Letter to U of O students, September 2007
by Denis RancourtI am fascinated by U of O
– the administrative institution and social structure. I have also been most perplexed by its students themselves.
I mean students are a special breed. They are educated and privileged adults who pay large tuition fees (amounting to half of the operating costs of the university, the rest coming from the public purse) yet they accept being told in every detail how their academic lives will be run.
I mean adult paying clients of a public service, in any other sector of the economy, would normally be defining what that service is: The students should be running the place, in consultation with the public (e.g., an elected school board of community members).
Instead, we have an unelected (self-preserving and self-named) corporate executive, decorated with a necklace of congratulatory committees, making every decision about student campus lives.
That’s right; the university is a legal corporation
, administratively independent from the Ministry of Education, run by corporate executives. All committees are purely consultative. The Senate is mainly staffed by subservient (and amazingly silent) professors and the Board of Governors (the BOG) is mainly populated by representatives of the university’s corporate allies. Both chambers simply vote yes to the President’s recommendations. To my knowledge, no executive recommendation has ever been overturned or even consequentially delayed in my 21 years here.
Go and see for yourselves. Senate and BOG meetings are public. It is an educational experience. (The BOG free food is better than cafeteria fare.)
OK, so how can we understand this remarkable phenomenon of adult students who agree to pay in order to be tortured with curricula that are aimed at creating obedient employees rather than at education? Unending deadlines, regurgitation on command, no say in content or methods, carrot and stick grading
, imposed schedules…
How is this possible?
I have researched this question for years and interviewed many students and professors. I have concluded that there is one overriding reason. It’s called “a deal with the devil.”
Most students agree to give up their independence of thought and enquiry and to serve the insane system of due dates and senseless assignments in exchange for the certificate
(the degree). Most students give up four vital years of their lives in order to be certified persistently obedient. This certificate, in turn, gives students access to a privileged position in the wage hierarchy and professional social status.
It’s a trade. But the certificate is not just a certificate. It requires survival and that, in turn, requires both adopting the ideology of the profession
(for professional, science, and engineering degrees) and self-indoctrination to drive out the natural impulse to learn (often called setting priorities or time management). Your soul for a place in the sun.
But I have good news. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can survive with your personality, interests, motivations, morals, and principles intact. More and more students are doing it. Just stand up. Speak out. Confront. Others will join you. You will discover inner strengths and self-reliance.
The first step for many is to even notice that it’s all wrong. The next step is often death: Acceptance, cynicism, compliance, finding it interesting… Consider the alternative that is exploring and exerting your influence to change things.
You’ll know you’re changing things if there’s a backlash from those who have constructed and benefit from the status quo. When a prof or chairperson or dean balls you out for expressing your criticisms or demeans you or intimidates you
, then you will know that you were saying something that matters. You will learn things that cannot be learned any other way.
Join the activists and enjoy your trouble.
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