“I Got a Rock…”

Spent the late morning/early afternoon at Mondoville’s Admissions Open House, representing the Humanities Department (English, Religion/Philosophy, History) at a table in the library amidst folks from the other disciplines, athletic teams, Greek organizations, and student services. We had about 300 visitors, and I had brought a variety of books from our various disciplines, copies of the student literary mag, and promo posters from writers we’ve hosted in the last couple of years.

It turns out that I could have drawn an equal amount of interest by passing out free cancer. I reached the point where I was buttonholing kids and parents at random and trying to see if I might spark some interest in what we do. Nyet.

It’s dispiriting, but I understand why it happens. Even in the best of times, I think kids are less likely to pursue the humanities from the beginning than they are to discover a passion after they’re here — and these are not the best of times. This is even more the case at Mondoville than at many small liberal arts colleges (SLACs). Mondoville has, in recent years, followed the model of what our new president calls the “college of access”, which means we have drawn lots of first-generation kids who may have been intimidated by larger schools, who may have been underprepared, or who may have used us as a safety school or a chance to earn grades that will get them into the school they really wanted to attend. The previous administration emphasized athletics and the discount rate as a way of getting bodies onto the campus, and the result is that the perception of Mondoville seems to range from a chance to say you played college ball (and in the South, that means a lot) on one end to a glorified community college on the other. Neither image is entirely fair — we have had some very strong, thoughtful, talented students (some of whom majored in English) in my time here, and we’ve helped a lot of kids build better lives, which is intensely satisfying — but that was what we settled for, and that was generally what we got. That model has managed to keep the lights on (for which I’m grateful), but at the same time, it leads to scenes like the morning’s open house, which left me feeling as if I had just been slapped with a carp.

Don’t get me wrong — I love what I do, and I approach my texts and my teaching with the same ferocity I had when I got here. I love good writing and good ideas, and I work as hard as I can to make sure that stuff makes it another generation. And my kids seem to recognize it — my classes fill quickly, and despite class GPAs below the college averages, my evaluations range from warm to incandescent. I’d just like to draw more kids who would be willing to stop at my table without my waylaying them.

The new administration wants us to grow beyond the college of access model, into a college people choose, rather than a college they settle for. I’m genuinely excited about that — at least in part because I think that will bring a more intellectually motivated type of student, who may be more interested in what my colleagues and I have to offer, instead of seeing it as a hoop through which they must jump. I hope the new administration gets a chance to do that — if nothing else, it would make open house a bit more exciting.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Literature, Medievalia, Why I Do What I Do. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “I Got a Rock…”

  1. Alpheus says:

    I think that a lot of people don’t really understand anymore that the humanities have value in the same way as other disciplines. They see them either as entertainment or as “things I need to know because other people expect me to know them.” The idea that the humanities will make one’s experience of the world richer and make one a better citizen simply has no meaning in a narcissistic society where the main object is gaining the approval of others.

    What bothers me most is that many professors, some even at very good schools, have adopted the entertainment model of humanities in order to keep up enrollments. This works by bringing in students who don’t want anything other than to be entertained, making it even harder for other professors in the same department to attract good students or to teach humanities in a meaningful way.

    • profmondo says:

      Yeah — I can get that across (sometimes) when I get them in the classroom, but it’s harder in this setting. And of course, I have the whole “fries with that” myth with which to contend as well.

  2. Withywindle says:

    It’s a register that we are no longer a free society.

  3. Dave Schutz says:

    I talked with the nice young lady representing your college at the Arlington VA college open house about a month ago – we agreed that it likely won’t be a good match for my kid number 2 if he is still an aggressive and self-righteous atheist when he hits college. Both of my guys seem like plausible SLAC candidates to me, but it’s still a couple of years before things get intense.

    “Fries with that” is starting to sink in among parents – NY Times is rolling around with it, steady trickle of articles – worth it! Not worth it! It’s certainly been part of our family self-image that we are people who go to college and value education. In the DC area, college definitely looks ‘worth it’ because we have so many employers who require it, and a relatively healthy employment scene, 4% unemployment. I think it’s sort of fragile, because a lot of the jobs which require degrees seem to me mostly to want the degree because of what it signals, rather than because the degree is necessary to do the work, and the consensus to use degrees to sort can collapse pretty quickly.

    So that gets back towards ‘makes you a better person, more insightful citizen’ or just ‘you know more, and that’s good’. I’m sold. I worry that not enough parents are $30000 a year sold. My guess is that there will be a shake out in colleges, and that in particular SLACs will have trouble.

    • profmondo says:

      First of all, I’m genuinely honored that you’d consider sending your kid and money our way — I know how big a deal this is. Thanks. (Interestingly, at least a couple of my favorite students over the years have been vocal atheists — while I hope they change their minds eventually (Hey, it worked for C.S. Lewis), I understood where they were coming from. Faith is hard work.)

      I agree that the SLAC is going to be particularly vulnerable during the coming bust cycle — and I’m particularly concerned that the bust will become a full-on panic. In that regard, I remain surprisingly confident in Mondoville. We’re actually used to just scraping by — we know how to do it. Also, we’re a relative bargain at 30K. As Erin O’Connor notes, more than 120 colleges are now in the 50K club.

      Please keep me posted on how the search goes — as a dad, I’m interested in everyone else’s experience of the process I’ll be going through. And as ever, thanks for dropping by!

  4. Jeff says:

    On a related note, I just read a New York Times article about Friday’s all-day University of Chicago Conference on “Jersey Shore” Studies, and I find myself wondering if its organizers understand the extent to which they’re building the weapons their critics will use to destroy them, or if they just don’t care.

  5. Pingback: W(h)ither the Humanities? | Professor Mondo

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