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To think I actually started looking forward to college before my first term.
It must’ve been because I was 18 and eager to forge ahead into the bright future, or at least get away from my parents. “Good,” Dad laughed. “It means we did our job right.”
Still, returning to the grind after a dozen years of mandatory government school? And Dad, who “saw the coarse metal of sham and pretense beneath the showy gilding of learning,”1 had forewarned me enough over the years with his college stories. College wasn’t and isn’t even intrinsically necessary to be a reporter,2 but I wasn’t visionary enough or strong-willed enough to eschew the conventional path.3
A standard complaint about college, then and now, is how the institution has been captured by those hostile to our civilization and turned into an indoctrination center to brainwash students into stormtroopers who’ll capture the other institutions, then the rest of the country, and impose a statist dystopia.4 I arrived about six months before the kulturkampf of the early ‘90s really burst open on my campus, and I observed enough that supported such a complaint.5
The underreported story, though, was how money grubbing the college was underneath all the pious pontificating.6 In retrospect, perhaps I should’ve tried obtaining my bachelor’s degree from a diploma mill for a fraction of what my alma mater charged.7 Especially with tuition increasing every term, and the administration pleading poverty.8 Little of the required coursework for my degree dealt with my chosen career. It was just busywork calculated to siphon more of my family’s money. Robert Nisbet attributed all this to the infusion of federal funds to colleges during World War II, which predictably lead to academia’s interest in getting more.9
I did what I could to stretch out the money for college, including stock market investments that did better than expected in the 1990-91 recession.10 Finally, though, I had to liquidate my investments to pay for the ever-rising costs.
But experience is the deal-clincher for jobs, and here my alma mater tried to block me. Back during Orientation Week, I perused the university’s general bulletin – the combination course catalog and school rules – like a Talmudic scholar,11 looking for piggybacks, loopholes, shortcuts and catches. For example, if you thought you knew a course’s content well enough, you could take a challenge exam early in the term; if you passed, you’d get the credits – but those credits didn’t count toward graduation.
So all the really useful information about getting through college I discovered myself. The first time I met with my academic adviser the same week – it may have been mandatory – he was no help at all. He may still be alive, so for the sake of this story, we’ll call him … “Ralph Felcher.” I don’t remember his real name anymore.
Felcher seemed peeved he had to field questions I’d prepared from studying the bulletin. I don’t think I saw him again until the beginning of my sophomore year, definitely at his request. I’d already written him off. I asked him about internships. He told me the J-school discouraged underclassmen from seeking them. Something about those belonging to the upperclassmen or some such. I’d reviewed the pertinent fine print before our sophomore meeting, so I nodded noncommittally in his office while disregarding what he told me about this informal practice.
Moreover, somewhere during freshman year I’d learned this “adviser” was also an open homosexual – not that he’d’ve been any better at his job if he’d been normal. At the sophomoric meeting, I noticed Felcher looked thinner from last time, and not in a good way.12
Afterward, I mentioned the meeting to my campus newspaper colleagues, most of whom regarded themselves as “progressive” on the issues of the day. But our conversation focused on whether we advisees should dump him immediately, or wait for Felcher to die of AIDS and take our chances on getting a competent new adviser, assuming one existed. When there’s something at stake, like one’s career, they shucked such idealistic beliefs like a cheap T-shirt. And what were we paying this guy’s salary for, anyway? Certainly not for useful advice or to learn marketable skills.
Later, during winter term dead week, in between studying for finals, I systematically mailed out my resume to newspapers across the country. When I returned from spring break, I obtained two interviews, and one offer, a well-paying internship, and this at the start of the recession. I also scooped my colleagues, and of course, proved my adviser wrong. In fact, one of the reasons I snared the internship was that the interviewers liked that I’d bucked the system.
But where could I get credits? Again, the bulletin informed me about the placement office, through which I earned the same number of graduation-applicable credits I could’ve gotten through the J-school if it weren’t so obtuse about helping potential alumni donors.
The next year, the J-school relented because I was a junior, so for my second internship I picked up double credit toward graduation from both the J-school and the placement office, because I didn’t tell either department about the other. I checked the general bulletin about that, too, and there wasn’t anything that actually enforced a limit on internship credits.
At this point, many of you are thinking or saying, “That Dan! Always looking for an angle.” What was I supposed to do? Follow orders like a farm animal while the college sheared me? Bah! People outside school expressed their admiration for my cunning. “You’ll make a good businessman,” one of my internship editors said.
My alma mater failed as a vocational-technical school and it failed as a repository of the liberal arts.13 On the instructor evaluation forms at the end of each term, I recommended two of them be terminated for poor performance. One of them was a Pulitzer Prize winner and a switch on the old saying: he could write, but he couldn’t teach.14 Actually, now that I think about it, I should’ve recommended more firings.
And after all the rat mazes and all the money spent for this credential, few potential clients ever ask about it. Maybe they don’t want to be reminded of their college experience. Even fewer social acquaintances ask about my educational background, although we all pretend our credentials have some validity. Maybe they don’t want to be reminded of their college experience, either. Most of this obsession with degrees and credentials is nothing but the business world’s version of keeping up with the Joneses. Few employers are willing to settle for less because they don’t want to appear unsophisticated in front of their colleagues. In other words, nobody cares what I learned. The four years I spent grinding was a qualifications hurdle and checklist item just to get the job interview.15
Naturally, years after I obtained the diploma, or “was graduated,” in the phrase you’ll read about in anybody’s biography, meaning all so-and-so’s hard work really didn’t count for anything compared to the OK of some college bureaucrat, the alumni office or the J-school tracked me wherever I moved and asked for more money.16 Finally, the latter sent an appeal with a typographical error. I marked its letter with a red pen and mailed it back. It hasn’t bothered me since.
Finally, all this schoolwork interfered with my reading. In fact, the groves of academe obscured what was worthwhile released during the period:
See issue No. 107.