7/28/2019 12:32

A Real Standup University

I am not likely to launch a career as a standup comedian. Not only do I have no particular gift for standup but I have no hungering for a career. (When I was young I had always assumed that I would have a career but the best I managed was to have a well paid hobby.) Every few months however I am tempted to consider becoming a comedian by the arrival of the college magazine of the institution which once granted me the right to claim college graduation.

I feel on those occasions a twinge of guilt. Should I not share the mirth of their witless self skewering? Am I not at fault for laughing at them in privacy rather than on the public stage?

My alma mater is committed. We know they are because they tell us so in their mission statement. Every university has a mission statement even though most have no particular mission. This institution managed to scrape together five comlete sentences which I guess is better than average. Most of the sentences tell how committed they are. But to what? Why, to everything under the sun! They have "a commitment to excellence in teaching, scholarship and research, and service to the community ... to diversity, inclusion, social justice, civic engagement, and educational opportunity[;] ... access, career success, cross-discipline collaboration, cultural enrichment, economic development, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability". I merely quote.

How is such a vast commitment to be brought to concrete reality? The last clause of the fifth sentence answers, "through a wide array of programs and certifications".

We are committed to everything and we actually do a whole bunch of stuff! That is the kind of verbiage which distinquishes a great university from a fast food joint. The hamburger place has only a narrow array of programs and certification.

Naturally, the mission statement is not the place to name every program in the bunch; that would be bananas. Following in the tradition of college magazines, the remainder of the publication contains articles extolling how people in this university do exactly the same things as people in every other college and university: One professor co-authored a book; another presented a paper at a conference; and a third "was quoted extensively" in a magazine article.

A modern university cannot thrive with only administrators writing mission statements and professors being quoted in magazines. A modern university also needs to have conduits of tuition money. Every college magazine must also feature at least one exceptional student. Some of these students also help to write mission statements; some present papers at conferences; all are quoted extensively in at least the college magazine.

The magazines typically tries to portray students who epitomize everything their institutions wish to be: focused, successful, fluent in English, and leaving campus for a real life.

The student featured in the magazine which recently arrived at my house is all of those things and something more besides: honest. Featured students are always asked why they chose this institution. Was it because of the mission statement? The professors being quoted in popular magazines? A family tradition, following the choices made by past generations? The commitment to everything and sundry other things as well? The "wide array of programs and certifications" on offer?

"I chose UW-Green Bay because it was convenient and affordable," he said, speaking for himself and 80% of his peers.


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