While re-reading Benjamin Wiker's "Faith Stealers," (tothesource 8/14) I got a call from the tts editor to review Accepted, the just-released college-lampooning teen movie. "Why me?" I asked. I was told no self-respecting adult would voluntarily sit through the movie, so the bottom of the totem pole gets the job.
Note to reader: if you do decide to see Accepted, don't go on Friday night unless you're a wiggly junior high kid who thinks it's hysterical to shine a laser pointer at the screen. The cabbage patch doll I sat next to shot me a grumpy glance as he munched Sour Patch Kids, probably thinking, "Why does the old person have to sit next to me?"
Accepted's charming Bartleby Gaines gets rejected from Harmon College, and all the real colleges he applies to. Accepted throws barbs at the stereotypical prestigious school, "Harmon," where the president schemes about how he can increase the number of students rejected each year. Those students lucky enough to be accepted at this "real college" partake in degrading traditions in order to fit into the Greek "caste system." One Harmon College legacy fraternity pledge has to dress up in a hot dog suit and shout, "Ask me about my wiener," to jeering passers-by. Other students get drunk or act like zombies who sleep through class as coke-bottle lens wearing professors drone on and on, while parents pay big tuition bills.
To save face, entrepreneurial Bartleby creates the South Harmon Institute of Technology (you can spell out the acronym for yourself) by using a website, an abandoned psychiatric hospital and "a little elbow grease."
The website attracts hundreds of other "rejectees," and overnight South Harmon combusts into impromptu courses ranging from "Skate Ramp Building" to "B.S.ing 242" to ogling busty girls in bikinis—"Anatomy."
When the scantily-clad girls frolicked across the screen my little friend stared at them with saucer eyes from under his baseball cap, squeezing the life out of his Mega Big Gulp with his tiny little hands.
Here's the bad news, parental units. Accepted is naughty, and both of the colleges in the movie are pretty unacceptable--but they only scratch the surface of what's probably going on behind the scenes at a college near you.
As the pubescent crowds burst out laughing at the naughtiness of Accepted, their clueless parents, conspicuously absent from the theater, are home dutifully stuffing coins in college piggy banks to unwittingly send their beloveds into utter depravity.
I speak from experience. The following exhibits are representational, not comprehensive.
Exhibit A: Art History Italian Renaissance final at USC. The teacher had an article on reserve for required reading on Jesus Christ's erections and their hidden and not so hidden depictions in art. Call me a goody-two-shoes, but that's exponentially more offensive than a guy in a hot dog suit spouting sexual innuendos, or adolescent boys drooling over bikini girls.
Exhibit B: Male Sexuality class at UC Berkeley. Students watched their instructor have sex on stage at a strip club, and then participated in an orgy (the orgy was extracurricular in this sex-for-credit class). When journalists exposed the "educational event," many parents snapped out of complacent comas and began to worry what their children were up to at school!
The college experience extends beyond the classroom.
Exhibit C: Co-ed showers and bathrooms. Many campuses, like Berkeley, have dorms where girls, boys, and others shower and go to the bathroom together. The latest bathroom development comes from the crowned jewel of prestige itself, Harvard, where the frontier of transsexual bathrooms is under exploration (wouldn't any bathroom do)?
In a welcome speech orienting University of Chicago freshmen, sociology professor, Andrew Abbott came clean on college administrators' rationale on debauchery: "Basically, we bring all of you here, brim full of needs and desires and hormones, let you loose on each other like so many animals in a wildlife sanctuary, and hope for the best." How inspiring! Is this what my parents took out a second mortgage for?
Abbott speaks as an authoritative representative of the school. Imagine a pastor, managing law-firm partner, or CEO kicking off a retreat by handing out copies of "Christ's Erections in Art" as required reading, and then telling everyone that they will be showering and going to the bathroom together. We all know what would happen. Heads would roll.
Clearly respect and dignity still matter to people. Yet every year parents send kids into the jaws of professors like the world renowned philosopher Richard Rorty, despite explicit warning: "Students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft (rule) of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents. …Parents ought to be forewarned that we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable."
I'm sure many of you are thinking that I am naïve not to realize that college has always been this way. But there was a time when misbehaving was misbehaving—it was not endorsed by schools, subsidized by parents, and celebrated throughout the subculture. Today, instead of challenging accepted mores, students find that common shared morality has been written off altogether by the very institutions that used to uphold it. This is a tragic loss for America's future, a sample of which was sitting all around me in the theater.
Bartleby's charade is exposed, and with a "Hail-Mary" tactic he lands at a State Board of Accreditation hearing and delivers a sappy, off-the-cuff speech about how education should really be about expressing personal truth, and freedom from restrictions and convention. The board agrees and authorizes the South Harmon Institute of Technology as an institution of higher learning.
Bartleby's speech is strikingly similar to another pearl from sociologist Abbott's freshman orientation speech: "Since nobody in fact agrees on what the canon is—even in the broadest terms—the system definitionally does not have a canon. In fact, there is a common culture of examples and rhetorical figures in America today. But most of it comes from sports, entertainment, and current events." Whereas Bartleby looks within himself for knowledge, Abbott digresses even further to celebrities in People Magazine. So much for higher education. Since the university seems to have given up on any idea of central truths to impart, or even aims to lend cohesion, it is really no wonder that many college curricula bear uncomfortable resemblance to the South Harmon course catalog.
The schools that I attended offered "Explorations" classes, taught by seniors, on topics of their choosing, such as Harry Potter seminars. Faculty at places like Wesleyan University make it policy "not to get in the way" of students, even when their idea of educational experience consists of chalking sexually explicit profanities all over the school sidewalks to greet prospective students and families touring the campus. In light of some of the actual "intellectual fare" out there, South Harmon's classes become less facetious and more like projections of what students may find at real universities
When universities do not regulate the excesses of self-expression, the "liberal arts" education deteriorates into license for an expensive four-year free for all. Bartleby Gaines may as well be the spokesperson and planner for the current trajectory of the modern university.
Abbott is not finished with his demoralizing pronunciations. He proclaims, "the phrase 'aims of education' is nonsensical…it has no aim other than itself…Education is an invisible creativity that radiates from within…it is something you are." I can just see the student body of South Harmon whooping with joy as Abbott trumpets the relativism they so eagerly embrace.
Whereas many colleges, in their foundational charters, held unified truth and character formation as defining objectives, university authorities are now washing their hands of such "antiquated relics" altogether. With unified truth and shared morality discarded, universities are spiraling into a full-blown crisis of meaning.
I have to say that I wonder if the average American college student is likely to get much more out of school than Bartleby at the South Harmon Institute of Technology.
In founding a fake school Bartleby's resume boasts: starting a "business," leasing and developing property, creating promotional materials, problem-solving, galvanizing a group of people and maneuvering through red tape. The average college student from (insert school name here) may wind up with the following accomplishments, for all the university seems to care: paying tuition, going to class, sleeping, drinking, paying tuition, cramming, testing, paying tuition, post-test mental purging, paying tuition.
I remember my first visit to Tufts. I was elated, with the highest of hopes. At the end of graduation day when everyone began to wander off in separate directions I felt a troubling anti-climax. Perhaps it was the realization that the end had come, and after four years of "non-aims," all of a sudden the school didn't owe me anything, while I still owed them tens of thousands of dollars. Did I get what I am paying for?
It’s time for more colleges and universities to take responsibility for how they are shaping America’s future. Until then, students and parents have a choice. Find the notable exceptions and stamp REJECTED on the rest.