Today was the first full day for our new freshmen, the class of 2015, to be on campus. As part of their orientation program (more on this when I am in the mood to be uninvited from any remaining dinner parties out there) they were all escorted by (us) academic advisors to an opening Convocation. The convocation is a chance for the entire class to be together for one of the few times in their career, and they can listen to some platitudes from important members of our campus community. Each year several guest speakers are also invited to provide some remarks, in my view, to provide additional excitement and motivation for our students.
I usually do not go to these with the intention of taking notes. I like to listen to the music and try to feel good about the place I work, even if these very events contribute to the $56,000 per year sticker price. But I was smacked out of my wondering gaze when a prominent speaker gave these remarks. For my sanity and for your own consideration, I am not going to provide any commentary with the exception on one point, nor will I provide names. Here was one of his major points in an opening salvo:
“Fact” 1/3 of the world now lives on less than $2 per day
Our esteemed speaker was trying to explain to us the importance of the purity of the scientific method and facts. Now, of all the “facts” one could cite, I find this an odd choice as an illustration. And in any case, why $2 per day? For decades the standard for misery was $1 per day or even $2 per day. OK, so take the $2 figure as reasonable, which I agree it is, it is obviously going to show a larger number than $1 per day. But what does that snapshot fact tell us. I argue such proud utterances are precisely the antithesis of science. There was plenty of time, given the stuff you will see me quote below, to clarify or place the “fact” in context. Is is supposed to startle us that the world is an awful place? That poverty is widespread? By the end of the post you will know full well what the intention behind that fact presentation was. But how about these two facts:
- Until very recently, virtually the entire planet save a few kings and bishops lived on less than $2 per day.
- In the decade just completed, the world has just experienced … its best decade ever. And this comes on the heels of another half-billion Chinese being freed from extreme poverty in just over a 20 year period. We’re talking incredibly fast gains in living standards and human dignity for something close to one billion human beings.
Scientific method? Facts? And students are expected to come here to develop critical thinking skills. This was a prime example of how uncritical “we” think today. And just think, it would have been a perfect way to show students how to actually deal with “facts” and how they can use a newly developing skill set to understand and place them in proper context. But our dear speaker didn’t have time, because he was busy telling 1200 new freshmen and their parents and advisers that (no more commentary, for obvious reasons):
“the WMD’s were not found” (I may have the exact wording wrong here, I was grabbing for my pen as I started to hear the words WMD utterered) … “Bush’s deadly war was based on fantasies, not facts … and this is the purpose of a liberal education” (wintercow: to prevent the misuse of facts he implied)
“the continuing oppression by the United States and now China” (as the reason for the world’s poverty)
(we) are now causing “death in the name of deficit reduction”
the “world is saturated by prejudiced, hate-mongering conservatives … and our humanity is at risk if intelligence is divorced from … (wintercow: at that point I had dropped my pen and missed the last word … I don’t believe my unfortunate omission deprives you from understanding the comment).
For those of you worried about our youth, consider that virtually half of the students in the auditorium were playing cards and other games on their smart phones during this enlightening speech. Adios and good night!