Rat Poison at UA, and How to Get Rid of It

Posted on October 31, 2019

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By now every Crimson Tide football fan knows that Coach Nick Saban thinks bragging on winning as “rat poison” among the team. He cultivates a winning spirit, one acquired by immense disciple and devotion to hard training and preparation, but he is also afraid that pride and bragging and feeling good about being No. 1 will undermine that will and work to win that he cultivates. I would guess his advice to his team is don’t be distracted by polls, overenthusiastic fans, and an outbreak of euphoria that will undermine his training and plans. But while Coach Saban and the football team excels, the University seems to be going in a different direction.

The “branding” of UA, employing the Great Legends theme, is a modern affectation among institutions, not just educational but also commercial, social and so forth. One can breathe too much of one’s own emanations, and the seemingly endless list of great achievements, like Saban’s rat poison, can be detrimental to what higher education is all about, which is education, not celebrations of its achievements and virtues. Let others do that.

Furthermore, most of today’s universities and colleges are devoted to “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” not excellence. In the news release of the new Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the post was described as  “critical to supporting the University’s strategic goal for an inclusive and diverse community” which includes more emphasis on the “development of cultural competencies for all faculty, staff and students,” whatever that means. Even George Wills is not that obtuse. “Cultural competencies” is probably code word for making diversity, not excellence, the goal of the University.

Let me suggest that that’s not what life is all about. It’s about work and making good choices, all of which come from your Church, your family, and your education. I’m not in charge of where you worship, nor am I your immediate family, but I’ve been kicking around education for about a half a century, which either earns me a seat in the bleachers among those ancients who don’t matter anymore, or a place among those, who, by virtue of experience, can be expected to still have enough sense to change the recipe for education and restore its proper function. That is to educate, to challenge, to teach, not to make you feel good about yourself based on your sex, race, ethnic group, ability, or the color of your eyes for that matter.

If you feel discriminated against or challenged or offended or somehow excluded from the table of American civilization, take it up with your politicians and leaders in the religious, economic, governmental, social and other institutions in the country. If you want to study and learn, lay aside your prejudices for a while and find a college and university which, as the Air Force recruiting ad says, “aim[s] high.”

Richard Vedder, in an article last spring in the WSJ wondered why colleges cost so much more today and students learn so little, summarizing that “students don’t study much, [and] professors teach little” in modern universities devoted to diversity rather than excellence.

And he admits that “I assign far less reading, demand less writing and giver higher grades than I did two generations ago.” If you read about universities doing magnificent things, a lot of it is breathing their own vapor. Think Legends for a local example.

In a “man in street interview” done on the campus of Texas Tech University a few years ago, students had little idea who won the Civil War, who did we fight to win our Independence, and who is the Vice President. You can find it on You Tube. They did know “what show is Snookie on?” and who Angela Jolie was married to, now and before. These young people aren’t stupid or cultural vacuums. They just have little idea of what may be culturally important in our historical life as a nation.

And, c’mon, how many of you oldsters have any idea of who Snookie even is?

Why aren’t administrators and professors doing something about this? Professors teach far less today than they did in 1965–three classes a week then as opposed to two today. And what are the administrators doing?

How effective are they? There are sure more of them. “In 1970,” wrote Vedder, “at a typical university there were perhaps two professors for each administrator. Today, there are usually more nonteaching administrators than teachers.”

There are exceptions to this picture of a bloated bureaucracy, underperforming students, general mediocrity and self-serving pronouncements. 

But, as one set of data from the Labor Department suggests, today “students spend more time on recreation and partying than on academics.”

So, what needs to be done? If excellence is being upstaged by diversity and students aren’t really learning what they need to learn, what exactly is it that they need to learn? Socialism, Communism, Marxism, freebies for all, administered by enlightened bureaucrats in Washington?

This is so out of joint with mainline America as to be laughable. If you think this is exaggeration, check out the syllabi of your children in K-12 through college.  Tune in next week for part 2 in this little series.

Published as “Rat poison at Alabama, and how to get rid of it” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Oct. 27, 2019.