I have not read this book. In fact, it’s not officially out until tomorrow. I read a review of it this morning in the WSJ, though, and the review inspired me to say a few things.
(The WSJ site is subscription only, so I can’t link; I read the hard copy to which Sir John subscribes. I like the WSJ because it filters the news through its economic filter, so I am rarely subjected to directly heartrending accounts of natural disasters, shootings, terrorist acts, illnesses, and so on, first thing in the morning when bad news can ruin the whole day. But its generally anti-intellectual, anti-university attitude irritates me no end, and I frequently fulminate to anyone who will listen about another idiotic editorial, letter, review, or story that blames professors for things that make no sense whatsoever. For instance, their “Dear Book Lover” column last week claimed that “the canon” is fixed because literature professors teach only what they were taught. Hello? If that were the case, “literature” would still consist of the Greek and Roman classics, in the original languages, and no one would ever study works written in any vernacular. And how does the soi-disant “Book Lover” think anyone manages to teach a course like “Literature Since Year X” where X is a value greater than the year in which the teacher graduated? Okay, let me stop ranting and get back to my main point.)
In fact, I have no opinion as to whether—or to what extent—the “party school” phenomenon is a serious problem. I have never either attended or taught at such a school. But IF it is a problem, and parents want to avoid sending their children to such places, I have a simple, low-cost recommendation: send your kids to a Large Regional University. There are lots of them around the country. Some are close to your home or places your extended family lives; some are in or near interesting cities, some are in beautiful countryside.
Their student population includes a lot of non-traditional students. Many if not most of these students are putting themselves through college. Some of them started at the usual age, then took time off. Some became freshmen in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or even later. Many of them have children, whether infants or college students themselves. A lot of them have extensive work experience. Some are military veterans. Some care for aged parents or grandparents. Some have health problems that mean they cannot “party” without sending their blood sugar haywire or rendering their medication ineffective.
These people value their education. They set a good example for everybody. They don’t always have time to do all the homework, or they may have trouble balancing job, kids, grandparents, and schoolwork, but they do know what they’re in school for and why it matters. They will tell a younger student whose parents are paying tuition that they wish they had all that time to concentrate on studies; they will make it clear what the personal and professional costs of not having a degree are; they will also suggest alternative careers if college really isn’t right (or isn’t right now). Students like these will teach a privileged SLAC-bound kid what the backbone of this country really is. And the faculty—thanks to the hideous job market—are as good as you will find anywhere.
Someone determined to party could probably manage it at LRU, to be sure; but that isn’t really the ethos of the place.
I love my students (and this is a happy thing to think about, at the end of the summer when my reflexive reaction is not wanting to go back to the classroom). Sometimes I find them frustrating, especially when they don’t have time to do the work or for reasons they don’t want to go into, they just can’t get it together. But what I really mean is not that I “love” them, in some gooey, emotional, nurturing way. I respect them. I like working with them. I love my job because I feel that working with these people is really worthwhile. SLACs have their place, and they may be the best place for a lot of students. LRU and its ilk, however, are a good place to work and a good place to study, and I wish more people thought about what the LRUs of this world have to offer, including what they might offer students who could afford to go elsewhere but might actually benefit from attending an LRU.