A Win for Consumerism

Another disappointing campus story. It started well. A college president finally refused to accept a consumerist model of higher education where student is a customer who is always right and everybody else is a servant.

But then the story went on social media, and as always consumerism won.

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33 thoughts on “A Win for Consumerism”

  1. Seems to me not having housing is pretty important, but of course, she’s just a snowflake who should’ve found a friends sofa to flop on or checked with the nearest homeless shelter.

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    1. It’s one of a five billion frustrations she will go through in life. Learning to deal with them without throwing tantrums is an important part of growing up. Nobody cared enough about her to teach her this at home. Nobody will care enough in college. This only means that the learning curve will be so much more painful later on.

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      1. “Kendal Hall, a 19-year-old sophomore, said she was in tears Wednesday when she wrote to the university’s president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, but tried to remain measured in her message, and to speak for her fellow students, not just herself. She explained she was told there was no housing, and was worried she might have to transfer, or wind up homeless. “So I beg of you, please just let us know what we are supposed to do?” Hall wrote, according to an image of the email.”

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          1. I don’t care if in another part of her e-mail she expressed belief in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, or anything else. She’s 19 and panicked, for crying out loud.

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            1. “She’s 19 and panicked”

              In other words her parents did not do their job. my guess is she’s always gotten her way by throwing emotional fits and doesn’t perceive any need to change that ultimately self-defeating strategy.

              There were lots of other ways she could have written that letter.

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              1. My parents didn’t send me off to college not knowing what to do if my housing wasn’t certain for the next semester. I had their resources and others to draw upon if that scenario had been mine, so I wouldn’t have been flopping around, and perhaps she isn’t in the same boat. You were all put together at 19? Be real.

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              2. At 19, I was making a living for two in the midst of the bandit wars in a shattered economy with no functioning government. At 22, I was an immigrant raising a kid on my own in a place where I didn’t even speak the language and thought buying a cup of coffee at Tim Hortons was a huge luxury. The kind of upheaval and hardship I experienced is not something these kids can even begin to imagine, so let’s not go into this direction at all.

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              3. You don’t have to be tough to figure out that this is not the way to address a university president. You simply need to have something at the core of your identity that is not consumerism.

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            2. Once I was administering a quiz in my class, and one of the “panicked 19-year-olds” got very angry that the questions were not what he expected. He got up, started screaming at me, getting in my face, and demanding that I give him his money back for the course because the course was not what he expected.

              I’ve had “panicked Easter bunnies” curse, yell, grab my personal belongings, go through my bag without permission, and cry “I hate you, you have ruined my life” over the tiniest little things. So I do care about being treated like a servant by these panicked bunnies because it does get annoying when you think you are engaging adults in a professional setting.

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              1. I agree that she’s 19 and panicked. But the appropriate way to panic at 19 is to send angst- filled texts to your friends, flop dramatically on your bed, play loud and annoying music–not emailing a very busy and important (to a 19 year old) man.

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              2. I am very sorry all this crazy shit with students happened to you…

                I am now wondering why did it not happen to me?.. Am I projecting some extremely tough image (you met me, so it is hard to believe)?
                Is it a gender thing? Do students subconsciously imagine female professors as some sort of surrogate mother figures, and therefore are particularly upset when they are not treated according to their idea of a loving mother?
                Hard to believe it is somehow geographically determined, Montreal does not seem like significantly less consumerist place than Illinois… And both our universities are kind of proletarian, not very posh…
                Or is it field-specific? Something that happens in the humanities, but not in STEM?

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              3. This university professor is male. And Christakis is male. My colleague who was hounded out of the profession by panicked bunnies was male. So I don’t see a gender component.

                I honestly don’t know what causes it. I think it’s cultural. I don’t see this in Hispanic students, for instance. Which doesn’t mean they are easy to teach. In many ways, they are harder to teach. But this one issue, I don’t know what causes it, and I’m very puzzled.

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  2. I don’t know how Howard University works.

    At my undergraduate university, they required students to live on campus and enter into a contract for food. Theoretically juniors and seniors could get permission to live off campus if you entered a lottery and “won” but you found out the results well after they required you to pay for on-campus housing They took my housing deposit well before I ever set foot on campus as a freshman. She’s probably locked into a contract that requires her to pay room and board regardless of whether the university provides it.

    She’s smart to complain now to the university president to nip this in the bud. I had a classmate my first semester who spent it couch surfing because she had housing issues. She had her friends sit on the university president’s lawn and finally had her parents get involved (she was lgbt and her parents were homophobic.) By the time it resolved I saw her walking outside barefoot with snow on the ground.

    There was no social media at the time otherwise we would’ve used that.

    The tone wasn’t great but I wonder if the university president would’ve acted promptly without it.

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    1. In six years, the student will be 25 and ready for the workplace. If between now and then she never hears that this is not an optimal way to position yourself in a professional environment, who will want to hire her and keep her around?

      These kids who weep in my office because I didn’t praise their effort in an essay with 180 mistakes over 5 pages go to the workplace and weep in the manager’s office that they weren’t praised for making the coffee. (True stories.) We, the professors, are too scared to tell them it’s not ok. Nobody tells them. So they don’t know.

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  3. The email was awful, but the school didn’t go about addressing the problem in a constructive manner, either. Guaranteeing housing and then turning around and telling students the opposite can be a huge deal, especially if that housing guarantee is an official college policy — at which point it can become a legal problem for the school. If the girl is telling the truth with the “you might get a chance at housing by May” line, it’s a bit ridiculous. Off-campus housing for the fall semester often needs to be claimed by January or February of that year, and that’s still last-minute — where I went to school the first time around, people usually figured out their off-campus housing by the end of November.

    I don’t know about other people, but if I had no housing whatsoever, I wouldn’t be able to go to school at all. Sleeping on a friend’s couch isn’t a viable long-term option, and even that option would mean you have friends nearby and that those friends are willing to let you stay with them for a long period of time. One of a billion frustrations? Perhaps. But for a college student who lives on campus and can’t afford not to do so, it’s a major issue. Simply acknowledging this instead of fueling frustration and panic would have gone a long way to prevent this from happening in the first place.

    That’s not to say the email was well thought-out at all. It wasn’t, and I sincerely hope that someone is going to take her aside sometime in the next two years and teach her how to write.

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  4. “..the CEO her first day, month or year at her workplace.”

    True that.

    Unrelated: A few years ago, my brother-in-law noticed a glitch in his home loan terms, and wrote an all caps (in bold font for extra emphasis) email and CCed it to the fucking CEO of the bank. He proudly forwarded it to my dad who asked me if I could rewrite it.

    A sample:

    “I NEED ___ BANK TO JUSTIFY YOUR MOVE TO INCREASE MY LOAN DURATION WITHOUT CONSULTING ME AT ALL! DUE TO THIS I AM PAYING ALL OF THE INTEREST AS MY EMI AND FEELING ROBBED BY THE BANK.

    PLEASE GET BACK TO ME ASAP ELSE I WILL BE PLACING MY COMPLAINT TO RBI. ”

    RBI is the Reserve Bank of India (equivalent to the Federal Reserve, lol). I’m shocked he didn’t CC Barack Obama, asking him to drone the bank’s headquarters.

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    1. A very dearly beloved colleague of mine would cc very minor complaint she had to the president of the university system, the Chancellor, the Provost and the Dean. The complaints were like “I scheduled a makeup test in this room but later discovered the room was double booked, which caused me extreme discomfort. I urge you to look into the matter ASAP.”

      The results were not amazing.

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  5. Partly owing to the small size of my university, we have this problem in spade: students regularly emailing the President or the Chairman of the Board of Trustees over tiny issues that are far outside their purview. It’s like the students have no sense of chain of command or division of labor or basic propriety. I think the President was entirely right to shut this down. He is absolutely the wrong audience for that email.

    Plus, it’s such a dramatic letter. What are the chances that the student will become homeless? Shakti related a terrible story about her cousin but that’s not the norm. Occasional housing shortages are fairly common at universities. Usually the university will have the students “triple up” in dorm rooms. But there are usually a whole range of solutions in place. Universities understand that homeless students aren’t exactly a “good look”. This student was engaging in needless drama.

    For what it’s worth, I think the housing office handled the situation terribly. But I think the President’s response was entirely reasonable. I have sent similar emails to students myself over the years.

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    1. Exactly. People just don’t know how often we get this kind of complaints over the smallest of issues and couched in the most dramatic language imaginable.

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    2. \ students regularly emailing the President or the Chairman of the Board of Trustees over tiny issues that are far outside their purview. It’s like the students have no sense of chain of command or division of labor or basic propriety.

      I heard about new students hetting lectures about sexual assaults when they arrive on campus, creating the impression of universities being especially dangerous places in this respect.

      What about lecturing those students on new adult expectations and rules of behavior, instead? I am serious here. That student’s parents taught her to “go to the top” in case of problems, university didn’t teach her anything, and we all witnessed the result.

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  6. Evelina; “But the appropriate way to panic at 19 ”

    Exactly, 19 year olds involve friends in their drama and don’t expect the world to stop for it (or maybe they do but they quickly realize it’s not going to and start to grow up).
    The email is appropriate for an infant (who expects godparents to come swooping in and making everything better) and not a 19 year old.

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  7. I have freaked out about promised housing falling through, when arriving under mega-stress at a new place, three or four or even five times to different degrees, although I’ve never e-mailed the President on it. I have melted down to some extent at housing offices at all of those points, though. So I have some empathy with this student. Of course, each time I did still end up having to solve the situation myself. One of the times I had to be rescued by money wired by my parents (and I was over 30) because the apartment complex had taken my deposit without giving me an apartment, and I hadn’t been paid yet so was sort of on the street.

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  8. Uh,wanting to get the housing issue fixed isn’t consumerism, it’s fucking common sense. We have a saying in America, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

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    1. I had a student flip out and have a fit because I left so many corrections on her paper “it felt like I was mocking her.” What you are not hearing is that these tantrums and panic attacks are a daily occurrence and they happen over the most trivial of things. And it’s the same thing when they come to the workplace.


      https://polldaddy.com/js/rating/rating.js

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    2. I think the student was completely in her rights to complain and to request further information. Housing is obviously an important issue. But she made two major mistakes: i) Addressing the university president. There are far far more appropriate people she cold have addressed. Perhaps the Dean of Students? ii) Writing a completely over-the-top and ridiculous email. I hardly think Howard has an issue with student homelessness. It would be well advertised if it that were the case: Howard is a well known school. Universities, unlike apartment complexes, have a vested interest in making sure their students remain safe. Also, it’s only March for goodness sake–she has nearly six months for this issue to get resolved.

      If she had written an email simply requesting more information or more direction and sent it to the appropriate parties, nobody would be criticizing her. But she wasn’t really trying to get more information; she was enjoying the fun of acting as dramatically as possible. And drama is part and parcel with being a young person. The trouble is she bothered a busy person with her drama. Flounce about if you must but flounce privately.

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  9. In six years, the student will be 25 and ready for the workplace.
    There are so many assumptions in that sentence. Why wouldn’t the student be ready when she graduates? Don’t most students have jobs & internships at that age? (Even if it’s just retail and work study?) What’s defining about 25?

    If between now and then she never hears that this is not an optimal way to position yourself in a professional environment, who will want to hire her and keep her around?

    See, I wonder whether that’s a valid assumption. I’ve seen spoiled weepy brats in the workplace and some of them were older than me by decades. There’s a lot of leeway to be petulant and terrible if you make enough money for someone or you have an in with the “boss.” Maybe she has an in with someone.

    These kids who weep in my office because I didn’t praise their effort in an essay with 180 mistakes over 5 pages go to the workplace and weep in the manager’s office that they weren’t praised for making the coffee. (True stories.) We, the professors, are too scared to tell them it’s not ok. Nobody tells them. So they don’t know.

    I had a student flip out and have a fit because I left so many corrections on her paper “it felt like I was mocking her.” What you are not hearing is that these tantrums and panic attacks are a daily occurrence and they happen over the most trivial of things. And it’s the same thing when they come to the workplace.

    Maybe we’re all dinosaurs because we learned the weepy, petulant, overdramatic style wouldn’t get us anywhere. I might have personalized criticism in my own mind but I didn’t come to my professors or co-workers with it. And I was not super-mature for my age.

    With that student, maybe she learned that shooting to the top like that is the way to get things done. Why would you bother going through eight layers of under bureaucracy (the “correct” way) if you can contact a higher one and get it done quicker? You see this kind of bullshit with service workers, especially in retail.
    Of course that’s not something you can really do with a large corporation like a health insurance company or a government agency like the VA.

    We have a POTUS who is the culmination of this petulant, aggrieved, overdramatic style. He is my father’s age. Come on.

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  10. RE: Dealing with student complaints…
    Many of my students don’t even know where my office is…. So many of them might find it too hard to find the person to complain to about me. (My uni doesn’t have a central area of offices for profs in my dept.)

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