When College Goes Club Med

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I belong
to a generation that still values what is now indiscriminately
referred to as “higher education.”
What that once
meant was going to a four-year college, if one’s high-school
grades showed promise, and in return for about $700 each semester
spending the next four years immersed in books. Back then we studied
traditional disciplines, such as math, languages, and those liberal
arts that still defined our Western civilization. If a bright
student wanted to branch out to other cultures and languages,
like Chinese or Japanese, he or she was encouraged to do so. Unlike
some colleges nowadays, we most certainly did not have “hands-on
learning.” The prevalent view was that if students didn’t
want to read books, they shouldn’t be in college.

Not insignificantly,
we lived like medieval monks. We had next to no control about
what was served in the dining room; and watching TV in the evening
was only possible if one shared this amenity with other adolescents
in some far-off corner of the campus. We were in college strictly
to learn, with few learning devices. We were definitely not there
to hang out, play video games in our dorm rooms, or choose from
multiple culinary options in an eating area that looked like the
circular dining room in the Hotel Hershey.

I used to
get dirty looks toward the end of my teaching career when I asked
students in Western Civilization courses what books they had read.
These students didn’t open books, perhaps on principle. I’ve
no idea why they’re in college, except to meet significant
others and to enjoy leisure time at the expense of their parents
or of American taxpayers. As I like to point out, such college
residents are students in the same sense I would be a player in
the national hockey league, if I signed up in a program that allowed
me to imagine I was something I was not. Of course, since these
kids, or their enablers, are paying at least one hundred times
more than I did for my education, they get their illusions and
sybaritic tastes indulged.

Lest I forget,
let me mention that the number of administrators I recall seeing
at Yale University in the mid-1960s was a fraction of the army
of paper-pushers that is there now. I suspect these paper-pushers
are now earning salaries that correspond to the tuition that Yale
requires from each undergraduate, which is $58,000 a year. Although
this money is icing on the cake, since most Ivy League and at
least some state universities could survive from their endowments,
Yale and schools of similar caliber do provide enormous professional
advantages to their graduates. I'm not sure what comparable advantages
accrue to those who attend considerably less prestigious institutions
of learning and are paying almost as much for the experience.

Read
the rest of the article

July
6, 2012

Paul
Gottfried [send him mail]
is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown
College and author of Multiculturalism
and the Politics of Guilt
, The
Strange Death of Marxism
,
Conservatism
in America: Making Sense of the American Right
, and Encounters:
My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers
.
His latest book, Leo
Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal
,
was just published by Cambridge University Press.

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