The Eggshell Student.

August 13, 2015

The Atlantic recently ran a thoughtful, very well-written piece by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in which they describe and trace the causes of a disease epidemic in American higher education: the development of thin-skinned students who expect coddling and protection from any perceived offense, no matter how slight (or imaginary) and who have become expert in escalating situations from misunderstanding to hate crime. The condition is unfortunately well-known to anybody graduating college in the last few decades: everybody seems eager to be offended by anything, and instead of honest self-analysis or even meaningful conversation they call for politically correct retribution, sometimes with frighteningly real consequences. Take the authors’ example:

“[I]n 2013, a student group at UCLA staged a sit-in during a class taught by Val Rust, an education professor… In the course of correcting his students’ grammar and spelling, Rust had noted that a student had wrongly capitalized the first letter of the word indigenous. Lowercasing the capital I was an insult to the student and her ideology, the group claimed.”

Careers have been ruined with this kind of nonsense.

The authors note the danger of accepting claims of offense at face value, absent any ability to objectively quantify (or even confirm the existence of) offense. “I’m offended” has become the trump card in any campus debate, immediately foreclosing debate (for fear of giving further offense) and requiring appeasement to the offended party – regardless of the intent behind (or even existence of) the offending act. Further, they point out nothing good can come of coddling hypersensitive, entitled students – they learn that brittle feelings are precious snowflakes to which sacrifice will be made by administrators fearful of litigation, and are thus unprepared upon graduation for anything resembling the real world or an adult relationship of any kind.

Were it not for the fact the rest of us have to put up with these people, that might be poetic justice. But as things stand, these student crusaders against offense are as dangerous as child monarchs – they have immense power and use it unreasonably upon the slightest provocation, recreating scenes better left in The Crucible. To their credit, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock have both stopped performing on college campuses, citing the inability of students to take a joke.

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The College Years

April 2, 2012

Your editorial staff was (Were? What if the staff numbers exactly one member? Anyway:) recently enmeshed in a discussion regarding the practical job skills with which students graduate colleges and universities. The distinction is made between the two types of institutions because they are worlds apart and unto themselves, a point which became quickly apparent during the above-mentioned enmeshing: colleges are smaller (sometimes miniscule) and keen on well-rounded intellectuals, akin to cultural finishing schools, whereas universities tend toward the large (sometimes gargantuan), and are more interested in productive graduates: those who can do a job.

There are benefits and dangers to each school of thought (specifically, that liberal arts colleges turn out yuppie free-thinkers who can’t actually accomplish much but think, while universities manufacture bland worker bees who don’t know art from an aardvark). Whichever type of education is better depends entirely on the student seeking it, what he wants to do and how he best learns.

The educational component aside, there remains a different, equally important part of a college (or university) education. Academics can be come by at most decent schools. One need not attend M.I.T. to get a good handle on math. What cannot be come by is the cultural finishing referenced previously. The college years are the most formative of any graduate’s life, and the people, places and things with which they are surrounded outside the classroom will have a much greater impact on their mature identities than will whatever coursework in Renaissance masters was available.

And so the two types of education must again be compared: regardless of the type or style of education a student might be best off pursuing, in which type of place will he best grow up? Surrounded by which type of people?

As before, the answer varies by case. What’s good for the goose can poison the gander. Still, it behoves every student, when making applications, to do his best to settle on a place filled with the type of person he wants to be, who is going the places he wants to go. As John Locke wrote: “Education begins the gentleman, but reading and good company and reflection must finish him.” Matt Damon puts it more cynically, but no less accurately, in School Ties:

“The right schools, the right grades, the right friends… these are the keys to the kingdom.”


Dartmouth Rugby Round-Up

October 4, 2010

The Dartmouth Rugby Football Club downed the University of Pennsylvania last weekend, at Penn, by a final tally of 78-7. The match was the first of the Ivy season for the DRFC, which also notched a 38-7 victory in a B-side match played later that day.

The next day saw Dartmouth in Princeton, New Jersey, rolling over the Tigers 52-3 amidst strong play by back Will Lehmann ’12 and DRFC co-captain Tommy Brothers ’11.

This past Saturday, Dartmouth took the pitch in New Haven, set to play the Bulldogs at Yale. Match reports aren’t yet in but Yale came into the came with a 2-0 record, similar to Dartmouth’s, after downing Ivy rivals Columbia and Cornell. Details forthcoming.  


Dollars & Sense

April 7, 2010

Online salary database PayScale.com undertook recently to rank American schools by their students’ average income upon graduation, and then again ten years out. Things broke down thus:

  1. Dartmouth College ($58,000 / $129,000)
  2. MIT ($71,000 / $126,000)
  3. Harvard University ($60,000 / $126,000)
  4. Harvey Mudd College ($71,000 / $125,000)
  5. Stanford University ($67,000 / $124,000)
  6. Princeton University ($65,000 / $124,000)
  7. Colgate University ($51,000 / $122,000)
  8. University of Notre Dame ($55,000 / $121,000)
  9. Yale University ($56,000 / $120,000)
  10. University of Pennsylvania ($60,000 / $118,000)

This year wasn’t the first that Dartmouth topped the list; though its graduates start at one of the lower top-ten median salaries, their rise in earnings over the subsequent ten years is largely due to an alumni network legendary for its loyalty.

Al Lee, PayScale’s Director of Quantitative Analysis, doesn’t give much credence to his report, though: “Even more than where you go to school, the degree you get is a bigger influencer of your pay for the vast majority of Americans.” True, Mr. Lee… but then again, the vast majority of Americans didn’t go to any of these schools.

Dartmouth wins again.


The Ferrari Degree

March 23, 2010

Your editorial staff recently enjoyed a weekend with old college friends and spent the trip home discussing the value of Ivy League degrees: are they worthwhile, or only expensive ornaments? By way of answer, a short vignette:

You’re at a Ferrari dealership, looking at Testarossas. The Ferrari is the most perfectly engineered car ever built; the innovation and precision which go into its design and construction are unheard of in other automobiles, and each one carries a price tag to match.

Down the street is a Ford lot, where the dealer tells you that his trucks are dependable, reliable and safe. Undoubtedly, this is true. Ford makes quality trucks and cars which are stylish and affordable. Further, the Ford dealer points out, the main purpose of any vehicle is to get you from Point A to Point B, and a Ford will do that just as certainly as a Ferrari (he knows you’ve been at the Ferrari dealership down the street). Also, his cars cost a fraction of what the Italian sportscars cost. They’ll get you around, he promises, just as well as the Ferraris, and won’t bankrupt you doing it.  

The Ford dealer is right, of course. But what he doesn’t mention is that, while his truck might get you from Point A to Point B as surely as something else, a Ferrari will get you there a lot faster… and you’ll really enjoy the ride.


Founding A University

September 6, 2009

“If I were founding a university, I would begin with a smoking room; next a dormitory; and then a decent reading room and a library. After that, if I still had more money that I couldn’t use, I would hire a professor and get some text books.”

-Stephen Leacock

First-class smoking room, Cunard's The Mauretania.

First-class smoking room, Cunard's The Mauretania.