Thursday, April 03, 2014

Friday Fragments

I’ll be at the AACC conference in Washington, D.C., over the next several days.  I’m hoping to touch base with several people over that time, but I’m also psyched for the presentation by my HCC colleagues Michele Snizek, Alana Wiens, and Rebecca Lewis. (It’s called “Changing the Game: Improving Achievement in a Model Career Program through High-Impact Grant Collaboration.”) They’ll be talking about the ways we’ve aligned different grants to reinforce each other, particularly in the context of allied health fields.  

They’ve been bumped by Joe Biden, which is frustrating.  So they’ll be presenting on Tuesday morning at 7:30.  I’m hoping for a good turnout -- they’re a great group, and the work they’ve done is both impressive and largely transferable.  BIden’s okay too, but will he help you figure out how to stitch grants together?  No, he will not.  If you’re at the AACC, check them out.


Chad Orzel wrote an interesting piece in response to Caitlin Flanagan’s widely-read article about fraternities.  Orzel’s is necessarily somewhat circumspect, since he attended a college without frats as such, though he correctly notes that the rugby team at Williams was pretty fratty.  The guys who would have been frat boys elsewhere were called “hammerheads” there.

Orzel’s time at Williams and my time there overlapped slightly, so I can offer a different perspective on the same context.  

Yes, there’s a persistent appetite among some students for what Orzel calls “drunken idiocy,” and they’ll find ways to slake that appetite.  Williams had banned frats in the 1960’s -- that was part of why I went there -- but that didn’t prevent the social scene from revolving around teams and kegs.  If you weren’t either on a team or part of one of the church groups, the social scene was largely catch-as-catch-can.  Frats may have been absent, but drunken idiocy was not.  Drunken idiocy isn’t all that different in a dorm than in a frat house, except that when it’s in a frat house, those who prefer not to be surrounded by it can escape to the dorm.  When it’s in the dorm, there’s no escape.

My recollection was that the problem wasn’t so much sports and beer, but the almost complete absence of nearly anything else.  (Williamstown is in the middle of nowhere, and most students didn’t have cars.) Drunken idiocy ruled by default.  If that was your thing, you probably didn’t see a problem.  If it wasn’t your thing -- it mostly wasn’t mine -- the problem was all-pervasive.  

In choosing a college without frats, I was hoping to avoid frat boy culture.  It didn’t work, which suggests that some of the criticism aimed at frats is mistaking the symptom for the cause.  

All of that said, though, it was the 1980’s.  The web didn’t exist yet, and phone calls off campus were expensive.  I hope for everyone’s sake that life on the ground has changed.


I know I shouldn’t pick on Sandy Shugart.  He’s a well-regarded president of a community college that has emerged as a national leader in improving student success.  And he recently published a mostly-thoughtful piece on the ways that student behavior often flummoxes systems.

But this has been bugging me ever since I read it.  He wrote:

“[Students] swirl in and among, stop out, start back, change majors, change departments, change colleges. And because this was exceptional 50 years ago, when we were in college, we continue to think it is the exception.”  (emphasis added)

“50 years ago, when we were in college…”  Sigh.

It’s a smallish thing, but I’ve bumped into that blind spot enough times that I’ve decided to stop pretending not to notice.  Not every educational leader is a baby boomer.  It’s time to acknowledge that.  


Speaking of Gen X, this weekend marks twenty years since Kurt Cobain shot himself.

That one stung.

Courtney Love may be a train wreck, but the footage of her reading his suicide note, with commentary, to a crowd of mourners gathered outside their house was one of the most harrowing moments I’d ever seen on television.  It was mercilessly raw, and human, and true.  

Nirvana’s music wasn’t terribly forgiving, either.  Everyone knows “Teen Spirit,” rightly, but check out “Aneurysm,” or “Pennyroyal Tea,” or “All Apologies.”  And if you’re really focused, give a close listen to “In the Pines,” from Unplugged.  When he got that direct, you realized that the distortion in their songs wasn’t overpowering; it was cushioning.  Undistorted, the music landed harder.

From a distance, it may be hard to see why it mattered so much at the time.  But it did.


The Girl: Daddy, if the universe is expanding, what is it expanding into?

I didn’t have an answer for that, but I loved the question.