed over by a team of people whose job it is to sense what they will like and do that thing for them… Who will, let’s be honest, actually write and even sorta teach the course for them if they would like… Who’d run interference in such a way that they’d never have to get all down and dirty with, well, students… Bothersome things like that…

And, you know, it’s like that Monty Python thing… I s’pose I’m very old-fashioned… very old-fashioned… (Did I make that up? I can’t find the source of it.) But I just can’t wrap my head around it.

September 12th, 2012
The Hell of Amherst

This time last year, the incredibly violent University of Massachusetts, Amherst – a university which seems to have a gang-legacy admissions category – was the scene of extensive back-to-school bloodshed.

It’s exactly the same thing this year, with party/riots so massive and attacks on police so vicious that the poor little town of Amherst, once host to gentle Emily Dickinson, now host to hordes of scary drunks, has begun considering its options.

It wants, to start with, to know just how seriously the university is disciplining its large numbers of remarkably vile students. UD isn’t sure what Amherst intends to do once it gets this information, but considering the long history of U Mass student riots (read that history here), the town has been astoundingly forbearing.

UD has proposed shutting the school down and making it an online institution. The negative here is obvious – Amherst currently enjoys a captive audience of thousands of thirsty alcoholics, and that’s got to be great for its bottom line. But gradually the whole Zoo Mass phenom is costing Amherst – and all Massachusetts taxpayers – more than it’s bringing in.

February 17th, 2012
See, this is why U Mass Amherst should do a total online makeover.

It’s humiliating enough that Massachusetts taxpayers subsidize absurdly overcrowded lectures; they also have to pay for the consequences of U Mass’s large number of violent drunks. These guys like to get together on a regular basis and destroy the campus and attack people and shit. So taxpayers pay for cleanup…

But now look. After a round of student arrests and expulsions in the wake of the last riot (I think it’s the last; I need to put a Google News Alert on this one), one of the expelled is suing for damages. If he can help just one other guy avoid the drunken mayhem to which he was driven by that school, it’ll be worth it.

But much as we can sympathize with this particular litigator, UD‘s main point is a hard-nosed financial one. Shouldn’t the state legislature be asking how much it’ll cost when all thirteen (there are only thirteen now, but the police are looking for many more) arrested students sue for damages? Time to put the school out of its misery. The glories of online education (we’re assured by many people that it’s better than face-to-face) stand ready to solve this problem.

February 6th, 2012
“A whole part of the experience at UMass is being a part of the riot.”

As faithful readers know, UD designated the University of Massachusetts Amherst one of her first ‘Online Makeover’ schools – schools so violent, such a direct threat to their neighborhoods, such an insult to the word university, that they should be shut down as physical entities, and reopened as exclusively online institutions. The U Mass student’s comment in this post’s headline says it all, as does the long review, in this article, of the history of student riots there.

At U Mass the drunken shits have won; it’s their traditions that dominate and define the campus. The school has proved incapable of taking itself back from a powerful bloc of vicious fools, which means that it’s no school at all. For the sake of public safety, the image of the state, and the reputation of the university as an institution, the legislature should put it out of its misery.

December 11th, 2011
This blog is well-known for having named…

… the University of Georgia the worst university in America (scroll down). But the grotesquely violent University of Massachusetts Amherst – a sort of baccalaureate Beirut – certainly holds the number two position. Do they have gang-legacy admissions? UD wonders how they manage to score, every year, the biggest baddest bandits among the country’s undergraduate pool.

It’s not merely the drunken riots – a staple of many large state schools. It’s things like this – home invasion, assault, and robbery – that distinguish U Mass. How many universities boast groups of hardened criminals among their undergrads?

November 19th, 2011
Kaplan for Your Kid

From Idaho to Indiana to Florida, recently passed laws will radically reshape the face of education in America, shifting the responsibility of teaching generations of Americans to online education businesses, many of which have poor or nonexistent track records. The rush to privatize education will also turn tens of thousands of students into guinea pigs in a national experiment in virtual learning — a relatively new idea that allows for-profit companies to administer public schools completely online, with no brick-and-mortar classrooms or traditional teachers.

… “Why are our legislators rushing to jump off the cliff of cyber charter schools when the best available evidence produced by independent analysts show that such schools will be unsuccessful?” asked Ed Fuller, an education researcher at Pennsylvania State University, on his blog.

Uh, because they don’t care? Because they get insane amounts of money from the online education industry?

October 9th, 2011
“[T]he students must read case studies with titles such as ‘When Good People Do Bad Things at Work,’ and sit through ethics PowerPoint presentations that have nearly doubled in length since last fall.”

Hapless, high-security, high-tech, humongously overcrowded University of Central Florida keeps piling on. Its response to manifold cheating scandals (UD will quote herself here: A zillion students attend UCF – lots of them take online courses, where the cheating (and dropout) rates are sky-high; lots of them take massively over-populated classroom courses, complete with PowerPoint, clickers, laptops, dimmed lights, high absenteeism, security cameras, and total pointlessness. When you experience university as a series of variously degrading, intrusive, and stupid experiences, you don’t respect your school, and you don’t feel inclined to act toward it with much integrity, since it doesn’t seem to be acting all that well in regard to you. ) is to flay students with doubleplusgood PowerPoints. This is so the answer to your problems, UCF!

September 26th, 2011
University Diaries has called for the shutting down of the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s…

… physical campus. It is one of her Online Makeover schools, schools so laptopped, over-crowded, and adjunctified that they should admit the obvious and fold as non-virtual locations.

But there’s a special additional reason for U Mass Amherst to cease operations. It is extremely violent and dangerous. It’s been a markedly nasty campus for years (UD has followed the riots), but now, just three weeks into the new school year, things have gotten totally out of hand.

The first weekend of school, police tried to disperse a large party, at a house on Meadow Street, and the students responded by throwing bottles at the cops.

The following weekend, one man was beaten and two students were stabbed at a party …

This weekend, police made 168 arrests and broke up a party of 500 to 700 people …

How long do you keep pretending you’re a university, when what you are, mainly, is a strain on police resources?

May 29th, 2011
Another Online Makeover School: West Virginia University

Regular readers know that UD has a category – Online Makeover – singling out American universities whose campus life is so sordid, so sodden, so stupid, that it is time for them to shut down their physical plants and reopen as exclusively online institutions.

West Virginia University, whose new coach (the state’s highest paid employee) appears to be a seriously obnoxious drunk, is a perennial Party School winner (it’s number four on the latest list), and is – just to top things off – likely to decide in the next few weeks to sell booze at its football games.

In short, WVA is a Purveyor of Fine Wines and Spirits, and should be allowed to spin off its course-offering component and ply its trade unimpeded.

March 17th, 2011
“[O]nce the word spreads about just how fun it is to destroy Albany, they’ll be bringing in even more students.”

A local opinion writer describes perennial top party school, SUNY Albany, and its latest drunken riot. When towns begin to think of local student populations as marauders who threaten their way of life (the SUNY student ghetto “was once a solid middle class neighborhood where people raised their families.”), things haven’t taken a very good turn. The New York Daily News also describes a “debauched and destructive” student culture.

As I note here, SUNY has dumped programs in French, Russian, Italian, classics, and theater, rather than cut back on its sports program – a program as deadbeat as hundreds of SUNY’s students.

Here’s some advice a SUNY Albany student recently gave the university — before the latest student riot:

[E]xercise some sense when admitting students. Stop wasting money on [campus] posters telling me that UA students don’t get drunk every weekend to the point that their brains become an etch-a-sketch. I’ve lived in the student ghetto. I’ve seen your students drunk at 3 a.m. in the middle of the road screaming at the top of their lungs because they think they have the right to walk drunk in a busy road. Your posters are full of lies. Stop admitting students who are going to drink themselves to death and you can save a lot of money in the budget on those stupid posters.

Money for deadbeat sports programs that attract drunks; money for posters around campus lying about the drunks. A constant party school front-runner. The destruction of neighborhoods. Riots. Meanwhile, the dismantling of an academic mission.

SUNY Albany is UD‘s first Online Makeover candidate– the first of several American universities she’ll be nominating, in the months ahead, for closure and then reorganization into exclusively online institutions. These universities are essentially unviable as physical campuses – because of overcrowding, violent student bodies, financial insolvency, reduction to sports venues, academic meltdown, whatever. SUNY Albany has reached the tipping point and should sell its physical plant.

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