The University: Everybody’s Gold Mine

The University: Everybody’s Gold Mine

In the last decade or so the American university has been put to unprecedented use by industry, the mass media and research teams, as well as by intellectuals who find it a handy home base. One result has been a failure on the part of the university to maintain itself as a value center for the young. Even worse, the student tends to become a public animal, fair game for all comers.

Today’s student is proclaimed a failure before he starts. In the name of necessary research, scores of studies such as The Unsilent Generation by Otto Butz have been made. The thoughts, ideals and private lives of the students have been picked at and probed into by teachers, behavioral scientists and critics. Now the popular media people have also joined in. Generally, the conclusions of these studies show the young to be a rather dismal, apathetic lot. Obviously the mass magazines and TV have a stake in the student because their business is to explore whatever topics are currently in vogue. But as for the more serious studies, why are they made? What use do they serve? Why all this attention to the adolescent’s views on society? Why all the negative conclusions? So far as I can see, it is a case of hoping that the blind will lead the blind. The educators and intellectuals have lost their way, they are no longer sure of their own ethical values. In the Greek sense, they have ceased to be teachers. Instead they have turned on their students.

Turnabout is fair play. The world and the university have examined the student. Now, how does that same world and university size up from the student’s point of view? The first thing the student becomes aware of in the new university atmosphere is hurry: hurry and a fantastic respect for success. In an attempt to do away with the ivory tower approach to education, the universities have endorsed a quick, slick professionalism. Their relation to business is becoming increasingly intimate. More and more courses which are essentially apprenticeship courses aimed at specific careers are available to the undergraduate student. Indeed, apprenticeship is replacing scholarship.

YEARS AGO, the Freshman student in English Composition was of interest to no one but himself, his teacher, his friends and his relatives. His teacher was generally someone who thought of teaching as a full-time profession. Today his young counterpart quickly gets to a “creative writing workshop” and as a “young writer” has a direct marketable value to the publisher always on the lookout for new talent. (I am using writing as an example, but, in different ways, the same essential experience occurs in the language, engineering, science, journalism, drama and government “fields.”)

We’ve come a long way from the time when the Pepsi-Cola prize was unique. Today, industry besieges the university with student prizes. The student is grateful for the recognition and the financial rew...