Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-10-2017

Abstract

Message from President: Visiting the web sites, social media pages, or similar mass-distribution venues for Louisiana and indeed American universities will quickly disabuse explorers of the notion that adults exist or that the human life span extends much beyond twenty. Click to the ULM web site and you will see frolicsome youths bouncing on inflatable “moon walks” or scampering in muddy pools or water skiing; pop over to the Nicholls web site and the first image that appears is that of summer camp for elementary school pupils; try LSU Eunice and you will find a rotating display of shabbily clad youngsters jabbering their way along walkways or sunbathing alongside a bubbling fountain; peek at—worst of all—the LSU A&M site, and there you will find block after block of pictures and exclamations concerning the recreational and sometimes academic activities of callow kids. The people who presumably teach, guide, and advise these fresh sprouts in the field of futurity have disappeared from view, doubtless owing to prior engagement with anti-aging cream vendors. The visual presentation of contemporary universities mirrors the administrative mania for the latest fashion among student recruiters, the “student-centered university.” Designed to resist criticism, the language of student centrality plays on the American fondness for youth and freshness—or perhaps naivete—and on the correlated superstitious belief that youngsters know more than seniors, that experience impairs rather than assists innovation. Few, in an academic world that supports far more teaching than research institutions, dare to criticize the advocates of student centrality, especially considering the prominent role played by student evaluations in promotion, tenure, and the obtaining of favor. Wherever there is the appearance of unanimity, there is almost certainly a cover-up. With regard to student-centered institutions, what is repressed is the honest evaluation of the ideology and goals of an administration or a management system that orbits around students. For one, as the aforementioned imagery shows, the student-centered industry promotes stereotypes about students, picturing them all as young and frivolous yet inadvertently productive: as continuously rollicking around the world of “student activities” while inadvertently helping some old codger win the Nobel prize. For two, the idea of student centrality alienates students from both the people who operate the university and from the worldwide academic community. A university cannot hope to convert a beginner into a member of the cadre of educated men and women if it puts them in a special playpen allocated to a segregated class of “student” persons. Third, the designating of a group of people as “students” identifies them as an exploitable resource for other users (or abusers). In Louisiana, this most often takes the form of the seemingly benevolent offering to “students” of access to lucrative careers in polluting, often dangerous industries—in other words, the alleged opportunity to enter the workhouse owned by persons who presumably do not belong to the “student-centered” world. Fourth, the juvenile rendering of the stereotypical student reinforces the highly traditional notion of family (and the obligations that go with it) that clamps down on the Louisiana imagination and that stifles the range of choices for “students” who remain permanently under the thumb of teachers and parents (the dialectical counterpart of “students,” one might say). Once upon a time, back when Goldilocks was still waiting for an appointment at the hair stylist, universities were knowledge-centered. Students, like professors and like good citizens, came to universities to gain access to their core resource, the fruits of cerebration. Returning to that mission and thinking a little harder would, doubtless, allow persons whose talents exceed those of this author to identify even more problems with the quietly exploitative playground mentality that is the true center of student-centeredness.

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