I have read many half-assed sweeping critiques of higher ed written by people with no idea what they’re talking about, but this one uses much less than half an ass:
Looking out the window of a plane flying over Boulder, Colorado, recently, I was reminded how much American universities stick out from their surroundings.
I’d never been to Boulder, or visited the University of Colorado’s flagship campus there, [but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night! –ed.] but even from 30,000 feet, I could tell exactly where it started and ended. The red-tile roofs and quadrangles of the campus formed a little self-contained world, totally distinct from the grid of single-family homes that surrounded it.
In urban universities, the dividing line between the campus and the community can be even starker. At the University of Southern California, for example, students must check in with security officers when entering the gates of the university at night. At Yale, castle-like architecture makes the campus feel like a fortified enclave.
I have some questions!
- Does Burns think that not only all students but all faculty live full-time on campus?
- Does Burns think that all of the custodial and service workers on campus — and there mist be a lot of them, given that one can tell from the airplane window that the campus is a completely closed community — are all upper-middle class professionals with advanced degrees?
- Does Burns think that all of the students at Boulder also grew up on this campus?
- Does Burns think that having to show ID before entering a space in an urban area is unusual? Does he think anyone can just wander into, say, the typical corporate head office and go wherever they want?
- If, say, you fly into SEA-TAC, you can definitely tell where the Boeing plant in Renton begins and ends, and remarkably it looks quite different than the surrounding residential areas and the collection of retail establishments next to it. If you emailed an editor arguing that this very unusual and disturbing fact told us something fundamental about aerospace workers and their apparently closed community, would they ever answer your emails again?
From the sky, Burns is able to tell that universities have essentially totalitarian control over their students:
Housing fewer undergraduates on campus would be a good start to encourage more overlap between university and society. If universities had less totalizing control over their students’ lives, they could do without quite so many administrators — potentially cutting the runaway cost of tuition. It could reverse a trend toward college crackdowns on independent student life.
It also might make student activism both more grounded and more effective. More interaction with surrounding communities would encourage more student advocacy for issues that have material impacts for society (housing rights, say) and less for those that don’t (such as whether certain public figures should be allowed to speak on campus).
You knew that CANCEL CULTURE punchline was coming! If more students lived in off-campus apartments rather than dorms, they would be fine with Nazis giving speeches on campus, because reasons.
Anyway, you know what percentage of students at CU even live on campus? Less than 1 in 4! Admittedly, wireless on airplanes on those flights between NYC and LA can be pretty dodgy.