Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

The desiccation of university life

It’s about passion- a passion for learning and studying, a passionate search for truth.  Such was my vision of the university prior to becoming a professor so many years ago.  Such remains my ideal but with the knowledge that all too many universities have embraced a pedagogy that takes the passion out of higher education by replacing real live student professor encounters with powerpoint presentations and then totally getting rid of in person student professor interaction via online classes.

And, yes, the dankprofessor knows that there have always been too many professors who never really taught in the classroom, but simply assigned chapters from a textbook and then read their lectures in class which were essentially a rehash of the textbook.  These professors suffered from what I call the textbook syndrome.  Such means that they are totally dependent on the textbook; they have nothing to offer of themselves, their own thinking in their own words to their students, and therefore their greatest fear becomes the loss of the textbook for without the textbook they would have nothing to say.

What has changed is the embracing of a dehumanizing techno centered education by the powers that be at the university. Peak learning experiences, intellectual breakthroughs, bonding with professors and fellow students in the intellectual quest become an irrelevancy.  All eyes become focused on the screen, in class, out of class, almost all the time.

No wonder that so many universities have so easily embraced codes that ban student professor consensual sexual relationships. No big deal.  No big deal since passion, love and romance are seen as having nothing to do with university life.  No big deal since there is little or no university community.  In this vision of the university, everyone knows their place and should never be out of place and then there is Big Sister or Big Brother to keep students and professors in their proper places- powerpointing, powering up or powering down, keeping screen life clean and without giving offense to anyone at any time.

And now we have Margaret Soltan(UD), the Universities Diaries blogger, who understands how university life is descending into just another screen test (my words, not hers).  She breaks through in her blog entry of May 21 entitled “New Forces in the Soul”.  Do click the original essay and read it in its entirety.  And for those who are not inclined to click, below you will find what the dankprofessor considers to be the key parts of this brilliant essay.

…What’s striking about the contemporary American university isn’t this or that flashy scandal – drugs at San Diego State, professional basketball players at USC. It’s that many American campuses look like death warmed over.

Put your ear to the American campus. Listen. The pulse of the cellphone, the click of the laptop. The drone of the headset.

The quiet of the grave.

The quiet of a cathedral full of monks.

In class all heads stay bowed, the professor over her PowerPoint, the student over her Mac. The room flickers with illuminated screens in whose thin light a soul scopes out its trivia: Facebook, Minesweeper, Solitaire.

The white noise of the American university is the sound of souls subdued throughout the day by a succession of screens. The screen is in the classroom and in the diningroom. It is the dorm room and on the quad. Its pacifying effect deepens with iPods, cell phones, and Blackberries.

Of course it’s not just university students. We all look down, messing with our stuff on the metro, in church, in bed.

But it’s sad to see it among university students. Among their professors.

Because of all American cultural settings, the university’s specifically designed to break through the nothingness, to nudge you awake, toward enlightenment. The form of vitality intrinsic to a university is intellectual bliss, the condition of being engrossed in new thought. Not abstract thought. Thought embodied, vitalized, in another human being, a professor.

There are forms of vitality university campuses share with sports arenas and bars, but the distinctive nature of the university is that it offers intellectual vitality, that it offers a faculty which includes people who adore the play of the mind as it takes up this and that element of the world.

It’s not so outlandish a form of enthusiasm. Most people find the classic story of youthful awakening in My Fair Lady and Educating Rita enormously appealing.

And why? Because they recognize these as essentially love stories. They’re not about people downloading lecture content and tapping inquiries to an online ghost. They’re about two people who share a passion for clarity and self-transformation. One of them, a teacher, delights in the discovery of an eager intelllect, receptive to the ideas that excite him. The other, having found a sympathetic human being who has thought about the questions that fascinate her, spends every day charged with cerebral energy.

Also with emotional energy, to be sure. Erotic material exists inside the relationship.

A friend and fellow blogger puts it like this:

[A]cademic life is likely to be formed out of intense relationships all around. .. [T]he eros surrounding them injects them with an ambiguity and intensity that makes life interesting and urgent. Studying is exciting; eros is part of that excitement.
Studying is exciting. Eros is part of that excitement. Feeling your mind expand is exciting. You can do it fitfully, with LSD, or you can do it in a more disciplined way. Feeling a respected professor’s interest in you – even admiration for you – as you receive, absorb, and respond to important ideas is heady stuff.

Be assured that the professor is also excited – excited to have connected with a student about things that matter enormously to the professor.

Heart and body and mind – all are engaged in this intensity.

Actually, occasionally, this intensity will express itself physically, and an affair will ensue. Much more than an affair sometimes. How many professors are married to former students?

Our lives are more and more online, silent, self-absorbed, and, in our preference for customized websites, provincial. The university should be a counterforce to dulling, lulling screenlife, a place that arouses our passion for lightning bolts.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

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May 22, 2008 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, higher education, passion, political correctness, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating

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