Doctor Sardonicus in the Urinal

With the annual onset of seasonal depression my curmudgeon persona returns and promptly begins griping about every stupid fishing thing around me. Some of you might wonder how much that persona, who we can call “Doctor Sardonicus”, differs from my regularly mordant personality. Well, let’s recall it was last winter that I gibed the local university “librarium” for remaking their facilities in the image of an internet café, mildly ticking off the librarians among us who are less curmudgeonish than me about the future of places with books and other stuff in them. Really, I should leave this subject well enough alone.

Alas, this is the world wide crank-o-sphere, so let me now mock that university librarium once again, this time for having installed aluminum-framed and glass-protected advertisement spaces above the urinals in their pissoir. Not a serious concern, mind you. In fact, I spent much of my cherished micturating time laughing out loud at the advertisement a foot from my face asking me to consider what cable package I purchase. Still, there’s something so naked about the advertisements framed like works of art all around the campus, the vendors filling up the Student Union, the way that new university buildings are always constructed on the “atrium” model. It seems clear where they’re going with this; at some point, the ongoing effort of administrators to remake the university in the image of a mall (a cultural establishment differing from the university only in retaining its social prestige) can’t help but be howlingly funny. An old (and questionable) historical narrative once held that the Church was the common social institution that held Western Civilization together during the fractured cultural Dark Ages. Now, the social institution holding together our civilization, and its single common cultural meeting place, is the shopping mall. So, the University, which once existed to serve the Church, will naturally come to serve the consumer economy. If they turn in their homework, I’ll validate their parking.

My students, sensing I’m a sour old crosspatch, frequently complain to me about how often my own university hits them with these advertisements and appeals to “tell us what YOU want to see on campus!” They want to be seen as something other than walking wallets ripe with cash waiting to be harvested. I do what I can to make them feel like junior scholars, because they are, and mostly we just laugh together about those clueless business degree administrators whose insincere pandering to their “customer base” (and, let’s be honest, whose basic greed) so often stands out at a university like a bathing suit at a funeral. What the students really want is lower tuition. That message isn’t getting through, so instead they get exclusive offers for cheap cable to peruse as they piss. Try not to laugh about that.

Postscript: I just realized that the first time I made fun of this particular university was way back in (December!) 2007, when I noted that people get terribly upset about students shooting pornography in their dorms, but the local university had been leased for a lousy direct-to-DVD American Pie film making fun of college education without any complaint.

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25 thoughts on “Doctor Sardonicus in the Urinal

      • Rufus, yr tickling takedown of Mall University is only ace.

        Dunno about the driveby vs. the Roman church as the preserver of Western Civilization, tho. Post-Constantine [c. 300 CE] , religion and society were synonymous, no less where Islam grew to its Golden Age and outpaced the West [600-1000 CE].

        But it was at the collapse of the Muslim world as the world’s most polished civilization—returning to fideism—that Christendom promptly picked up the ball they dropped: Aristotle, science itself. It’s an interesting story.

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        • Tom, I love ya, but sometimes you can be a bit sensitive. I meant no swipe at the Church there- not at all- just a mild swipe at an old school of history writing that tended to avoid discussions of (and downplay) all other social institutions and practices in that time period, particularly the ones that didn’t leave behind any texts. I recognize that, without the Church, there’s a great deal of cultural knowledge that would have been lost in the Medieval period; also that it was at the center of that society for over a thousand years.

          But, as someone who is fascinated with how the average person will create and maintain order if at all possible (a topic that still is not very important to historians who tend to focus on the dissenters), I’m a bit skeptical of an older school of history wherein there was the Church and its scribes who left us behind gorgeous texts during that time, and then there were all those illiterates who were doing nothing whatsoever to maintain order. When the only people who show up in a historical record are monks and people who end up in court for committing crimes, historians find it easy to argue that everyone in the time period was either clergy or a criminal. I think that there are dozens of quotidian practices and beliefs that hold together civilizations, even in the worst times.

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  1. I do what I can to make them feel like junior scholars, because they are, and mostly we just laugh together about those clueless business degree administrators whose insincere pandering to their “customer base” (and, let’s be honest, basic greed) so often stands out at a university like a bathing suit at a funeral. What the students really want is lower tuition.

    And yet, we all want what we can get. The desire for lower tuition does not necessarily equal “greed,” but are we (i.e., humanities/social science/history people) like you and me any better? Maybe we want truth and justice and and a life of spiritual fulfillment, but we also want to eat and to have a roof over our heads. I don’t see how that’s much different fro what the business majors want.

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    • I would like to be able to pay someone like you to teach me a subject in a coffee shop on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then get credit for having gained the knowledge — small learning units all over with real knowledge as the only criteria for success. It seems to me that univerisities are not fit for the Internet/Information Age.

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      • I’ve been working periodically with a local anarchist group that’s trying to do something like that called the “Free School”. We’d be offering courses at all levels meeting regularly at a friendly restaurant and meeting space, and people would only have to buy their books. The real problem is credits. The universities have a monopoly on accreditation. I’ve asked people several times why we couldn’t found a new university that eliminated all of the unnecessary administrative structure and needless overhead, had professors handle certain administrative tasks themselves, and basically operate for a fraction of the average tuition. Trust me- it’s very possible to cut tuition rates way, way down. The answer I’ve always gotten from people is that the universities will immediately declare your degrees worthless. Of course, at some point, what’s going to tip over the apple cart is when companies declare that their new hires don’t need to have college degrees at all because they can do their own training!

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          • It’s sort of up to corporate America. They’re like a very exclusive club that all the young people want to get into and we’re like the bouncers, and they don’t get access until they get the piece of paper from us. Until that changes, universities will do as they wish. But, when the companies figure out that they can hire a particularly bright high school valedictorian and train him in house, we’re fished. Admittedly, when that happens, I’ll be the first one fired, while the Executive Director of Student Happiness will be the last one to go.

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            • Fortunately, I never had worry about Corporation or Universities — I just did my own thing in business, then took a ten year hiatus to “give back” to society working with addicts, then back to another buisiness — spent two years in college and decided I liked the autodidactic path better. My only regret is that I could’ve been a good brain surgeon and richer by now. I registered rather high on a comprehensive IQ test given by a psychologist in Virginia, and he told me I did well on my self-learning path — but like you say, I don’t have a degree and that matters to a lot of people.

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  2. This post reminds me of a recent Gawker column I read: http://gawker.com/5839380/kids-these-days-are-sellouts (really funny, but kind of unintentionally ironic coming from Gawker.)

    Highlight line: “It’s much better to look back one day and be embarrassed about your AdBusters subscription than it is to look down, at your desk, in a marketing agency, where you work, thanks to your enthusiasm as a Campus Brand Ambassador.”

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    • Thanks, that’s pretty funny. Man, people used to take a stand against the Man, back in the revolutionary 90s! Dennis Rodman is probably rolling in his king sized bed right now.

      The thing I wonder about is credit cards. Back when I started grad school (the 1970s or so), they had these people signing the students up for credit cards at the school bookstore and outside of the football games. It was a far cry from when I was a young child and it was actually hard to get a credit card. But I seriously assume they’re not still doing that.

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      • My first day on campus in 2002, they were handing out ten-dollar bills in exchange for signing up for a credit card. I signed up for like eight and then just cut them up and threw them away when they came in the mail.

        My first day on campus in 2011 there wasn’t anybody hawking credit cards. Granted, different school; the new one is a little less money-hungry than the old one, but still, it probably has more to do with everybody being so ridiculously risk-averse nowadays.

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