October 2, 2014

The new thing in higher education (though antithetical to the term) is the online university. In short, lectures available online – no campus required. These things are educationally worthless, but economically promising. Here is why.

Most people learn almost nothing academically in college which is transferable to post-grad life. (This is untrue of those entering technical professions, for whom the basic foundations of a technical education – engineering, medicine, chemistry, etc. – are necessary.) For most, there is no connection between art history, Elizabethan drama, French grammar, or literary criticism and earning a living. To be sure, some pursue their dreams: an art history degree is useful to a museum curator. But how many art history majors work as museum curators? Probably fewer than become life insurance salesmen.

But academic education is not the only – or even most important – aim of college. The most important work is in social learning and life skills development. College students become relatively independent from the ages of 18 to 22, a developmentally important period during which they learn to manage time, complete projects without guidance, budget money, and generally learn to show up when and where required. They must navigate a campus far from home and live with strangers. They join clubs and teams and learn administrative skills. These things cannot be duplicated online. Nor can classroom discussion (Skype and chat rooms are incapable of reproducing the fervor and pace of in-person debate). Nor can the experience of belonging to a physical collegiate community – football games, dining halls, etc. The “cloud” is no substitute for the campus.

That said, entirely too many people attend college. This is likely the result of the GI bill, which provided veterans a path to universities, places previously reserved (in the days before widespread financial aid) for the wealthy. As a result of that World War II generation’s having earned diplomas in record numbers, citizens and businesses alike responded by requiring college educations of themselves and their employees. The result was a nation of employers requiring diplomas for jobs which do not require college education. Does the art history major, expert in the Old Masters, need that degree to sell life insurance? Clearly not.

This university mania made college a requirement of any job worth having, generating more and more applicants to universities every year, and the resulting tuition explosion that is the logical result of increasing demand for a limited commodity (seats in entering freshman classes).

The online course, while a poor substitute for the real thing, will provide a cheap way in which many people can earn a college degree. It will not confer the same education or developmental opportunities, but it will confer the same piece of paper (because, unfortunately, employers will still require that paper). In this way, those who would perform functions unrelated to any college education can cheaply earn the credentials necessary to perform those functions, hopefully reducing the demand for on-campus learning and generating an equivalent reduction in tuition for campus-based educations.

Afield, Per Finals.

December 2, 2010

Correspondents afield, per finals. Back soon.

The Scholarly McSorley’s

November 10, 2010

The American Scholar recently ran a great piece on McSorley’s, the Manhattan landmark and American’s oldest continuously-operating saloon. In it, the author recounts his pilgrim’s roadtrip to McSorley’s, inspired by Joseph Mitchell’s essay “The Old House At Home” and by e.e. cummings: “I was sitting in McSorley’s, outside it was New York and beautifully snowing.”

The bulk of the piece deals with getting to the tavern, not the place itself, but the text of a postcard provides all you need to know about McSorley’s: Since 1854 this famous Old Ale House has been known for its fine home-cooked food and excellent Ale served to a world-wide male clientele.

mcsorley's front

Correspondents afield, listlessly.

April 24, 2010

Final examinations are about to be administered at the Saint Louis University School of Law and your editorial staff is library-bound for the immediate future (and near-intolerable present). Infrequent dispatches forthcoming.

Correspondents afield, listlessly.


December 1, 2009

Please excuse the recent absense of frequent posting at this web log; law school finals are too-fast approaching, per usual, and we’re all looking forward to some additional writing time when those are finished.


Correspondents Afield, and A-library

August 15, 2009

With the impending advent of another semester of law school, posts here have been regrettably scant of late; apologies. New material forthcoming.

Correspondent(s) a-library, regrettably.

Correspondent(s) a-library, regrettably.

Finals: Fin.

May 12, 2009

All correspondants afield; please check back tomorrow.

Our correspondants, afield.

Our correspondants, afield.

A Confederacy of Dunces

May 23, 2008

The St. Louis University School of Law, hoary bastion of Missouri advocacy, is know for its Jesuit heritage and deep roots in the St. Louis, Mo. legal community.  Alumni include top-notch barristers, politicians, local and national influencers, professors and noted scholars. Highly respected and oft-published educators comprise its faculty; apt administrators its deanships. Not so in the Office of Admissions. 

My experience with these functionaries includes improperly-addressed admissions offers, rescinded admissions offers, partial admissions offers, one remarkably rude (and incompetent) office assistant who assured me repeatedly the letter she just mailed to my former Boston residence hadn’t actually been mailed to Boston, assistant deans who don’t seem to talk to each other, conflicting deadlines and finally, in an example bordering on laughably inept, my being mailed a complimentary pen that arrived both out of ink and broken in half.

I’m slated to begin law school this coming August; I wouldn’t be surprised to show up the first day and be directed to the supply closet where, due to cosmic but unsurprising mix-ups, I will be expected to start work as either a janitor, professor or mascot.