Students Demand Better
Tom Nichols couldn’t clutch his pearls any harder writing a piece that ran recently for the The Atlantic titled, “Don’t Let Students Run The University.” He lists example after example of professors or administrations being “harassed” by student activists, equating their efforts to “preening would-be totalitarianism.” With a wag of his finger, he dutifully reminds students that they are there to learn, not ask questions.
Mr. Nichol’s arguments aren’t anything new. The man, whose almost sixty, fits neatly into the Boomer tradition of chiding Millennials for questioning authority, calling us fascist, and failing to see the irony. His generation throws around buzzwords like “entitled” and “safe space”, meant to tout their intellectual prowess but instead only belies their distant familial closeness with the lowly internet troll.
As some have pointed out, students, often at the unrelenting behest of their parents, make an investment when entering college. This investment, more often than not, is financed by the students or parent signing their lives over in exchange for hefty loans. My question to Nichols is how crazy would students and parents have to be to make that kind of downpayment and not do everything they can to insure a return on their investment?
In today’s climate, there seems to be no shortage of worry for investors, banks, and university administrators but none for students. The tired argument usually goes like this “They shouldn’t have taken on so many loans if they couldn’t pay it back.” This, of course, presupposes that students can either see the future to know how well they’ll do in the job market, or they are secretly Benjamin Button, having hidden way twenty years of financial experience at the age of eighteen.
Other arguments include “Well, what did they expect as an English Major?”, or the tired “Why don’t you do art as more of a hobby and go into STEM?” Not to dunk on the noble STEM professions, but what good is an unhappy engineer, accountant, surgeon, or scientist? I went to an art school, and I don’t know about anyone else but I would rather make a deal with the devil than become an accountant. I’m not sure why I should be forced too, and I think a system of education that forces you to choose between being profoundly unhappy or being saddled with mountains of debt is a problem.
Some call this mentality entitled. I’d agree and I’m sure Tom Nichols would too. The thing is I don’t see entitlement or being entitled as a bad thing. Entitled, by definition, means someone is due what is owed to them, and somewhere a long the way my generation got this crazy idea that all these institutions — government, corporations, universities, etc. — should work for the people who built them and continue to make them profitable and effective. We are due a return from the instiutions that were created by us and for us. It’s only fair.
The idea is that each generation is better off than the last. Somewhere along the way this maxim was mangled by accusations of laziness from the Boomer generation. I’m not sure who hurt them, but it certainly wasn’t me or any other student of my generation. We’re just here doing the one thing we had drilled into our heads since childbirth, get an education.
I know it seems like a crazy idea, but it’s rooted in a long tradition of people not accepting the status quo, especially when times are tough. Most of the rights we enjoy today were taken by people who felt entitled to them. The same theory applies here, a theory, by the way, that exemplifies bettering one’s circumstances solely through grit and determination — something conservatives should support.
So when people point to student protests, they conveniently forget that all students are doing is ensuring they are part of and able to get the best education possible. If anyone has a problem with that, they should go have a talk to all the founders of private religious schools and charter schools that deemed are public school system as not worthy of their children. All those parents literally crippled the public school system in search of a better education. At least these students are staying put, hoping to reform it from the inside.
Also how have conservatives grown such disdain for protest. For all their originalism, gun hoarding, and mistrust of government, they sure enjoy seeing the U.S. government clamp down on liberal protest all over the country. It’s troubling to say the least. I would caution Tom Nichols and every single other conservative to check themselves. It may be easy for Nichols from his academic perch at both Harvard and the U.S. Naval War College to cast aspersions on students who have ideas about how universities can serve them better, but it comes awfully close to the “preening, would-be totalitarianism” that he purports to be against.
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