In the fall of the year, as leaves turned red and gold on the campus of U.PE, an aging professor stood on the podium to give the welcoming address to the new class of freshmen. His hair was white, his mien one of resignation and cynicism. He looked as though he would rather be almost anywhere else. He spoke as follows:
“Welcome to this…place. I trust, or fear, that you have settled in.
You are now officially in college. You need to know several things about this condition. You will not like knowing them, which is part of why they are important. I will elucidate.
To begin, you do not belong here. You are spoiled, self-important, narcissistic, infantile brats, unprepared for college work, in which you likely have little interest. In the past, students of your age were almost adult and trying to learn how to be adults. You are different, alas. Your chief interest for four years will be in avoiding adulthood. This will be easy because you are less mature than earlier students, less prepared academically, and less ready for university.
In all likelihood you will waste these four years of your time and mine in this institution, which once was a university—during which you will take absurd courses of your own devising, courses having nothing to do with the purposes of education, of which you know nothing. You may already have discovered English 205, Batman and the Legacy of Patriarchy, and Sociology 202, Subliminal Oppression and the Frontiers of Resistance. You will study such nonsense in a spirit of tiresome self-adulation. I will have to babysit you during this sorry process. I do not know who is getting the worse of the deal.
This state of affairs is not entirely your fault. Here is something else you need to know: This university is interested only in collecting your tuition and, having no spine, will accede to whatever your little hearts may desire. You will find that nothing is too silly, imbecilic, or pointless to engage your attention, and nothing too absurd for the faculty to permit. You will make fools of yourselves protesting about the rights of transgendered endangered hermaphrodites of color with AIDS and, like three-year-olds, you will throw fits over imaginary racism, rape, microaggressions, and all the other embarrassing gewgaws, glass beads, and shiny objects of the undeveloped mind.
Your time here will be wasted because you do not know what you need to learn to enjoy a cultivated existence. In the past professors acted in loco parentis. They would have guided your progress toward civilized maturity. This goal has been forgotten. Today the younger faculty do not themselves know why they or you are here. You are the leading edge of a dark age. You will not notice because you will be pecking at smart phones.
You have been sold a bill of goods. In exchange for going into lifelong debt, or draining your father’s bank account, you will pass time in a university-shaped place. It is not a university. You have been had.
When you graduate, a terrible shock awaits you. You will find that employers have no interest in your wearisome righteousness. They will not pay you for Victims’ Studies or contemplation of grievances. They will not care about the high GPAs you got through grade inflation or sleeping with the professor. They will expect you to do your job, if there is a job for you to do.
Which is by no means certain. You are going to debouch from this institution onto a world that is already grim and becoming more so. Jobs are scarce and the scarcity intensifies. The qualified struggle. You are unlikely to be among them. It is a sorry age to be setting out into life, to be half-schooled and unaccustomed to the shocks the flesh is heir to.
The world will not treat well your fragilities and sensitivities. In real life you don’t have “safe spaces” in which a subservient institution does everything possible to protect your alert sensitivities from the slightest offense. I wonder whether you have any idea how risible your safe spaces are, how comic are the boiling little concerns that will occupy you? In the world that awaits, you will not be able to run to mount a protest march every time someone says a word that you do not like.
A few of you—a very few—will perhaps discover the pleasures of knowledge and even of the attempt to understand life and the world to the extent that they can be understood. These unusual students will concern themselves with literature, the sciences, the arts, music, history, and languages ancient and modern. The university will not encourage you. It will instead tell you that such studies are elitist, that they deal too much with Dead White Men. Except for a few aging professors such as I, your instructors are no better than you. Those who do remember the purpose of a university will not subject themselves to attack to try to rescue you from the zeitgeist. They will quietly despise you.
Any interest you might show in, say, philosophy or classical antiquity will be ferociously condemned as elitism. So will almost anything of substance outside of the school of engineering. If you want an education, you will have to acquire it on your own.
You will not realize how degraded your schooling is here because you have no standard of comparison. The chain of civilization has been broken and, once broken, is not easily repaired. It is not even remembered. When the children are in charge of the kindergarten, no good comes of it.
You will write dismally in ungrammatical English, but regard correction as elitist and oppressive or perhaps having something to do with White Privilege. Your professors will agree. Your essays will be badly organized and poorly thought out, not worthy of an eighth-grader in years gone by, but you will reject criticism as elitist and an encroachment on your freedom of expression. Your professors will agree with you. They too need jobs.
Enough. Go forth, roll in ignorance, and God be with you. You will need him.”
The professor concluded amid a roar of displeasure from the assembled young. That afternoon, under the leadership of older students, they formed a committee to oppose racism and hurtful speech. In the social media they launched a campaign to have the professor fired. The administration apologized to the students, promised to behave better in future, and began proceedings to end the professor’s tenure. For his part, he went home, poured himself a double Scotch, and settled into a chair with the Anabasis. Xenophon was at least grammatical.