Let’s talk about a conspiracy involving Jack White, guacamole, Oklahomans and higher education.
Before the juicy conspiracy kicks in, some backstory. Last week the Oklahoma Daily — Oklahoma University’s student newspaper — disclosed aspects of Jack White’s contract for playing a show at the university, which focused on White’s particular and specific recipe for chunky guacamole, special preparations for a post-concert steak and a stern ban on any bananas in the venue.
Following the publishing of the story, Jack White responded to the article during his concert, admonishing students to avoid law and journalism degrees and criticizing OU’s campuswide tobacco ban. Seeing as how most people who hate the law and journalists tend to be corrupt and most people who smoke tend to be dead or dying, White’s advice may be worth some degree of scrutiny.
In response to the OU Daily’s article, the booking company William Morris Endeavor Entertainment — not Jack White or his managing company as is being incorrectly reported in some publications — blacklisted the university, claiming they feared the student newspaper might treat other artists they represent in a similar fashion.
Ultimately, there wasn’t a whole lot of boom to accompany all the bangs the Daily was making about White. The individuals who put the concert together, OU’s Campus Activities Council, only incurred a $1,000 net loss and nearly all the money the university spent on White’s booking was made back in ticket sales.
A letter to the editor from OU’s Campus Activities Council was published in the Daily, which expounded on the CAC’s dismay with the Daily for the publishing of White’s contract details and the subsequent fallout with the booking agency.
While OU’s CAC may have had a point that the article in question was more tabloid than muckrake — and here at The Jambar there would never be any nonsense like that published, not when there are crepes and weird smells to discuss — something they included in their letter to the editor was far more nefarious than expensive concerts or journalistic mockery.
Near the end of the letter, the CAC says “It is our hope that in the future, the OU Daily will continue to exercise their right of freedom of the press, while maintaining a reasonable level of respect for other prominent artists that choose our university and support CAC’s mission to strengthen the student experience here at OU.”
“Strengthen the student experience” is the worrying line here. Since when did the student experience involve Jack White elaborating on the benefits of a philosophy degree? Since when did it have anything to do with anything other than getting an education?
This editorial is not claiming OU’s CAC has any malevolent intent. In all likelihood, the group is full of dedicated students and faculty working hard to make their campus a more enjoyable place to be for students, a feat they accomplished by bringing Jack White to their campus.
That being said, the idea of the “student experience” is the biggest sham in higher education, and it’s the Kool-Aid major universities have been using to sell a lackluster education to the droves of undergraduates who are forced through their doors by the job market and pressures from family and school counselors, regardless of their readiness for higher education.
We now live in an age where athletic departments have higher technology than physics labs and schools spend major slices of their budget on concerts and festivals, like when the University of Buffalo’s Student Association spent 14 percent of its budget bringing Bob Dylan to their campus in 2013.
It’s more than a conspiracy. In his book “Beer and Circus: How Big Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education,” Murray Sperber, former Indiana University professor — who received death threats following his public criticism of notorious Indiana Hoosiers’ basketball coach Bob Knight — made an accusation about the modern college experience that sums up the trend.
“I concluded that many universities, because of their emphasis on their research and graduate programs, and because of their inability to provide quality undergraduate education to most of their [non-honors undergraduate] students, spend increasing amounts of money on their athletic departments, and use big-time college sports — commercial entertainment around which many undergraduates organize their hyperactive social lives — to keep their students happy and distracted and the tuition dollars rolling in,” Sperber said.
There are some similarities between what Sperber is describing and recent events at YSU: the somewhat recent rebranding of YSU to include the tagline “urban research institution;” the creation of a graduate college and the broadening of the Honors College; an increased encroaching of the athletics department into the YSU budget general fund; the hiring of a controversial but well-loved football coach to coach football following the hiring of a controversial but well-loved football coach to run the university.
Does YSU fit the bill for a school that is selling experience over education?
It doesn’t seem so, at least not yet. Being a commuter school, it is harder to sell the “college experience” as a large-scale distraction when most students spend only their class hours on the campus and, to be fair, YSU has some very good academic programs and faculty.
The answer is better determined on an individual basis. Students need to look at their own experiences and ask themselves some questions about their education: do you feel you are actually learning a skill, or are you doing busy work to fill time; do you have access to your professors and the ability to communicate regularly and clearly with them; do you have opportunities for producing tangible evidence of what you are learning; are you being challenged?
If any student answers the majority of those questions in the negative, then something needs to change in their academic life.
Go to Penguins games, enjoy Penguin Productions hard work, make friends, explore the area, go to concerts. Do all of that. Everyone should do that. It doesn’t take going into crippling student loan debt for that experience, however.
Don’t buy into the “student experience” over education.
If students are going to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for an education, it’s their responsibility to themselves and the taxpayers who help fund public universities to demand that they get their money’s worth from their college.
You bought an education. Make sure you get it.