Snowden fled to Hong Kong when he knew publication of his leaks was imminent. In his interview, he said he went there because “they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent.” This may be true, in some limited way, but the overriding fact is that Hong Kong is part of China, which is, as Snowden knows, a stalwart adversary of the United States in intelligence matters. (Evan Osnos has .) Snowden is now at the mercy of the Chinese leaders who run Hong Kong. As a result, all of Snowden’s secrets may wind up in the hands of the Chinese government—which has no commitment at all to free speech or the right to political dissent. And that makes Snowden a hero?
I still believe in the unrivaled usefulness of a personal advisor. All I need to do is peruse the forty-nine page course catalog, decipher departmental codes, choose classes that I am eligible for, figure out non-overlapping time slots, register for limited enrollment, decide on a major, calculate the next four years of my life, make sure I fulfill every requirement, submit approved forms to the registrar, and deliver him a 3 x 5 that says “initial here” – during finals week. He, on the other hand, handles the tough stuff – disappears from his office when his presence is guaranteed, grimaces when I chase him down on his way to the bathroom, moves his hand all the way up to his chest pocket, removes a pen, clicks the top, and signs his full name, first and last! All the while maintaining the memory of a Ginkgo Biloba poster boy – I have only had to introduce myself to him once, at every appointment. I smell a scholarship with somebody’s name on it…
The impacts of this shift in undergraduate attitude about their college experience manifest themselves in the culture that they in turn help to define and create. When people refer to the golden age of Greece, they are talking about the period in time when great advances and achievements were made in the arts, philosophy (which at that time included science), and governing theory. This was a time when the resources and priorities of the Grecian society were focused on those topics. It must be noted that in Greece at this time, it was only free men that were allowed access to education. This exclusivity is in direct conflict with the attitude of openness and availability to education
that came about in the 1960’s. Today, we don’t admire the ancient Greeks for their methods, but rather for the cultural priorities they identified and extent to which they achieved and excelled in them. These are the very same subjects that are associated with the historical view of college and the college experience. The move away from this interest in learning for the sake of learning in the undergraduate body is inextricably linked to this same interest in greater society, just as the undergraduate body attending college is inextricably linked to the society from which it came and to which it will eventually return.
The 1960’s and 70’s were witness to a unique combination of economic
prosperity that allowed children from families of modest means to attend college for the first time, and were still a time when being an English major was not looked down upon with derision (usually with respect to their relative employability upon graduation). Intellectual merit was still the common currency used in conversation. At the same time, it would be reasonable to argue that this inclusion of the middle class would reduce the level of intellectualism in college, because students coming from a modest background would identify more with the necessity of needing practical skills for entering the marketplace. However, one must acknowledge that from a financial perspective, attending college used to be less of a risk in terms of the skills acquired for
the debt accumulated. Students simply were not as worried about leaving college with no prospects of paying the debts they had acquired with the degree they had chosen to pursue.
The question of the significance of the college experience relative to our
generation then becomes one of deciding our cultural priorities and values. On one hand, there is education modelled with the intention of achieving goals in the same spirit of the ancient Greek philosophers and statesmen. The other option is to treat the college experience as the period of time between high school and entering the workforce proper. For those of us who value what higher education and the college experience has historically represented, public complacency towards college is an alarming indication of how far in the opposite direction we have travelled, therefore making it paramount that the classical college experience needs to be revitalized, while maintaining the openness
and availability that was achieved in the 1960’s, as it is more critical than ever before.
Since students have become broadly informed and more rational, it is becoming harder to rally around narrowly defined youth causes, which makes college much calmer. Similarly, it’s correct to say that the discrepancy between youth and adulthood has rapidly disintegrated as internships proliferate and job recruiting starts earlier. Similarly as we’ve matured, college students now recognize that they are global patrons who must advocate not only for their local causes, but for international ones. Issues and rallies are less consolidated on a physical level, but our efforts are more acute and we reach large and diverse audiences. Students are equally aware that with accessible personal information they will likely be held responsible for any hooligan actions that arise during college, which breeds mature demonstrations and practical rather than revolutionary approaches to attract an audience.
Students still spend most of their time debating issues in coffee shops. However, these coffee shops are no longer down the street from campuses. Instead they are in our residence hall basement and library in multiplying numbers, and we commonly rendezvous in cafés in Johannesburg, Antigua and Prague. However, our nation’s educational achievements mean that there is some consolidation in shared knowledge, which means that college students no longer debate easily defined and educationally clarified issues such as race and gender equality, but instead focus on related, but more technical arguments, which are usually difficult to riot over.
As college opportunities proliferate, competition for the best student’s is no longer between the top twenty-five private institutions and a few unique privates. A growing majority of the nation’s elite 1% are entering what were once less glamorous public schools and their honors colleges because these large institutions have used state as well as private resources to attract the nation’s best. Many state schools now lead the international trend with elaborate pitches that include international service and research opportunities as well as provide individual fellowship applications that ask for not just student’s resumes, but their music and literary interests, photography portfolios and use interviews that identify their humor and curiosity.
The elite student diaspora to public schools and the number of students who are abroad has affected the physical centrality that once existed on college campuses. However, this has not diminished the student experience, but instead has spread the learning experience across the globe and allowed students to satisfy their intellectual curiosity internationally and in a more cosmopolitan atmosphere when at their home institution. Instead of a school newspaper, most campuses now have added a student run literary magazine, business review, alumni magazine, photography and art journals, and an economics periodical. Student voices are heard more loudly than ever before through these publications since it is students who handle the state’s economic data and are more likely than ever to freelance for major news organizations. Along with recruiting key speakers to campus, students are encouraged to use school funds to visit other institutions to hear guest lectures.
We spoke during my fourth week in Belize where I was working to establish a University micro-credit fund. It has since become the first institution to specifically create educational loans on an organizational level. As I write this essay, I am again in Belize and living in Peacework’s commune with three female agricultural students from the US and a doctor researching a policy paper on waterborne illnesses.
Unfortunately, excitement is far from universal and many institutions such as the University of Chicago have not adapted. Mr. Perlstein’s sample case is widely known to be among the most sedated campuses in the US. The campus is famous for not only its uncommon application, which is not special at all, but for its widely worn student t-shirts, which say, “The University of Chicago, where fun goes to die.” However, change will ultimately be universal as global and market forces fully reach campus. The competition and increase in opportunities has made college a more intense and creative experience than ever.