Our Psychodramatic Campuses
Dartmouth College students recently staged an overnight sit-in the office of their president Philip Hanlon. They had over seventy demands. Apparently, they grew out of their alleged suffering at the hands of “racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, trans-homophobic, xenophobic, and ablest structures.”
Translating into English, the students elaborated, "Our bodies are already on the line, in danger, and under attack" -- suggesting conditions similar to the teen-aged Marines who stormed Fallujah in November 2004, or perhaps the iron-workers who tip-toe on girders 1,000 feet above Manhattan, or an acquaintance of mine whose work clothes reveal that he pumps out quite messy rural cesspools. As redress for their suffering, the oppressed students issued Orwellian calls to ban particularly hurtful vocabulary, to create new faculty positions based entirely on race, and to ensure gender-neutral student housing.
Most of the students represent the .01% of American society. They can enjoy their four- to five-year hiatus from the American rat race, either due to wealthy parents or to charity in the forms of grants that allow them to pay the $60,000 per year plus in room, board, and tuition. Again, most Americans either do not have such money or access to such money to afford the quarter-million-dollar “under attack” Dartmouth experience.
President Hanlon apparently felt the students’ pain of what they had called “micro-aggressions,” or the day-to-day psychodramatic angst that these young elites feel that are their own versions of the world of the Wal-Mart checker, the roofer in Delano who nails in 105 degree August heat, or the tractor driver who has disked half-mile long rows day in and day out on the farm. If you have never done such things, and you have $60,000 a year to spend on Dartmouth, then I suppose you could conceivably dream up a micro-aggression of being tortured to read woman for womyn, or having to use either the boys’ or girls’ bathroom.
The odd thing is that the students did have a point about the university’s illiberal oppression, but hardly in the manner that they had dreamed. About every year, the Dartmouth board of trustees meets to announce that undergraduate tuition for the upcoming academic year will rise about five percent over the current year’s tuition rate. When they add in similar increases in room and board, the price tag for this next academic year will easily exceed $60,000. In defense of such indulgence, Dartmouth, like other Ivy League atolls, then reminds parents and students that the real costs are about $120,000 and the difference subsidized by gifts and endowments.
But why do very liberal universities do very illiberal things like raise their costs consistently above the rate of inflation, for which, in similar circumstances, food markets or gas stations would be chastised? And why do very liberal professors over the last three decades insist on teaching fewer classes for more money, in a world where nurses do not serve fewer patients for greater salaries? And why do universities in general depend on graduate teachers, part-time lecturers and adjunct faculty to teach many courses that are identical to those taught by full, tenured faculty at rates of compensation three times higher -- in an exploitative way that Target or Costco would be fined for? And why, if students are suffering from such micro-aggressions, do they have dorms and student unions and recreation centers that have metamorphosized from the motel like conditions of the past into Club Med resorts, with indoor pools, rock-climbing walls, and Starbucks latte bars?
The point is that the Dartmouth students themselves are creations of the very exploitation they project onto others. They and their faculties enjoy privileges undreamed up by 99.9% of the population. DeVry and Phoenix trade schools cannot afford to offer Dartmouth-like race, class, and gender courses to contextualize their accounting, computer programming and nursing programs because none of their students have the cash for such psychodramatic indulgences. Our aggrieved .01% can play act that they are embattled, precisely because free market capitalism gave them those dramatic opportunities in a way unknown in Mexico or the Congo.
So in the spirit of the egalitarian anguish of the Dartmouth students, I offer to the protestors a sample revolutionary proposal to president Hanlon:
"We, the Dartmouth micro-aggressed students, demand that the college hire no more part-time or adjunct faculty unless they are compensated in the comparable fashion to our regular professors. We insist our faculty face the same sort of accountability that all the service workers must face at Dartmouth, and therefore demand an end to lifelong guaranteed employment that tenure ensures. We insist that we be allowed to double up in our dorm rooms to ensure room and board costs remain affordable for the less well off among us. We demand student enablers who can identify all the superfluous .01% comfort indulgences that are both antithetical to our working-class shared values and likewise drive up expenses for the indigent among us. We demand further a mandatory BA exit exam in basic math and English to certify that we were given a proper educational product for the exorbitant Dartmouth $250,000 price tag of our educations.
"Furthermore to cut overhead, we ask the university to allow those privileged among us whose parents can pay full room, board, and tuition to adopt a less well off Dartmouth student, and thereby directly to pay their full costs as well, in an envisioned ‘Adopt a Poor Guy Program.’ We ask for an end to privileged student internships and summer programs abroad and in our major elite cities, but instead insist that we are sent to work along side carrot pickers in Huron, lumberjacks in Medford, and frackers in North Dakota to learn first hand the trauma of what the muscular classes suffer each day at the hands of the financial elite that has subsidized our educations.
"Finally, to equalize admission and remove the inherent and odious class biases that so arbitrarily punish the proletariat, we demand an end to SAT scores and GPA requirements that so obviously reflect unwarranted privilege. Instead to diversify our student body, we demand a five-part admission check list, entailing 1) demonstrable ability at welding, 2) the ability to do basic wiring, 3) proof of a one-year internship at Wal-Mart or Costco, 4). Evidence of at least three months of waitressing at a major chain restaurant, and 5) one-year residence in an inner city neighborhood. Unless our demands are met, we will destroy all latte machines on campus and wreck all the stair-masters in our fitness centers."
(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)