Re: two questions/60's

Sandra Hollin Flowers (flowers_s@Mercer.EDU)
Thu, 16 May 1996 14:54:03 -0400

I'm going to take a stab at your second question, Eide, because in
a different guise, it's one I've been thinking about, too. I don't have
any research to back this up, just some suppositions I arrived at after
learning what a small proportion of the American population has a college
degree and asking myself why that should be the case in such an advanced
First, I wonder if academia has priced itself out of the range of
affordability and therefore interest of what you have called "the looming
society around it." This is particularly true, I think for people of
color, who early on become accustomed to making pragmatic choices about
what to do with their lives. The high cost of higher education, while it
**may** pay off in the long run (hasn't for me yet!) has to be juxtaposed
against economic realities. I remember becoming aware of this when I
proposed my first dissertation topic and was told it was "rather
pragmatic"--rather unimpressive in that milieu, in other words. Well, it
was. But it was what I needed to be about in my future, as I saw it. (And
as you can surmise from the fact that this is the first part of my
answer, pragmatism is still branded deeply into my soul!)
A related problem, I think is academia's increasingly esoteric
bent. We have theories for theories now days, and frankly, I have
difficulty finding much of what we do exciting, vital, or connected--again
using your terminology--to my life. I know that my non-academic friends
--by far the largest proportion of my acquaintances-- feel this way, and
they wonder how I can actually find any enjoyment in the seclusion--or
perhaps I should say, the way I have to prioritize--that characterizes my
life during the school year. Not that everybody who goes to college has to
have a career in higher education or that anyone thinks that's the case.
However, the reality is that to be in school is to be shut away for four
or more exciting years of one's life from what most of the looming society
is doing. If what we do in higher education truly were vital and exciting
and connected, I don't think it would simultaneously seem such a sacrifice
and so foreign to the way people actually live.
I would also suggest that young people don't have to go to
college, i.e., to get away from home, to come alive, as I did :). It's no
longer a rite of passage for most young people, because so many of them
are doing in high school what we did in college (political activities, to
some degree, included). Looking at the quality of leadership and social
activitism in my small school, for example, I am frequently astounded at
what these young people bring to college. Yes, I had all the standard club
and extracurricular outlets in high school, but there was a parochialism
about all that which is true to a much lesser degree of the high school
experiences of the students with whom I come in contact today. For many of
them, college is actually anti-climatic--a sort of "Is that all there is?"
experience. Of course, they are usually astounded to find themselves
intellectually challenged once they get their feet wet, but in many ways I
doubt that college is transformative--at least not initially--to today's
students in the way it was for us in the '60s.

Sandra in Maconga

On Tue, 14 May 1996 wrote:

> The second question could be phrased like this: why did
> academia decline so precipitously from the 60's onward? Those
> of us who remember going to college in the 60's remember the
> excitement, vitality, connectedness between academia and the
> rest of the world, flashing ideas that challenged every orthodoxy
> in and out of the academic world etc.
> The academic world is now seen (by the looming society around
> it) as a marginal arm of the public sector that is supported mainly
> for its research/development capabilities--that, and strong football/
> basketball programs. What happened? Why does the academic world,
> generally, lack credibility and/or compelling interest?
> These questions are central when you zero in on what was