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19 July 2012

Monasteries or Resorts?

Back from a week and a half away, visiting friends and family. It is always nice to unplug for a while. Regular posting to resume.


The academe has been wrestling recently with the arms race in student affairs that has resulted in what many have called the country-clubization of higher ed. No longer are students content to matriculate into relatively austere cinder-block dorm rooms with communal bathrooms and industrial cafeterias. Now, students expect apartment-like amenities, multimillion dollar recreation facilities with moving rock-climbing walls and lazy rivers, and fast food restaurants. The leisure class mentality is creeping into colleges. There are two major problems with this. First, as with virtually all arms races, it is unsustainable; there just aren't enough resources to keep up. The financial strain that country-clubization puts onto colleges and, in the case of public colleges, state funds hardly seems justifiable, especially if it starts to impact the level of education an institution can offer. Second, it strikes many as overly indulgent. Is this what the college experience should be?

As a sociologist, I like the idea of my relatively privileged students being forced to taste a life of comparative deprivation, to catch a glimpse of how the other half lives, if only for about four years. Some might argue that college should be a time free of distractions, that austerity offers focus, but I don't really buy that one. Students shouldn't be forced to live like ascetic monks just to receive a decent education. So, where is the balance? I'm struggling with this one. Clearly, the current path is wrought with problems, but what is the better way and how to get there?

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