Monthly Archives: October 2008

Usury 101: or, The Idea of a University, 2008 anno domini

Look for some more posts from me in the next couple of days; I’ve been away for a while but not through my intention.  It’s just the usual grad school travails keeping me away from the all-important world of the ‘blog.

What cannot wait to come out of my enraged head is a little comment on some horrendous, festering trends in academia.  My friend Sarah is taking a class on what passes for “Rhetoric and Composition” this semester and she tells me, from time to time, some of the horrors from the class’s textbooks.  I’ve harped on enough in the past about my opposition to the use of the University as a glorified job-training course, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much.  But seriously.  Here we go.

One of these “textbooks” was trying to make the point that the classroom should focus on computer/technological literacy.  Big deal, right?  Well, when you realize that the reason for doing this is to “secure satisfactory employment,” you might begin to see my objections.  Here’s a bit from a description of a class from Florida State University:

CGS 2100: Microcomputer Applications for Business and Economics.  Course enables students in business and economics to become proficient with microcomputer and software applications that are typically used in the workplace …

Again.  If these students voluntarily enthrall themselves to a business school (I am just being cantankerous here, I jest a little) then this is fine.  But the author also insists, later in the book, that technology courses ought to be considered a full-fledged branch of the humanities.  There’s a problem with that.  If you look at state universities today you’ll see that in fact the humanities are just a branch of the technological and, as William Zinsser would say, “pre-rich” fields.  Namely, the “useless” branch that brings some sort of prestige, like the tiny “literary fiction” imprints of the massive publishing houses.  “Look, we do literature!  We’re credible!  Don’t consider the fact that 90% of our revenue comes from trashy romance novels and faddish diet books!”  The humanities cannot survive when “profitable” pursuits are grafted on to them; the profit margin simply widens until they are devoured.  Even Barack Obama, the particularly intelligent candidate for president, harps on how he wants to expand funding “for the hard sciences” at the University level.  Seriously, just the hard sciences?  Screw history, philosophy, anthropology, english, psychology, etc.?

The same goes for my own class.  We’re kept on something of a short lead, and while that usually gives me little reason for complaint, I’ve been urged more that once to replace a reading from the classics or even just from a more “literary” source with something from the newspaper.  Nothing against newspapers or current events – I happen to be a little obsessed myself.  But the election and the subprime meltdown you have not always with you.  Art and beauty, and the quest for truth, will hound us until we are wiped off the face of the earth (well, unless the current theorists have their way, in which case we’ll just be plugged into virtual reality machines and given continuous pleasurable stimulation).

Okay.  I never thought of myself as the wrathful “ubi sunt” type or a cantankerous traditionalist.  But seriously.  Is money really the only thing that matters to anyone anymore?  I’m just amazed that credible academics tout these theories; they seem more proper to small-souled, small-time lawyers or unscrupulous petty managers.

Joe Biden matters.

Apparently a record number of people watched the vice-presidential debates on Thursday, and I’m assuming most of them wanted to see if Sarah Palin would make it through alive (which of course she did).  Joe Biden, the democratic nominee, was somewhat lost in all the attention given to his opponent.

However, I think he’s quite important – and not only because surely anyone watching the debate who does not feel that Biden would make the more natural transition to the presidency should something happen to the candidates must have an ulterior motive – but because of his rousing answer to the question of whether, as Dick Cheney believes, the vice-president can act as “part of the legislative branch.”  Now, Palin said that she and McCain see a lot of “flexibility” inherent in the office, which amounted more or less to a “yes, we agree with Cheney.”  Biden, on the other hand, completely denounced the idea as flagrantly unconstitutional and an attempt to consolidate the “unitary executive” position by the Bush administration.

See what he’s doing?  He is literally claiming less power for his own position than either his opponent or the incumbent veep.  Not only is this rare, but it provides the strong distinction from the previous administration, which I think almost all of us would agree that we want.  Biden is important because he understands the government – not just as a Beltway insider, but as in “he is actually educated on the division of power in this country.”  And that’s an immensely good thing, if you ask me!

And on a somewhat tangential note, what is all this business bringing up Bill Ayers again?  The loss of Michigan seems to have sent the GOP into a tailspin of negativity …