Profit over Education – Academic Fraud at UNC-Chapel Hill Gives Another Black Eye to Public Education

As a college professor in the United States it is difficult to know where to begin as I process the massive scandal that I have read about today regarding UNC-Chapel Hill in which 3,100 students, nearly half athletes, were shown to have taken fraudulent classes in the university’s athletic program.  I am not usually one to make extremely bold statements, but education is something I feel strongly

about, and this scandal could not make a clearer statement that this country has lost its way.  The love of money has replaced love for each other.  We have let ourselves become distracted by games so that we don’t pay attention to what’s most important.  We have become a culture of fear instead of striving to be a culture of understanding.

Before I begin I want to make it clear that I am sure that the majority of professors and students at UNC-Chapel Hill have the highest standards of work ethic and integrity and as I speak now I speak also in your name.  Those who were part of this conspiracy have brought the most shame to you and I am truly sorry for what you have to go through. Bringing legitimacy to your university is a battle you did not ask to fight, but you will have to.  This fight can be made easier or harder depending on who joins that fight.  In this essay I write I call upon those who can do the most to help you.

This year Penn State University had their ban lifted by the NCAA on post-season play 2 years early and still much controversy remains about whether this was the right thing to do given that Jerry Sandusky has been confirmed to have molested 26 boys and school officials looked the other way to avoid a scandal for their football team. As if this wasn’t enough of a blight on higher education and how sports plays too high a role in what is supposed to be an institute of higher learning, perhaps it could simply be argued away as the result of one highly disturbed individual, while several higher officials chose to brush off what seemed to them only rumors without clear evidence.  Personally the Penn State incident should have been enough for us to take a harder look at our priorities, but as the NCAA softened their initial judgment by lifting the ban it seems that it’s business as usual once again.

What has happened at UNC-Chapel Hill has been happening for nearly 20 years. It, as a result, must involve a far greater number of people ranging from personnel in the athletic program, recruiters, registrars, administrators, and faculty  This was a large conspiracy that was covered up for many years and even when the investigation was first opened 5 years ago, it took a long time for the full truth to come to light.  Even now this article is buried on the CNN website under many other less dire stories.  At a time when public education struggles to maintain adequate funding, when there is a great disparity in public education across the country, and public institutions of higher learning continue to raise tuition as their state funding decreases, the scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill will only act to lessen the trust in public education.  What we must work hard to do right now is to show that it is not public education that is the problem, that this is the symptom of a for-profit culture.  That when the money made off of TV deals, advertising, and merchandise of college sports takes precedent, that those without integrity can take a larger stake in our society and run it into the ground.  Let’s start our call to action with the NCAA.

The NCAA proudly lists on their website their core values which include:

  • The collegiate model of athletics in which students participate as an avocation, balancing their academic, social and athletics experiences.
  • The highest levels of integrity and sportsmanship.
  • The pursuit of excellence in both academics and athletics.

For those you not aware of the word “avocation”, it means “hobby or minor occupation”. Note also the words “integrity” and the emphasis of “balance” and “excellence” in not only their athletics but also academics.  These core values are great.  As a society we should value athletic achievement, exercise, and health.  There is a connection between mind and body and it can come together in sport and competition.  It is also important to remember, however, that only about 1% of NCAA athletes will be able to turn professional that means there are many more students for whom their education will be their primary means of having a stable and successful future.  Thus if the NCAA believes in these core values it must also be an advocate for integrity in the classroom and at least be partially responsible for the health of the players who suffer injuries while playing NCAA sports which they profit from (NCAA is a non-profit by the way).  The NCAA has been recently accused of making large profit off the players who are often fed insufficiently and do not take care of the players who suffer injuries and who many times suffer lifelong problems related to those injuries both physically and financially.  The NCAA has a chance here to do the right thing and make its core values be more than just words.

While the NCAA should punish UNC-Chapel Hill for not displaying academic integrity in accordance with their core values, what is the responsibility of UNC-Chapel Hill? The university is ultimately the one that perpetrated this conspiracy and they need to make sure everyone involved faces punishment; no scapegoats, no more lies, no more cover-ups.  I understand why, from a legal standpoint, they cannot lift the degrees of those students.   They are the ones who advised students to take those classes when they saw they were struggling academically.  Rather than providing them with legitimate academic support to help them improve they gave up on trying to expand their minds and said “Your only value to us is in the money you make us in the athletic program, we are not concerned about your future”.  They were supposed to show a student how the same work ethic they apply to their sport, can be applied to learning.  They were supposed to show those athletes the same way they stretch and bend their body they can do also with their mind.  Given the low chances of those athletes becoming professionals they were supposed to give them alternate avenues of success.  And even if they did get drafted into a professional league, injury can happen at any time, and they were supposed to give athletes something else to fall back on.  Instead they have left these students bereft of legitimate degrees, and employers will have a hard time trusting the value of any degree achieved by a UNC-Chapel Hill alum who was involved with their athletics program.

I would also like to point out that the fraudulent program in which these students were enrolled in was an African-Studies program. While I am sure many other scholars can talk about this with more vigor than I can, I find the choice in the academic field of this fraudulent program more than a little insulting given the race issues we still face in the United States.  I know and have known many scholars in this area and this is an extremely important field for young African-Americans to learn about their history in this country and to understand issues of race both in the past and today.   I am not sure whose idea it was to use African-American studies to house the fraudulent courses but those people have done a great disservice to African-Americans by doing so and have treated a very important area of scholarship cheaply.

Of course we cannot be naïve enough to believe that this is the only school where this is happening. This scandal will open investigations into all athletic programs, especially in NCAA division I programs, that have had rumblings of grade inflation for athletes in the past.  It will make employers everywhere wonder if perhaps the academic success of a student athlete is deserved.  At my university, it is only a NCAA Division II school. Athletics is a money drain on our university and does not make us profit.  Yet many student athletes report that coaches will not let them miss a practice even if a legitimate academic opportunity that will benefit their future, such as going to an academic conference,  comes along.  I have seen resources that could be used for academic programs go towards athletics.   We all must join the fight to maintain legitimacy of public higher education institutions and remember that the NCAA core values emphasize balance and that the sport is, for almost all athletes, a hobby and nothing more in the context of their entire lives.

What responsibility do the students themselves share in this scandal? While they were advised to take these fake courses, they knew they were fraudulent.  One student who has come forward even made the Dean’s list having a semester full of fraudulent courses and admitted to not attending one class and receiving all A’s.  These are young adults who were not completely unaware that what they were doing was wrong.  It is difficult, however, for me to judge a young mind bolstered by the fame that we as a society gives them,  and bolstered by the pride of their friends and family at making a renowned college sports team with a full scholarship.  This is coupled with the fear of losing the scholarship that saves their family or themselves financial burden should they falter midway through their degree and cannot continue in the athletic program.  I am not going to judge you for decision you made as a young adult, but I would ask you to consider the steps you take now with care.  Because now that the scandal has been brought to light, the next steps you take are yours, and yours alone.  You know what you did was wrong, and you do a disservice to every student athlete who has worked hard to balance their athletics and academics to legitimately achieve their degree.  You do a disservice to the meaning of the baccalaureate degree which is supposed to be based on a minimum of 120 credit hours of academic rigor.  More importantly you do a disservice to yourself by knowing that you walk around with something that many are in great financial debt for and that many have worked hard for, but for which you did not earn.  Though you were misled, you were old enough to know that the easy path was not the right path.  Retake those credits and demand that UNC-Chapel Hill allow you to do so for free and provide for you the support they should have during your time there.

From http://www.fiscaltimes.com

The final call to action is for the rest of us.  We must take a look at ourselves and ask ourselves some tough questions, because in the end it us who generate this profit from collegiate sports by watching and attending the games.  It us who read the articles and watch television programs of analysis.  It is us who buy the merchandise and wear the colors of our favorite collegiate teams.  So what can we do?  To start we, as parents, can make sure that the academic integrity is high at the institutions our children attend.  We can be realistic about what our child’s athletic ability really means and remember that even if they are one of the lucky ones to go professional that smart player is always better than just a player and that when the body breaks the mind still needs to be in good shape so that life goes on.  We need to ask questions, we need to talk to our children and make sure they are learning and let them always know that doing what is right is more important than a moment in the spotlight. We as the public need to make sure that we continue to fight for educational equality across this nation, to make sure that we maintain high standards in curriculum, academic rigor, and pedagogy, and vote for politicians who recognize the importance of education in making this nation great.  We must ask ourselves if it’s right that the highest paid public employee in 40 out of 51 states is a college football or basketball coach? Finally we must remember that a good life is built on a solid foundation made from love, integrity, compassion, humility, self-reflection, and learning.  Sports are fun to watch, but it’s still just a game, and the future of our children and our nation cannot rest on a game.

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Equality, I Spoke The Word As If A Wedding Vow

Recently I’ve been thinking about the word “equality” and what it really means. I always think that when you are thinking about word and are unsure what it means a good place to start is the dictionary.  But that didn’t help much because the major definition simply says “the state of being equal” or defines equality in terms of mathematics. I think most of who think equality is important would define it in terms of equal status, equal rights, and equal opportunities.  Such equality might be easy to legislate, but it is not easily found.

The interesting question to me is why equality is something that some people thing is important and others don’t. Part of the reason is that many simply don’t see other people as equal.  And most troubling are those who see someone as inherently unequal simply due gender or race.  It seems to me that those who fight for equality and who believe that equality is important in a society don’t see inequality as inherent, but rather a product of environment.

Equality, like freedom may be a difficult ideal to obtain, but it seems to me the true inequality in this world is between those who think we can attain it and those who think inequality is inherent for whatever reason. And so I wonder, what is the common bond between people in both those groups of people?  Since race and gender have nothing to do with how smart you are, your physical abilities, your potential to be successful, or your ability to show love and kindness, why are there people who think that race and gender automatically pre-determines such things?  Children carry no inherent sense of inequality in regards to race and gender, so where does it come from?  What trait oh of humanity leads people to adopt the idea that one person is less than another?  When does it start to develop?  Is it a desire for power? A fear that in balancing the equation that for one group of people to rise up, that we must then relinquish some power and come down?  Maybe equality isn’t something we can attain, but maybe we can at least see everybody as valuable if not equal.  To be honest, the fact that we are all equal regardless of race or gender seems so obvious to me that I find it vexing that anybody should think any other way, so I am interested in hearing thoughts from others.

He Blinded Me With Science

As a meteorologist and scientist I am very familiar with many pseudoscience arguments and websites like creation science, new age science, anti-climate change arguments, and all the conspiracy theories that go along with it.  My colleague recently turned me on to a little gem of a website.  Somebody has ‘solved’ tornadoes.  I hope you click on the site.  Not only will the guy who owns this WordPress website be excited that he has so many hits, but you will immediately be able to tell that this person isn’t playing with a full deck.  At first I laughed a lot as I read it, but the more I read it, the more I actually started to be impressed.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m impressed with the actual ideas here, they are completely wrong, but I was impressed with how much time and thought this person has gone into thinking about the problem.  I don’t want to post any individual blog posts linked here, because I really don’t care to have this person start harassing me, but if you go through a number of them you’ll see that he has talked to some real experts in the field (although it’s unclear about whether he has e-mailed them or actually talked to them personally), he has posts where he has retracted some of his statements and then explained why he retracted them.  He has designed experiments to test his hypothesis as well.  In fact I’m a bit jealous that this guy actually has more blog followers than me.  Did I say jealous?  I meant frightened.  Anyway, what I thought what was really interesting is that here is a very unique belief system which has blossomed into something rather complex.  One that to my knowledge nobody else really believes (at least not yet, or at least I hope not yet) and yet bears much similarity to existing belief systems.  So I thought it might be interesting to deconstruct it a little and see what we get.

At the heart of every belief system is at least one premise that is accepted as true, without being supported by any empirical observations.  Once this is accepted as

From http://www.nc-climate.ncsu.edu

true, much can be built from it.  For instance many religious belief systems accept as fact that there is a God and goes on from there.  Many times of course there are several faulty premises.  It could be that they stem from an original, but it’s hard to say.  Let’s take a look at the one’s that seem to this gentleman’s starting point

Premise 1:  The jet stream is a conscious entity that is thirsty for water and thus tornadoes are a result of the jet stream needing to suck up water.  I guess that makes a tornado a giant straw.

Premise 2:  Moisture is the most important factor in determining density differences in buoyant air. (Actually it’s temperature).

Premise 3:  Meteorology is a cult, and meteorologist simply believe in old and outdated arguments that have never been proved experimentally.

From this all sorts of things are possible.   If you were to accept the first two things as truth you would come up with a very different scenario for how and why thunderstorms and tornadoes form.  The 3rd premise is what then allows him to never have to rethink the first two.  People who could argue intelligently with him and are more knowledgeable are meteorologists and since they are part of a belief based cult they can’t possibly be correct or unbiased.

Another important part of a belief system is the inequality in standards the proponents of the belief system must live up to in comparison to non-believers.  For

From http://static01.nyt.com

instance, those against gay marriage will expect everyone to respect their right to be legally bound in holy matrimony, but do not have to respect the rights of homosexuals.  As is often the case pseudoscience literature like this, the expectation of other is to provide rigorous proof, yet no such proof is given by this gentleman as he espouses his hypothesis about how and why tornadoes form.   At its root I feel this comes from a lack of humility.  To be so sure you are right about something that you are beyond the need for evidence, and that you are beyond the ability of anybody (regarding their experience and expertise) to change your mind is to be so prideful that even Donald Trump would be impressed.  It is also a sad state to be in.  As I’ve argued before since reinforcing beliefs releases dopamine in the brain, over time as the neural pathways become so entrenched into a belief, this person literally will become ill to consider anything else.  The stronger the argument you make, the less likely you will get anywhere.

So what’s the harm in all of this?  Perhaps very little since there is a certain amount of crazy that even the most clueless about the subject won’t buy into.  Nevertheless there is at least enough science jargon on his website that people who are not educated about the issue may think there is controversy and conspiracy.  Just like many who are not educated about climate change think the same way.  There was at least one commenter who reblogged one of his articles saying it was an interesting “new theory”.  I wanted to also introduce this website and blog post as a lead in to a discussion of the age of information (or misinformation) that we live in.  This person has self-published a book for sale on amazon and has done a lot of writing on this subject.  If he had a little bit of money and/or web savvy he could make his site one of the top hits on google when people search for information about tornadoes.  Critical thinking skills are even more important today than they were before the internet to be able to navigate the flood of information that we are faced with on any one subject area.  Anyway, keep well everyone and stay away from thirsty jet streams!

Fleetwood Mac and why they are so great

From http://upload.wikimedia.org

On October 14th, 2014 I was fortunate enough to see Fleetwood Mac in concert.  They were amazing and I would like to talk about how amazing they are.  Or rather why I think they are amazing.  I know some purists will say that Fleetwood Mac was a band before Lindsey and Stevie.  I like that older stuff, some of it is pretty good.  However, it is clear their popularity and musical ability greatly increased with the joining of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. On stage Christie McVie called them her musical family and as I listened I started to get a vision of that family.  They are a family who stays together despite the fact that they are all very different people.  Their strength lies in both the tensions in personality but also that musical family combination.  It is perfection for a band and few bands can claim to have such a perfect combination of personalities and talent.  I would like to speak to this perfection by talking about their musical personalities and why they fit so well together.  I’ve even given these musical personalities a name they are as follows:  The Aura, The Violet, The Craftsman, The Silence, and The House.  Perhaps you can already guess which is which.

The Aura

Both leading ladies in the bands might be described as romantics, but in very different ways.  For Stevie Nicks love and

From http://www.fanpop.com

magic go hand-in-hand.  She is as mysterious as the moon and she is the feelings of romance that you can’t quite put into words.  You will love her and not exactly know why.  She dances, she moves, she floats, and she spins.  She is the girl you want to get close to, but not necessarily the one you should bring home to mother.  She lives in dreams and want you to live there with her. Who doesn’t love to dream? She is the theater, and who doesn’t love a good show?  You recognize that loving her might also bring peril and yet you are still drawn in.  This is why she is the aura of the band.  She envelops you and you can get lost in her.  She makes you dance to her tune, helpless, enraptured.  Her voice is as hypnotic as her beauty.  She might make you cry, make you break down, and shatter your illusions of love, but you’ll always think loving her is worth it.  And it is.

From http://www.popmatters.com

The Violet

Beautiful like a flower and modest as a violet; this is Christie McVie.  She is the sweet girl next door.  Pretty, honest, with a heart of gold.  She is the one that grows up into that mother that knows how to take care of everyone, both physically and emotionally.  She’s never wild in public, and she doesn’t dance all that well, but when she does dance you know she’s happy and you can’t help but smile when you watch her.  She is the girl you fall in love with and feel safe.  When she sings you know, she knows the score.  Her love is nurturing, solid and tangible.  You want to be with her everywhere. You listen to her and sigh, and smile, each note on her keyboard vibrates your heart a little bit.  Listening to her songs it is the same feeling you get when you taste sweet confection or a fresh baked cookie.  She is the treat you deserve after a hard day and will always make you feel right with the world.

The Craftsman

Where Stevie draws you in, Lindsey goes out and grabs you.  Where Stevie wants you to believe in magic, Lindsey tells

from http://www.entertainmentrg.com

you that you need no other plane of existence than this one.  He puts you in the here, and now and says “Listen…to…me”.  His voice and guitar will make you pay attention.  He is the hammer and chisel.  He is the designer.  He is a mastermind with background vocals, providing substance and melody to each song.  Through his genius all members of the band, as amazing as they already are, are even better because of him.  He constructs and he builds, then he sands it and varnishes it, and he works harder than everyone else, even though his genius might just qualify him to sit back and tell other people what to do.  His musical brilliance comes from the deepest heart of him, and yet he has no trouble digging to that depth to reveal it all to the listener.  You love to watch him, because you never know what he’s going to make, but you know you are going to like it in the end.  He has an intensity that is unmistakable and his greatness towers over you.  He is both humbling, but at the same time you know that his music makes you better than you are too.

From http://www.pollstar.com

The Silence

Who hears John McVie?  Everyone does, they just don’t know it.  When the others aren’t making noise, what is left?  Silence.  Like silence, John McVie is always there.  He stands in the same spot on stage, playing his bass with a stolid dedication that makes him a fixture, a landmark, an unchanging stone that all can depend on.  When there is anger and bitterness, he is playing his bass.  When there is joy and celebration, he is playing his bass.  When there is tenderness and sorrow, he is playing his bass.  When things are unfamiliar, he stands there, playing his bass.  He is that musician who will play as the Titanic goes down.  In his bass are the silent things like honor, dignity, and respect.   The silence provides solitude, peacefulness, and reflection. There at the beginning, he will be there until the end…silently playing his bass.

The House

But how would these 4 different, but amazing musical personalities ever choose to be in the same place if they didn’t

From http://www.musicradar.com

have a house to play in?  This is Mick Fleetwood.  He is the rhythm which brings them all together.  While John is reliable like a rock, Mick is reliable like a faithful valet or butler.  You might be dying on the inside, but he is going to make sure you look presentable and that the show must go on.  He is that kind of servant where you are never quite sure if you’re in charge though, or whether he is.  He is the soul of Fleetwood Mac.  He is both the history and the one who has made history.  He is also not afraid to play the buffoon, making everyone smile and laugh, breaking the tension when it’s high.  When you walk into the house you immediately know that your stay will be a memorable one.  Despite the genius of Lindsey, somewhere in the back of your mind you’ll wonder if Mick isn’t the real genius by finding a way for all these extremely talented musicians to stay in his house.  After all, every musician knows that it’s the drums that set the pace that everyone must march to.  And they all do it willingly because they know they are better together in that house than anywhere else.  He is the reason you get to say, “I love Fleetwood Mac”.

Won’t get fooled again.

I really don’t have enough time to be blogging right now, but though this was too good not to share.  This e-mail is what several faculty (if not all) received this morning.  I probably don’t have to tell you it is a scam e-mail, but this is one of the more hilarious ones I’ve seen:

Good Day, 

 We have been watching every single transaction you made since last year until this 2013 and you have to know that we are also working to make sure your funds which are suppose to be delivered to you, and also bear in mind that what ever you emailing us will be forward to the court. Also we are hereby to notify by the federal bureau of investigation Cotonou department of the insult you imposed on them by failing to comply by their requirements. Your full residential address has been forwarded to us for your immediate arrest to face your charge but I deemed it fit to give you one more chance to save yourself from this mess. 

 We have been told that you have failed to dance by the rule of the FBI which will warrant 2 years jail sentence. Now I john Robert Pikus the special agent in charge of the FBI Albany department I am giving you 24 working hours to effect the payment of the $98 usd. To the FBI in republic of Benin (fbi security) with the information written below: 

 Receiver: DONALD  EMEKA

Country: Benin Republic 

City: Cotonou 

Test:……  Very? 

Answer:…….. urgent

Amount:………… $98.dollars 

Mtcn number……… 

 You have to try as much as you can and make this payment so that your funds will be delivered immediately to your destination. You have to stop every transaction you are communicating with other organization to avoid delay on the processing of your funds. Note that you? if you fail to stick with my advice or any delay will lead to us coming directly to your home address at any time, so try and dance by the rule and get back to me with good understanding ASAP. 

Special Agent in Charge; 

 Mr. Robert Pikus 

Director F.B.I 

E-mail= (fbi_carmanlapointe@yahoo.com)

————————————————————-

This e-mail has it all.  Bad english, an e-mail address that makes no sense given the name of the person who sent the e-mail (Not even Robert Pikus, but john Robert Pikus), logical errors like the fact that this agent is in charge of the Albany FBI department, but is notifying us via an FBI department in Cotonou, Benin.  I don’t think the FBI has any foreign departments given that they are the Federal Bureau of investigations, and they of course aren’t called department offices but bureau offices when talking about the FBI.  There is some good old fashioned confusion here as well.  Like why are we sending this money to Donald Emeka, what does “Test:…. Very?” actually mean, why $98 dollars, why is “Note that you?” a question, and do I have even enough information here to make such a payment?

Whenever I read this things I wonder who is falling for them still?  Look I understand that initially it was going to fool people, especially older people with very little experience with technology, but for this one to have any chance of fooling anyone it would seem you had to live under a rock for the last 20 years, and you’d pretty much also have to have a severely reduced mental capacity to fall for this.  Which makes people like this really the scum of the Earth to take advantage of those people.  I know there is a lot of poverty in Africa and perhaps the west can be blamed for a lot of that, but people who are in a condition to fall for this scam probably don’t have much money to begin with and really probably aren’t the cause of your problems.

Finally, e-mails like this also make me ask the question, why are you so bad at scamming other people?  I mean this is terrible work.  Terrible.  I mean technically I should be thankful because not very many people will fall for it, but it just seems like if you are the type of person who feels morally justified in scamming other people out of their money you have to come up with something better.  I mean as a criminal you expect other people to feel disappointed in your morality, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have pride in your work.  Because now I am also just disappointed in your intelligence.  I mean everybody will still think you’re horrible, but couldn’t you at least make people say “This person is horrible…but boy that was one hell of a good scam.  I would have fallen for it myself if the scam hadn’t been exposed”.  I mean this is what you should be aiming for as a con man.  Are there no e-mail con classes going on in Africa right now.  Are there no older rich mentors who, having made their money during the Nigerian Prince days, could be helping some of these youngsters out?  I mean it can’t be easy making sure this e-mail doesn’t go directly to junk mail and into my inbox, and I just feel like the same effort should go into the content of the e-mail itself.

You’ve brought shame to your profession and possibly the FBI Donald Emeka!

Why are you here?

There are many things I don’t understand about my college students.  In my 13th year of teaching as a professor I think I can at least make some solid observations.  Much of what I observed leaves me with more questions than answers.

My undergraduate experience was perhaps not typical in any way.  My parents paid my tuition, which was heavily subsidized by the Canadian government.  It is still a decent $3.500 for the year, which was a decent sum of money was back in the early 90’s.  I lived at home though, the university was about a 50 minute transit ride.  I am sure the fact that my mom got me a part time job at the university signing student loans was important in realizing how fortunate I was to not have to go in debt to pay for tuition.  My parents instilled in me that education was important and that doing well was also important.  That being said, despite the work I put in, I still ended up with only a B+ average in my undergraduate.  It was a lot of math and physics, and it was hard.  I wasn’t the perfect student either.  I cut a number of classes, but I was always aware when things were due and when were really important days to be there.   I never missed a deadline or a test.  If poor attendance led me to a less than perfect grade, there really was no one to blame but myself.  Sometimes you did get a bad teacher that discouraged you from wanting to attend that class.  But sometimes there are bad teachers.  You can complain, but it’s probably not going to make them a whole lot better.  Everyone was in the same boat and you did your best.  I never drank alcohol as an undergraduate; neither did most of my friends actually.  Which is perhaps a bit odd considering the legal drinking age in my province is 18.  I still have lots of fond memories of those days, and think it was a rather fun period of my life.

I held that dedication throughout my time in graduate school and it was that view of university and college life that I held as I became a professor at a small university in Pennsylvania.   I have found that my views about what college is about vary vastly from most of the students that are here.   Look, there are a lot of societal problems at work here too.  Perhaps the fact that guidance counselors try to convince every kid they should go to college when in fact they would be much better off in a trade school, or just taking some time off and working a low paying job to really understand what it takes to be successful in life and manage your time and money better is part of the problem.  Perhaps the fact that student loans are given out with alarming ease, with little time taken to really explain to the 18 year old how it will affect their life is the problem.  Nevertheless I have just seen a lot of baffling behavior among students since I have been a professor and it just makes me want to ask the question:

 “Why are you here?”

I have seen students spend the whole class text messaging, reading a novel in class, doing makeup, showing up 20 minutes late to a 50 minute class, or show up to class drunk, high, coked up.  And then there are the ones who don’t

From http://images.collegemagazine.com

show up.  The class is too early, too late, they are too hung over, it’s too cold, too nice, raining, etc all serve as excuses not to make it to class.  I have seen students make it to only half the classes in the semester.  I have seen students who seemingly only realized they missed an exam 3 weeks after the exam was given.  I have had students complain that I made a test for the day after their birthday, the day after St. Patrick’s day, the day after homecoming weekend, or worse yet Fridays.  Apparently Thursday nights are just party nights in general so having an exam on a Friday, especially in the morning is seen as a cruel thing for a professor to do.  All this is considered part of the “college experience”. Yet none of the people who are hired to teach or work at staff are hired to support this experience at a college, because the institution is designed to help young people further their education for the purposes of a career. Once again:

“Why are you here?”

So many students enter university undecided.  Spend an extra semester or 4 getting a 4 year degree because they switched majors and dropped classes so many times or had GPA’s so low they had to repeat courses.    The cost of

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tuition, even at this modestly priced public institution that I teach at, with housing, costs about $10,000 a year.  After 4 years you will start out $40,000 dollars in debt if you complete your degree in the standard time.  While it is sad that the government doesn’t emphasize education more and subsidize the cost more, from a practical point of view it is difficult to justify attending college without at least some clearer picture of what you want to do, and to simply do it as quickly as possible.  The student loan system in this country is terrible and sometimes it’s your only choice to getting an education and a career that you want.  That being said, it IS money you will have to pay back, and if you are going to be in that much debt it behooves you to also choose a career path that will allow you to pay back that money as efficiently as possible.  If you aren’t think of the financial reality before entering college then I have to ask:

“Why are you here?”

Please don’t get me wrong as I have met many mature students.  I would easily say that half of the students that I see, even ones that might not be doing particularly well in my classes will graduate and hit the ground running.  I hesitate to say too many numbers as my observations are only anecdotal, but I would say after teaching over 200 students a semester in 12 years that there are, conservatively, 20% who really don’t care and really would prefer to not be in college (or rather not be in college for the purposes of education).  Given how competitive it is to get a job, given how expensive it is to get an education, and given how salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation, why spend $50,000 on an education, to get a mediocre to poor GPA (especially when you’re field of choice has a low amount of jobs available)?  Isn’t there a better way to spend your time, money and resources?  For some people it is loan money, for some it is their parent’s money.  Interestingly I have never met a student who was paying for their own tuition who didn’t understand the importance of doing well and make the most of the money they were spending.

So ask yourself the question “Why are you here?”  And think about whether you might not be better off somewhere else.  Somewhere that was better suited to wear you are in life.  Somewhere better suited to what you want to do.  Somewhere that will give you a chance to figure out what it is you really want so that when you do enter college you are ready to get the most out of that environment.  College is an immense challenge in terms of your time and energy.  You will expand your mind and your heart.  You will meet great people from different walks of life. But, like it or not, university is about learning and education.  You can party anywhere like a rock star any where.  But think about the fact that your country needs you.  Young people are the ones with the energy, the ability to learn at a faster rate and think outside of the box.  Young people are the ones who are most needed in a democracy to be educated about issues.  Issues that they will face in the many years ahead of them.  There is a surprising amount of time to still have fun, but also start being a positive part of society and perhaps not getting wasted every night.  I love my job because of all the great young people I’ve met over the years, I just want to see young people also think critically about their decision to go to university.

Do you really want to hurt me?

I have always been interested in how the emotions we feel translate into behaviors actions.  One of the things I have always wondered about is why feelings of hurt make us want to hurt others.  Now I don’t want to over-generalize, but I think all of us, at some point in our lives, have felt hurt to the point that if we didn’t lash out at another person, we have really thought long and hard about it.  I am not talking as much about physical pain here, although there certainly is an instinct to obviously fight back at times physically.  I am talking more about feelings of hurt at the emotional level.  Sometimes we have inflicted pain upon those closest to us and people we love.  Such things never lessen the pain, and tend to only make it worse since we are, in general, compassionate beings who know that we’ve inflicted pain upon others.  This usually just adds guilt in with the emotional pain we are already experiencing.  The question becomes why do we think it, and why do we do it?  As usual I don’t really have any answers, but will just explore some possibilities.

While it’s true that perhaps we do end up being strengthened by the hurt we feel, there is a period of time where it doesn’t feel that way.

The first thing that comes to mind is that it is sort of a primitive survival mechanism.  If you’ve ever felt really hurt by someone’s actions towards you, you know that it takes a toll on you physically.  Our emotions are a product of the release of various hormones and other chemicals in our body, and so a certain emotional state can have a strong effect on our physical systems.  Thus we can actually feel like we are in a fight for our life and the only way to win is by defeating the threat that has impacted us so strongly at the emotional level.  This can also be done on a larger scale.  Governments can (and have) play up threats to one’s existence and way of life, and dehumanize the enemy to rile up many people into an emotional state where they want to lash out at the threat.  It seems clear that feeling threatened on an emotional level, by making it feel personal, making you feel fear, can incite one to fight back.  The simplest answer is very often the right one, so perhaps feeling hurt simply makes us feel threatened so fighting back feels necessary to our survival.

 

Of course what it doesn’t explain is why we might inflict pain on those that we care about.  When unknown

enemy or someone you don’t really care for who has hurt you or who you believe is hurting you, it almost makes sense to want to hurt them back.  But if you’ve ever lashed out at your spouse or partner in anger, at your child (either physically or verbally), it almost seems counter-intuitive that this would ever be a solution to alleviating your own feelings of hurt.  Sometimes those that we lash out at, aren’t even the ones that have hurt us, and so it seems even more strange that we should have such behavior.  On a more personal level, it seems to me that in my life when I experience a lot of hurt I often feel like I’m in the dark.  Perhaps that is not necessarily the best analogy, but what I’m getting at is that the solution for making oneself feel better is not clear.  So perhaps that’s why I equate it to being in the dark, because when you are in the dark it is difficult to find a way out.  Depending on the depth of the pain we may start to panic and fear sets in, so we get desperate.   We want the pain to end, and get out of that darkness so bad that we claw, and scramble, and we try to move quickly.  But like any fast movement in the dark we don’t know what we are grabbing at, we don’t know what we are reaching for and we hit all sorts of things along the way, hurting others and ourselves.  Flailing in the dark is never going to be best solution over keeping calm and thinking our way out of that dark palce.

 

Delving deeper I wonder if there isn’t something uniquely human about this quality that goes beyond some

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sort of animalistic behavior and is perhaps darker, even if it isn’t necessarily malicious.  When I’ve felt really hurt by someone, it’s easy feel like you don’t matter to them.   Just like I said it is counter-intuitive to hurt people we care about, so when you feel hurt by someone who cares about you, it’s easy to arrive at the conclusion that they don’t care about you anymore; that they are indifferent.  I think apathy is one of the toughest emotions to have to deal with.  When you feel like nobody is paying attention to you, it’s easy to get depressed, and more often than not we react in a way that tries to get us noticed. Usually in not the most healthy way either.  The feelings of hurt may have us thinking that the world is so indifferent to us that our existence does not matter.  Many suicide attempts are simply cries for help from people that do not feel “noticed”.  In some way I think we’d rather somebody hated us than were indifferent to us.  And so it seems sometimes lashing out at someone may simply be a mechanism for being noticed.  If someone is angry at you, it means you matter.  It means that they can at least feel some emotion for you even if it is a negative one.  To reach that point though it is truly sad, because what we usually want is love and compassion, and when we become so desperate that the opposite becomes the next best thing, perhaps then we truly are in the dark.

 

The real problem is that I don’t know a good way out of this behavior.  There are all sorts of clichés and memes, and self-help books that tell us that harming others is never a bona fide way of alleviating our feelings of hurt, but nevertheless we seem to drift towards hurting others who hurt us.  Most of the time we just hurt people in a moment and then we quickly realize what we’ve done and apologize.  Sometimes we feel justified in hurting others for the short-term satisfaction it brings, even though it doesn’t end our suffering over the long-term.  When I look at war torn countries, where so many people have lost loved ones, and you wonder how can they alleviate the hurt that they feel without continuing a cycle of violence and feelings of hatred?  I wonder if this just isn’t a darker part of who we are, and the only thing we can really do for ourselves is to be aware of it, and hope that in the moment we can focus on what will eventually lead to true happiness in the long-term instead of just hurting others, especially those we care about, even if they’ve inflicted pain on us.  Maybe they are just as in the dark as we are.