Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Five Things Your College REALLY Doesn't Want You To Ask About

The five questions GUARANTEED to make your university officials nervous...

Sometimes when I walk to class, I can’t help but notice those long-assed lines of new students, all corralled into the queues as they anticipate their chance to get into the university. Periodically, I’ll see a bunch of orientation leaders giving guided tours to prospective students - easily identifiable, since they all drag around these huge, neon yellow shopping bags form the campus book store - and I’ll feel sort of like the main character in “All Quiet on the Western Front,“ when he returns to his high school to lecture the next generation of cannon fodder on the merits of their own upcoming demises.

You don’t know how difficult it is for me to restrain myself. Every time I see one of those campus tours, I just want to run up to them and yell “Lies! Lies!” at the top of my lungs until I’m dragged off screaming into the night. There’s so much I know now that I didn’t know way back when, and since I received the greatest gift of all - hindsight - for Christmas, there’s a few questions I would have liked to retroactively asked my tour leaders when I was being oriented that I’ve decided to pass on to you, the next generation of American collegiates.

Alike some silver-tongued military recruiter, you’re probably going to get promised the moon, the sun and the stars in a gift basket by your campus tour guide. That said, there are five questions you can pose at any minute that would bring the tour to a complete and sudden halt, and quite possibly make the tour guide piss his or her pants in abject horror. These are the questions that I, your senior superior, has tormented himself over, the riddles that have never been solved by my college brass, or the upper echelon of any other university in the U.S., for that matter. Want to make your college administrators very, very uneasy? Want to see an orientation leader almost swallow his or her own tongue in utter nonplus? Want to turn your professor into a quivering puddle of unflavored gelatin, with only one sentence? Well, these are the verboten five questions that are absolutely, one hundred percent validated by science to cause academic pandemonium whenever they’re asked.

I would advise you to ask these questions in moderation, using them sparingly for those moments where you really need some time to back yourself out of whatever corner you’ve found yourself stuck in. Or, for maximum anarchy, try asking every single one of them on the first day of your introductory courses, and await that wondrous moment where you can literally see your professor experience a mental breakdown.

An inquisitive mind is a dangerous thing. And with these questions in your arsenal, you’re no doubt going to be one of the baddest kids on campus, amigo.

Question Number One:
“Why are there so many MORE female students on campus than males?"

In American academia, the numbers are noticeably skewed in favor of female students. In just about EVERY major, co-ed university in America, female students outnumber male students by at least ten percent, with some colleges registering female to male ratios of 70:30, 80:20 and even 90:10. The proportions are even higher in grad school, where currently, a good 60 percent of ALL Master degrees and PhDs are being earned by women.

Asking this question makes administrators really, really nervous, for a number of reasons. For starters, it gets them to fess about the whole “inequality gap” thing, which, in case you haven’t realized, is sort of a bullshit claim. For all of the ballyhoo about the oppression of females in U.S. society, they’re certainly getting a leg-up as far as educational obtainment goes, while enrollment numbers for male students continues to drop across the board. This question is really something of a Pandora’s Box, as it ultimately leads to an even thornier matter: how come more females are getting into U.S. colleges than males, anyway?

The reality…which, I assure you, you probably won’t be hearing in any college lecture…is because the education system in the U.S. makes it easier for females to get into colleges than males. More females are enrolled in advanced placement classes in U.S. high schools, and more females are accepted into “gifted programs” than their male classmates. Generally, female students are offered more scholarships and grant proposals than male students (try Googling "scholarships for women" and "scholarships for men" and see what results you get), and since more females are likely to receive majority funding from their parents than male students, guess who the colleges prefer talking to

And whatever you do, DON’T even think about bringing up the fact that, even though more females get into college than males, males still score higher on the SAT. Or that there's a bizarre inverted correlation where female students somehow score higher grade point averages DESPITE having lower standardized test scores than their male counterparts. Or that males outrank their female classmates considerably in math and science. Nor should you EVER bring up the fact that males generally have to support themselves through college more than females, or have far less access to scholarships and grant considerations, or often get bumped out of classes and programs to fulfill quotas that, supposedly, “balance” the class populations. That’s because in college, “gender discrimination” is still treated as a one way street, even though the numbers, quite obviously, speak to the contrary. And if you thought the “War of the Sexes” was too taboo a topic, just wait until we get to the next forbidden-in-higher-education inquiry...

Question Number Two:

“What’s the REASON for all of this multiculturalism stuff?”

A lot of colleges have implemented “global learner” policies over the last decade, as a direct result of globalization trends. According to colleges - and this is the part of the question they’re actually right about - the work world of tomorrow is going to consist of a multitude of nationalities, utilizing technologies to create a worldwide economy, where you really can’t afford to be unlearned and prejudiced against others. That response, of course, is anything but debatable. The part where things take that hard left turn is when you ask WHY the colleges have such a hard-on for “multiculturalism,” going as far as to implement diversity policies that, in extreme cases, keep people locked out of enrollment based on their race and ethnicity.

“Multiculturalism,” as a concept, is an inherently prejudiced one. The movement suggests that American youth - us honkies and black folk, ostensibly - are so culturally insulated that we don’t know the first thing about Latin America, or Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, where a good three/fourth of the world lives. Most multiculturalism programs are based on the premise that “Americanized” youth are inherently ignorant of international cultures, and because we will be working for a Chinese, Indian or Qatari multinational in the not-too distant future, we have to read borderline insulting “diversity” agitprop to remind us to not be all hate-filled and semi-racist about things.

The thing is, my college campus looks pretty damn internationalized, and I don’t think there’s EVER been a cultural clash of any variety - unless, of course, you count when those “God Hates [Insert Plural Noun Here]” pastors periodically show up - at the university. The big punch line here is that, despite indoctrinating us with a pro-multiculturalism message as soon as we arrive at the university (at my school, an introductory course on diversity is even required for freshmen), the students remain pretty damn homogeneous with their acquaintances, often through racially and ethnically un-diversified student organizations that, wouldn’t you know, have the full blessing of the school in question.

Most U.S. colleges have diversity quotas on campus, which guarantee that members of “underrepresented” minorities make up at least a certain percentage of the complete student population within a certain program. Seeing as how a fajillion pissed off Republicans have already covered that territory, perhaps we can look at the other, other side of “multiculturalism” - you know, the side where colleges tend to recruit and display favoritism toward minority students as a means of fulfilling grant requirements for the college itself.

What sectors of academia net the most research money? Why, science and technology of course, and wouldn’t you know it, both of those sectors in academia seem to be made up of a disproportionate number of non-Caucasian and non-U.S. born students. With students of the like, universities are really scoring twice, as most of the time, they’re not having to split the bill for the students’ tuition (thank you, minority scholarship funding!) while still being able to soak up research assistance aide moolah like a loofa.

In other words? “Multiculturalism” has more to do with the university turning a profit than it does promoting international harmony. Just let me know if you see your college promoting that mantra on its webpage, though…

Question Number Three:
“How exactly can I KNOW that my professors are qualified to teach here?”

This one seems like it would be a fairly easy question to answer. Surely, the university has to have some internal series of checks and balances, and some multi-layered, multi-nuanced blueprint for deciding what makes someone worthy of a faculty position, right?

Well...you see, American colleges have a problem. Despite having higher enrollment numbers, they’re not exactly getting higher numbers of long-term professors onboard in proportion to the increase in students. As a result, you’re seeing more and more non-professional educators in academia - which, not surprisingly, results in a few problems for the university in general.

In my four years at university, I’ve had classes taught to me by commercial producers, prescription drug representatives, a dude whose day job was at Coca-Cola and one guy that even claimed to be a “professional protestor.” Granted, none of these professors were really horrible instructors, but for the amount of money we’re paying in tuition costs, are we really getting our money’s worth out of a steady diet of part-time, adjunct professors? Furthermore, the selection process - and more importantly, the criteria for a hiring - remains undisclosed to the public. Even if there was a concrete guideline that deemed a candidate fit for instruction, there’s no way for us to know whether he or she is upholding or besmirching his or her duties, since there’s no transparency at all here.

Yes, if you check your college’s website, you’ll probably find a page with your professors’ educational background on it. But, is that really enough to determine whether or not someone is capable and/or deserving of a role as educator?

The all-time greatest example of this EVER occurred at my university about a year ago. Right before finals, an economics professor decided to express his gratitude to the class by yanking his dong out in front of God and everybody. This was AFTER he had already stripped down to a thong in a prior class, and AFTER reports that he broke down into uncontrollable sobbing in SEVERAL classes before that. There was literally NOTHING posted on the university website about his professional background, other than his educational accolades. Clearly, he didn’t need to be teaching in the first place, but the more troubling thought is how in the blue hell did he get hired by the school to begin with?

Once again, there’s no transparency, and no established model there for students to see why the administration considers the professors worthy of their positions. That’s because not only do the students not know who’s worthy of teaching, it doesn’t look like the college officials know, either.

Question Number Four:
“Where does all of that money from student fees ACTUALLY  go?”

At most U.S. colleges, you’ll probably end up paying more in student fee costs than tuition itself. In some colleges, student fee costs are actually double, triple, or even QUADRUPLE the price of tuition. Now, on your student assessment bill, you’ll see a laundry list of how much of your check goes toward funding certain causes - for example, “land acquisition,” “technology” or “recreational” fees. As such, you know how much of your money is going towards certain developmental efforts for your school, but what you don’t - or ever will know - is what exactly your student fee money will be going towards.

Regarding most American universities, the system works a little like this: every semester, an auditor draws up a blueprint that designates how much money each student needs to pay in order to support certain programs or projects on campus. Another auditor decides what project or programs deserve to get X amount of funding dollars from that original estimate. When you pay your bill each semester, the money you put into the system is supposed to be filtered throughout the school exactly as the bill represents - meaning if you were charged X amount of dollars and X amount of cents for a service, then exactly X dollars and X cents will be taken out of your check and zipped on over to whoever is in charge of handling el dinero for that project or program.

The key word in all of that is supposed to, because - as with the hiring process at most universities - there’s no way in hell to tell if your money is actually being shipped around as the school tells you. Very, very few colleges (and that probably means yours, too) have money trails that are transparent to students, which means not only do you have ZERO way to tell if your student fee money is going towards what it’s supposed to be funding, you have absolutely ZERO idea if that money is going towards the school at all.

You may think that your money is going directly to the college, but since universities have so many contractors and vendors, there’s a pretty high (read: practically guaranteed) likelihood that your money is being used to pay off tertiary liaisons, with your moolah not even entering an account at your university at all. Not that this lends itself to embezzlement or anything of that nature, of course.

So, how can the school assure you that your money is going where it’s supposed to, thus proving once and for all that it isn’t guilty of grand larceny? Well, it can’t, and since students are too busy worrying about finals and our feeling up co-eds at mixers, nobody ever really notices it, either.

NOTE: This is a really good one to drop in a particularly boring law or economics course, BTW.

Question Number Five:
“Will a degree from here REALLY get me a job someday?”

Let’s be honest with ourselves: in today’s super-glutted market, having a bachelor’s degree really isn’t enough to ensure occupational success for anybody. Granted, that may have been the case 40 years ago, but they didn’t even have Playstations back then, so who gives?

No matter the prestige or quality of your college (and if you’re reading this, you’re probably attending a really, really crappy one), a mere degree isn’t going to determine whether or not a company will hire you. In fact, educational obtainment is probably a distant fourth behind experience (you know, that thing none of us have because we’ve been stuck in college for four years), ability (which means that extracurricular activities are probably more important to your post-college success than your GPA) and work ethic, which is where actually giving a shit about what you’ve done comes into play. The comedy here, of course, is that even though employers view a bachelor’s degree as the least important of those attributes, guess what? You still have to have a bachelor’s degree to even be considered for most jobs, so LOL at the totality of existence.

There are a lot of things we tend to look at regarding our collegiate stay that we think will give us a leg-up on the competition. The thing is, even though you’ve had internships and graduated with honors, employers still don’t give that much of a damn about what you’ve done, because in today’s super-shitty economy, there’s no way they’re investing in anything other than a sure bet with a new recruit. Even though we’ve been told we’re the future and all that jazz a zillion times, most companies would STILL rather promote or hire a 40 year old with decades worth of experience in the field than they would some young gun that just waltzed out of a four-year program. Finding educated adults is relatively easy, but finding experienced adults is a far more desirable goal for most corporations in the 21st century.

Your college administrators, recruiters and professors are liable to hoist all sorts of exaggerations and non-validated claims on you, but even the most Machiavellian of staff and faculty members probably doesn’t have the chutzpah to tell you that a degree from their institute is enough to get you where you want to be in life. Throwing out this question in class is like lobbing a flash grenade into the middle of the lecture hall - it’s going to be a long time before anybody in the room is capable of producing cogent remarks again, and it gives you just enough time to sneak out of class to go play some "Street Fighter down" at the pizza place down the road. It’s a recipe for success if there ever was one, I say.

Concluding Remarks:

Look, I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t a cynical and elitist sounding article, but dabnabit, it’s the truth. Of course college is important, and even if it doesn’t directly result in you getting out into the professional or paraprofessional world, it will at least get you to the top of the application list whenever you send in a resume for something non-related to whatever you majored in. There is a lot of stupid stuff going on in U.S. colleges, and there’s a lot of stuff that routinely goes down in higher education that threatens to screw you up for life, but compared to the alternative - being dip shit number eight million with only a high school diploma - the risks of NOT going to college far, Far, FAR outweigh whatever the risks are OF getting a bachelor’s degree in something.

Whatever you do, DO NOT think that I’m telling you that college isn’t important or worth your time. However, to get the most out of the experience (which will likely bankrupt you in the process), I think it’s pretty damned important that you ask about all of these things, and question everything that goes on at your campus. Yes, you are a student, but at the same time, you are also a consumer - you’re paying for your dean’s salary, you’re paying for student group activities that you‘ll never partake of, and you’re probably paying for things the school isn’t going to tell you about…or don’t want you to find out about, either.

College, they’ll no doubt tell you at orientation, is a time to ask questions. That much, they are right about; which is exactly why it’s your academic duty to ask all of the questions your school officials don’t want you to.

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