Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Matters to Today's College Students

Stephen Douglas seems to have come up with a relatively thorough on-the-spot account on The Big Lead of last night’s reaction at State College, Pennsylvania, to the dismissal of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno.  The climax seemed to come with the flipping of the media van for the local CBS affiliate.  Having just read Anthony Grafton’s “Our Universities:  Why Are They Failing?” in the latest New York Review, I wonder how he feels about this adding to his rather impressive pile of evidence.  No one is spared in Grafton’s jeremiad;  but probably the most depressing part of his account is that, by and large, college students are interested in just about every aspect of college life except for getting an education.  Is it any wonder that this leads to a crop of alumni that would rather shell out to support the football team rather than provide the library with the funds to purchase the latest professional journals?

Yes, my point of view is biased.  I had more than my share of student unrest during my time as both undergraduate and graduate student.  To this day, however, I continue to be thankful that I went to a school that did not have a football team (and was proud of it).

Hopefully, this is all a side show that will evaporate after its fifteen minutes of fame have passed.  Students may have led the protests against the Vietnam War and racism;  but today the Occupy protestors are those who have been burned by the real world, rather than sheltered by college life.  The Paterno affair was important enough to make it to BBC News World Service Radio this morning, but what must listeners outside the United States think?

Actually, scratch that question.  The BBC ran their Penn State report in the same segment that reported Rick Perry’s debate fumble.  We know what the rest of the world thinks, and we know their grounds for thinking it.  Over at Penn State, however, I would guess that few, if any, of the students care very much about what our country has become or how the rest of the world perceives it.

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