As graduation approaches, I've become a bit nostalgic about my time here at the University of Wisconsin. As a result, I will pen three columns about my thoughts on college, UW and getting involved in student organizations.
For the first time in four years, I found myself in a real bind a few weeks ago. I was ill-prepared for a test in a class I hadn't attended in weeks, and I hadn't purchased the book by the time I actually needed it. The book wasn't on reserve anywhere, and I didn't know a soul in the class.
As a second-to-last resort, I contacted my teaching assistant for sage advice on what to do — probably the first time I have ever actually needed help from a teacher in college, and certainly the first time I actually contacted one specifically for it. After ending up in somewhat of a quarrel about my moral status as, admittedly, a second-semester senior slacker, he revealed something I found shocking:
"I don't know why you would think you could get by without the book," he explained. "The syllabus made it clear the book was required for the course."
I replied with a guffaw — it was clear he had been a graduate student for much too long.
Having an undergraduate degree is now more than ever a prerequisite for getting almost any kind of "real world" job, and as such, more and more students consider attending college a natural progression after high school. Rather than something only some interested students seek out as a way to further their own enlightenment, an undergraduate education is essentially just more required schooling for today's workforce.
And it seems this standardization has taken the focus away from "higher" education and placed it squarely on just getting a degree — regardless of what that should mean.
For some degree programs at the University of Wisconsin — I would say most, based on completely unscientific and purely observational data — higher education has devolved into simply filling out the correct bubbles with a No. 2 pencil in order to walk across the Kohl Center stage and into a suit and tie.
Just take a look at the Business Career Center as proof that some parts of UW — perhaps most obviously that building just west of Park Street and just south of University Avenue — have become little more than a holding tank between high school and corporate America. Fun fact: Uploading a résumé is actually a prerequisite to B-School graduation as of this year, and your record will be put on hold if you refuse. (They really do it, too, so don't just keep trashing those e-mails.)
It's not that School of Business students in the 1950s didn't learn how to write memos and fill in ledgers, and it's not even that students aren't getting adequately prepared for real life anymore — maybe it's just that I came to college a little bit disillusioned about the ends of the whole thing.
Back in freshman year, I took classes at 7:45 a.m. on a regular basis — we're talking every day of the week before 9 a.m. I rarely missed class and turned everything in on time. I took power naps.
But the years passed, and I became more and more jaded as a UW upperclassman. Naturally, my fondness for attending class waned, and I changed in the power naps for more actual sleep.
And, sadly, when I reflect on what I actually learned in classes in college, what stands out is, well, how I got by without purchasing textbooks — not how my worldview was torn apart and my mind exploded by new and innovative ideas on life and liberty and relativity theory.
Is it a product of my major in business? Would a major in something more interesting have sent my worldview tumbling? And, most importantly, does it matter?
Could be, possibly, and a definite "No."
It's not about what you choose to major in, and I'm not disappointed by any means in my lack of a textbook education, so to speak. I absolutely relish what I'm taking away from this university, and that's because Wisconsin does it right.
Look for the second installment of this series tomorrow. Until then, Taylor Hughes ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in information systems. Please don't fail him.