A review written for Light and Truth, the magazine of Yale’s Conservative Party. It appeared on campus, but only on paper.
My heart goes out to Andrew Delbanco.
In the course of writing College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be, he encountered the same paradox I will if I try to apply my time at Yale to any debate on the state of higher education.
Along with my friends at Columbia, Middlebury, and the University of Chicago, I enjoy the public ideal of “college life”: Frisbees, ping-pong and five-person seminars.
Statistically, though, my friends and I are very unusual. Private, four-year colleges (most of which you’ve never heard of) enroll about 20% of America’s post-secondary students. Two hundred and fifty thousand people take classes at the University of Phoenix—more than twice the undergrad population of the Ivy League and U.S. News’ top 20 liberal arts colleges combined.
But this book wasn’t written by Mark DeFusco, former director of the University of Phoenix. In fact, he is quoted only once, asserting that most students attend college mostly for financial reasons. Delbanco, a Harvard graduate and 27-year veteran professor at Columbia, calls Defusco’s (probably true) statement “a surrender of America’s democratic promise.”
I got a copy of Owen Johnson’s classic novel “Stover at Yale“ for Christmas. The university was different in 1901 (for one thing, the football team relied more on their rushing game), but some things were pretty much the same.
A sophomore teaches the freshman protagonist a lesson:
“No fooling around women; that isn’t done here — that will queer you absolutely.”
The protagonist is invited to a courtship dinner:
“Confound Bob Story! Why the deuce did he get me into this? I loathe females.”
The protagonist, now a junior, meets an adoring freshman in his entryway:
“Why do you wear pink pajamas?”
The little freshman, face-to-face with his first great emotion, blurted out: “Don’t you like them, sir?”
“Keep them on,” said Stover.
Later, the adoring freshman (Wookey) gets life advice from Stover and another drunken junior. At the end of the night:
“The two took solemn hold of each other’s hands and rolled over on the cushions. Wookey, in the pink pajamas, covered them with a rug, and stole out, like a thief, carrying away a secret.”
Junior Stover chooses senior roommates:
“The four of us are all different enough to make just the combination we need. I’m tired of bunking alone. I want to rub up against someone else.”
1 in 4, maybe more, since 1901.