October 27, 2008

Vanderbilt University: The Goal Is To Keep Them In Puberty, Part 2

Time Magazine's A Frosh New Start describes Vanderbilt University's $150M public works project to create an all/every freshman 10 dorm "Commons" where-- if I read this right-- they "will help first-years get acclimated to college life."

I suppose it occurred to no one that the "college life" these first-years are getting acclimated to is exactly the kind of artificial world of the Commons?

But it's not just for freshmen, it will also house 10 professors and a "Dean" who will live there.  Yes, some of the professors have families.

Someone will say, "but what's wrong with that?  Why not segregate them a little, hell, even coddle them a little, in a highly intellectual environment where they can focus on their studies without the outside distractions?"

And what would those outside distractions be?  One year later, those freshman will have theoretically benefited mightily from this experience, and move on to be sophomores.  Why would the next generation of freshman need to be walled off from them?  Why are sophomores a distraction to freshman?  Put another way: what possible distraction could sophomores-- older, theoretically wiser-- be that other freshman are not already, but worse?

What does anyone expect freshman to learn from other freshmen-- and ten professors?  If you want them to develop, shouldn't they be living, ideally, with people who can elevate them, or at least away from other freshmen?

The goal is a living-and-learning environment that promotes both school spirit and responsibility to community among an increasingly diverse student body.
Really.  I'm not really a soldier in the culture wars, but could every one of those words be any  less the purpose of a college education?

One might legitimately ask what possible role in-dorm professors could have.  It's pretty hard for me to believe that 1500 freshmen are going to skip American Idol to go hang out with their (ten) professors-- unless their professors are watching American Idol.

"A very small percentage of students see me as a father figure, but I try to discourage that," says sociologist Tony Brown
But setting kids up in an idyllic environment where they have no responsibilities except their school work and who have ten people acting as "guides" doesn't sound much like discouraging being seen as a father figure.  Or do you have another method?

who opens his dorm apartment on Friday evenings for rap sessions, using bait like cookies, Wii Tennis and his pet rabbit.

Don't blame the kids outright.  Always blame the parents, always, not because they are "ultimately responsible" but because they are the ones that set this up on purpose, a ten dorm extension of The Village.

"At move-in, I can't tell you how many parents said to me, 'Oh, good, you're an adult. Please take care of my kid!' But this was sold to us as an academic endeavor," [says a professor.]
Maybe the Wii Tennis sent the wrong message.  Maybe the Glass Bead Game would have been better.

It doesn't stop with freshmen.

Vanderbilt has a $1.75 billion capital campaign to turn all the rest of its dorms into neighborhoods where some 5,000 upperclassmen and their professors can live and eat together... [Says] Michael McLendon, who teaches public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt. "Now we want to make sure their education is social."
Why, again?


Part 1 here.
Part 2 here. (You're reading it.)
Part 3 here.

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