Bill Long 8/29/05
Land Where My Fathers Died..
On August 25 (Thursday), I dropped my son off at college 3000 miles from home. He and I were accompanied in our trip from NYC, where I had flown, to Hamilton NY, where he is a student, by his older sister. She wanted to come along to "see where her brother lived," but in fact, she was probably more crucial to Will's getting set up at college than was I. She has an unerrring sense of what a person needs to "get started" in a new venture, and she applied this sense by not only helping him get his computer up and running but by thinking of everything from scissors to granola bars that he might need to smooth over the transition anxieties that beset the males of my clan. Though I had no emotional rushes as I deposited him safely in the keeping of Colgate University, I did make a lot of observations about College 2005 at an elite private university in the East. Here are a few of those observations.
First, The Parents
I can dispatch this fairly quickly. The parents are mostly 50-something, mostly Easterners, mostly from suburbs that are fairly high on the prestige recognition scale into which Easterners are schooled from the womb. Sensing this, the University has had for quite some time an impressive "parents network," ostensibly for "keeping in touch" with the University but, in fact, for enabling the infusion of human and financial capital to flow out from these same suburbs to a rural town in the Adirondack foothills. Thus, we were honored guests, treated almost akin to royalty for the seven hours we were permitted on campus.* One small indication of this was that during
[*9 a.m.-4 p.m. On the orientation brochure there was an asterisk by the 4:00 p.m item--"Parents depart"--, and the note at the bottom of the page said that this activity takes priority over all others at this time. That is, we will let you finish your sundae, but you can take it with you.]
the first of three parent orientation sessions, cell phones went off with regularity. As a matter of fact, I found myself for the balance of the presentation humming some of the tunes that cheerily indicated a call was incoming. No one had told the parents to turn off their gadgets. In my judgment this was not a planning lapse; it was, rather, a small concession to our special status on campus that day. You can be sure that when the First-year students* met in their first convocation at the University Chapel at 4:00 p.m, they would be told in no uncertain terms to
A Long Footnote on Language
[*they aren't called Freshmen anymore. Rigorous linguistic conformity on this item was a sine qua non in the speeches of all college staff. They would no more be caught calling a new student a "Freshman" than a twenty-something would refer to an Asian as an "Oriental." There was not even a concession to the fact that someone at one time referred to these 18 year-olds as Freshmen. The President of the College, in her welcoming remarks, also slid in an interesting turn of phrase. She, a scholar of women and religion in America, referred to our "Fore-founders," rather than the apparently obsolete "Fore-fathers." Whoops. This footnote is getting very long, but I am onto something.
I noted another phrase, however, that was conspicuous by its absence. Deep inside the bowels of universities in the 1990s was a debate going on in student services about the role that non-curricular activities played in college life. The more aggressive among the student services type of staff wanted the word "extracurricular" to morph into "co-curricular," so that the student's experience on campus could be characterized as "curricular" and "co-curricular" activities. But this was really a naked power grab facilitated by prefixes. Those in student services wanted to try to flex their muscles because they were the only part of campus growing in total staff FTE. In fact, their numbers began to overwhelm the numbers of faculty.
Thus, they began to think that a university REALLY was about being an assistant to the associate vice dean's student life coordinator. But the faculty in the university, having the temerity to believe that colleges ought fundamentally to be about learning and studying, decided to nip this movement in the bud. Battles ensued at universities, but battles that never reached the front or even rear pages of any American newspaper, where the faculty decided that they, rather than the staffs in student services, really delivered the important goods at college. But I could ultimately be deceived. It might have been a sort of battle where the faculty won the language battle, but hiring in the student services area still outstrips that of the departments. Enough of this for now.]
turn off all their communication channels that enable them to enter into other worlds than the one they physically occupy at the moment. The next essay finishes my ruminations on the orientation but, even more, explains the subtitle of this essay.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long