Friday, August 13, 2010

Props to Chrissie Hynde, Taco Bell, and the modern university

Sitting in a coffee shop sipping some exotic blend, watching the sun come up on Taco Bell. What a life. Coffee picked by hand from organic trees somewhere on the other side of the planet and the sun rising over Taco Bell. Who could ask for more?

When I graduated college many years ago, I did. I believed my life would be special because I believed I would be special. But what I found out across time was that the world I lived in did not want special. It wanted interchangeable. The more special you are, the more dangerous you are because the harder you are to replace.

So I moved into academia a quarter century ago; the lure was that academia was home to the special. I had special profs myself who civilized me first, then, once I was civilized, taught me something. Sometimes they taught me because of their quirks. The agnostic religion professor. The peace loving down to earth artist. The befuddling philosophy professor. The hyperventilating journalism teacher. I could tell you stories, and some of them might be special, but all of them would amount to the same thing. It was good to be different.

But my timing was bad. I moved into academia just as academia became corporate America and began fearing the special. If you have special talents, you invent special classes, you attract special students, you build special programs, you are part of a special university, you, my friend, are dangerous. You are, in some sense, irreplaceable.

We really want interchangeable.

Interchangeable credentials. Interchangeable methods. Interchangeable syllabi. Interchangeable assessment rubrics (don't even try to understand that phrase...). Interchangeable research agendas. Interchangeable desires. Especially unchangeable desires.

Because, ultimately we've decided to operate the modern university as a drive-up window. Drink yer exotic blend, mister, then get your butt over here and start buildin' tacos.

PPS: Guess what. We crossed the 10,000 mark this week. Of course, one stupid Youtube video does that in an hour but, you know, it's still a little amazing.

PPS: Special thanks to Chrissie Hynde for this morning's idea. That guitar is no prop strapped across her shoulders and she is no pretender. And to my daughter who recently taught me what this song means.

1 comment:

  1. I always felt as if high school was a graduate factory, mass producing marginally functioning citizens according to the lowest common denominator.

    For myself, it was in college that I was able to really become engaged in the community. Becoming engaged is when the actual growth took place, that was when I really made friends and felt like I belonged in college. I was lucky enough to have professors who took an interest in my education by personally challenged me to expand my understanding and become more engaged.

    Unfortunately, not everyone in college has the same opportunity to have professors who take an interest in their students.