22.2.14

GET TO THE ROOT CAUSE.

Caitlin Flanagan has a long essay, "The Dark Power of Fraternities," up at The Atlantic.

Spend a few minutes noodling around the internet, you'll find plenty on the pervasiveness of fraternity culture on Wall Street or in government or in the local Rotary Club.  Buried in the longish article, though, is recognition that the Greek-letter organizations are part of the lowering of higher education.
It could never attract hundreds of thousands of them each year—many of them woefully unprepared for the experience, a staggering number (some 40 percent) destined never to get a degree, more than 60 percent of them saddled with student loans that they very well may carry with them to their deathbeds—if the experience were not accurately marketed as a blast. They show up on campus lugging enormous Bed Bath & Beyond bags crammed with “essentials,” and with new laptop computers, on which they will surf Facebook and Tumblr while some coot down at the lectern bangs on about Maslow’s hierarchy and tries to make his PowerPoint slides appear right side up. Many of these consumer goods have been purchased with money from the very student loans that will haunt them for so long, but no matter: it’s college; any cost can be justified. The kids arrive eager to hurl themselves upon the pasta bars and the climbing walls, to splash into the 12-person Jacuzzis and lounge around the outdoor fire pits, all of which have been constructed in a blatant effort to woo them away from competitors.
For years, I have been of the view that the way for higher education to cope with austerity and downsizing is to raise standards and enroll fewer students.  The Greek-letter organizations are complicit in the sub-priming of higher education.
Furthermore, fraternities provide colleges with unlimited social programming of a kind that is highly attractive to legions of potential students, most of whom are not applying to ivy-covered rejection factories, but rather to vast public institutions and obscure private colleges that are desperate for students. When Mom is trying—against all better judgment—to persuade lackluster Joe Jr. to go to college, she gets a huge assist when she drives him over to State and he gets an eyeful of frat row. Joe Jr. may be slow to grasp even the most elemental concepts of math and English (his first two years of expensive college study will largely be spent in remediation of the subjects he should have learned, for free, in high school), but one look at the Fiji house and he gets the message: kids are getting laid here; kids are having fun. Maybe he ought to snuff out the joint and take a second look at that application Mom keeps pushing across the kitchen table.
Tighter standards: fewer frats, less work for student life or remediation or the disciplinary boards that remain, although the damage of the late Sixties is entrenched even there.
If something as fundamentally reactionary as fraternity membership was going to replace something as fundamentally radical as student unrest, it would need to align itself with someone whose bona fides among young, white, middle-class males were unassailable. In this newly forming culture, the drugs and personal liberation of the ’60s would be paired with the self-serving materialism of the ’80s, all of which made partying for its own sake—and not as a philosophical adjunct to solving some complicated problem in Southeast Asia—a righteous activity for the pampered young collegian. Fraternity life was reborn with a vengeance.

It was an entirely new kind of student who arrived at the doors of those great and crumbling mansions: at once deeply attracted to the ceremony and formality of fraternity life and yet utterly transformed by the social revolutions of the past decades. These new members and their countless guests brought with them hard drugs, new and ever-developing sexual attitudes, and a stunningly high tolerance for squalor (never had middle- and upper-middle-class American young people lived in such filth as did ’60s and ’70s college kids who were intent on rejecting their parents’ bourgeois ways).
What was I saying about the folly of using "bourgeois" as a pejorative?

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