Posts Tagged ‘College’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The Spring of 1998.  Good times.  I was a fourth year college student at Michigan State. I was 21 years old. I was dating my future wife. My biggest concern was where I should go to graduate school.  Oh, and I had a cushy job in what was known as the MSU Microbiology Store.  For about 9 bucks an hour, I and a couple co-workers made sure


Giltner Hall – Where the Microbiology Store was located

the Microbiology labs had enough supplies for…well, whatever Microbiology labs did.  It was quite easy, and I had a great deal of free time to study and keep up a nice solid GPA.

One day in late April, I came into the ‘office’ as my two coworkers were looking at The State News.  The student newspaper had a small story buried deep inside that had some bad news for a great number of students and alums.  The Board and President of the University had decided to disallow alcohol consumption on Munn Field, specifically during football tailgating.  I just shrugged off this story.  But, for my co-worker Adam this news was troubling.  You see, Adam (I can’t even remember his last name) wanted to be a politician. He was soon to graduate and was headed to DC to start graduate studies in Political Science.  Adam read this news as a 22 year old defender of democracy. He felt that the powers that be had passed this measure at the end of the school year specifically to avoid student input regarding the decision.  Adam believed this was unjust, and authoritarian.  He felt something needed to be done.

He decided to call for a protest rally.

Let me just stop for an aside. This was 1998. How do you get the word out about a SNlogoprotest to the community? There was only one week before finals started.  You couldn’t get that story to the student paper in time. The 50,000 students attending MSU would be home for the summer by the time The State News picked it up. Picket lines?  Flyers on campus?  None of these methods were going to have much effect.

Adam decided he was going to spread the word to a small group of students via email.  At that time, MSU had it’s own closed email server only for the campus population.  Adam, and my other co-worker Deborah, sent out their carefully crafted message ringing the tocsin. The initial message went out from two student email accounts to twenty friends in total.  One week from that day (a Friday) there would be a small protest on Munn Field.

The following Tuesday I headed to my political philosophy course. The course had roughly 90-100 students. As with most classes at MSU, I did not know a single person in the class.  As I sat down about 10 minutes before the class started, I heard a couple sorority girls next to me having a heated discussion. These girls said, ‘So, are you going to the protest at Munn Field Friday? My whole house (sorority) is going’!

Oh…my…God! Strangers were discussing the protest. How did they find out? That day, I went into work after class and told Adam. He had heard other people discussing it al well. The word was getting around, and Adam had lost control of the information. Friday’s planned protest  went from being a small hand-chosen meeting to being….well, we didn’t know what.

drinkingguidejpg-5fcad23e6601a3abThe Friday of the protest was cold and rainy.  As 7pm grew nearer, I was getting more and more nervous.  A couple friends and I decided we needed to trek over to Munn Field to see what was going to happen.  A couple days earlier, the Administration learned of the protest. The University wanted to put a stop to it.  The campus police took out an ad in The State News that warned about consequences for students ‘trespassing’ on Munn Field. Things were getting serious.  Walking over that Friday, I quickly realized thousands of others were heading out to do the same thing as me and my friends. The protest was no more. Now, it was just a gathering.

When I got to the field, a large crowd of students had already formed.  The police had fenced off the field with ‘No Trepassing’ signs. On the other side of the field, local police were lined up in their cars.  It wasn’t just a couple cops; police were out in force.  Of course, many students had already been drinking and it only took one student to climb the fence. A shirtless guy made the leap, ran out onto Munn Field and started to dive in the mud. Others followed. A couple guys started to throw a football around.  The police weren’t sure what to do.  As they started to move on the field, the students who had ‘trespassed’ jumped back into the big crowd of students outside the fence and disappeared.  It seemed the crowd might disperse.  Then, someone yelled that the crowd should march on the President’s house.  Sure, why not? Hundreds of students started to march.

At this point, I was done.  This was going nowhere. It was quickly turning into a waste of time. It was more of a roving party than a protest. I went back to my dorm room to get ready for finals on Monday. But, as I sat in my room, I could see police lights outside. Students were running down the halls of my dorm shouting.  Something big was happening out in the streets. Friends started to call me to give me updates. I heard the words ‘fires in the street’, ‘riot gear’ and ‘tear gas’.  No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening.  Finally, at midnight, I had to go outside and see for myself.  It was madness. A major bonfire had been lit in the middle of Grand River Avenue.   Police were in riot gear. Tear gas was in the air. My eyes starting watering and my throat was closing up.  There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t going to get involved. I marched back inside my dorm and went to bed.

The events of the previous evening filled the newspapers the next day.  Amazingly, it wasn’t just the local media.  National organizations started to pick up the story. MSU students had ‘rioted’ for the freedom to drink beer!  A bunch of drunk idiots were shown burning couches and breaking windows. It was an embarrassment.

Adam hoped to change the University’s political methods. He wanted to give students a stronger voice. He hoped for a powerful display of direct democracy. Unfortunately, his protest turned into a farce.

This story flooded back to me recently for an interesting reason. I have been reading a good deal about social media lately as I begin preparations for a new ‘History of Social Media’ course at RMU.  The other day, I was speaking to a colleague at RMU who has a couple kids in college. We were discussing drinking and the college life, when I began to retell the above story.  But, as I told it I had a revelation.  Those of us who lived through that night at MSU, and the news media that covered the story,  missed the most revolutionary angle of the event. Nineteen years removed, this story is not about drinking, beer or riots; this story is about the viral nature of social media!

When Adam and Deborah wrote to their 20 friends on email, they had no idea what they were doing.  They believed they were inviting a handful of well versed, intelligent and serious students to make a show of structured resistance. In fact, they provided the university with a first taste of the Internet’s power.  Within a week, that email message did what viral information does; it spread exponentially.  It was a glimpse of our future. Twenty years on, and I realize that Adam’s protest did change the world.


by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

It’s graduation season. I’ll be fulfilling one aspect of my duties as faculty by attending RMU’s commencement ceremony on June 6, 2014. GraduationRMU

I find commencement speeches utterly fascinating and ceaselessly inspiring, so too do the people at NPR, who recently published a list of 300 speeches going all the way back to 1774 under the auspicious title The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever, and I tend to believe them. I’ll be listening with rapt attention to many on this list.

My list is less ambitious: JK Rowling at Harvard in 2008; Steve Jobs at Stanford in 2005; David Foster Wallace at Kenyon in 2005, and I am certain (without even looking) that my favorite commencement addresses are considered among the ones designated by NPR as “Best, Ever.”

One of the best ways to annoy my students is require them to invite them to listen to a commencement address; they are not as fond of the form as I am. Fortunately, I enjoy tormenting my students with a relentless onslaught of profound ideas.

I share these speeches with my students with the ideal outcome of a rousing discussion about the implications of the advice shared and the insights offered. As is true of so many things, this lesson is more successful in theory than in practice. Nevertheless, I persevere. Perhaps they’ll thank me someday, perhaps not.

JK Rowling’s terrific address overflows with her lovely, self-effacing, dry British humor, but the heart-wrenching sadness at the core of the imaginative process is the true revelation.

“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”

Steve Jobs offers a poignant discussion of his own experiences as a college drop out. His decision to audit classes just because he wanted to learn helps students understand that learning is a lifelong process, and while learning can be formal, it is just as often not.

“The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting. . . Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class. . . It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.”

EinsteinThe joys and rewards of disinterested learning are made evident though Jobs’ tireless dive to produce technology innovation that is useful and beautiful.

David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” overflows with brilliance, thanks to his intellectual virtuosity. He analyzes and dissects and constructs and destructs ideas like a hyper-cerebral Bruce Lee. His speech provides an unflinching description of the effort involved in “living a compassionate life,”

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

Negotiating life is an arduous journey, slowed by frequent stumbling.

Simon Peres, The President of Israel, was the commencement speaker at my undergraduate graduation from The Ohio State University; I can’t remember a single word. I’m sure he said extraordinary things, but I was not yet ready to listen.

When I attended my friend Michele’s graduation ceremony at Ohio State in 2001 (she graduated six years after I did), Bill Cosby was the featured speaker. Cosby’s address was funny and wise, and I remember it quite well.

He told the story of his first visit home after starting college. Like every other college freshman, he was flush with the special (and fleeting) pride of being the burgeoning intellectual, eager to display his prowess. He told his grandmother he had been studying philosophy.


He explained, “Depending on perception, meaning fluctuates, resulting in profound uncertainty. For example, is that glass half empty or half full?”

Cosby’s grandmother dismissed his nonsense with an absolutely perfect retort, “Why, it depends if you are drinking or pouring.”

There are lessons to be learned in each moment, which is why wisdom can increase with age; we learn over time just how little we know.

Thus, we must resist the temptation to dazzled by our own intelligence or fooled by a seductive illusion, hoping, at best, we can make good choices, and that our mistakes will be forgiven.






By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

Here is the dark secret of the crisis in higher education: many students just don’t put forth the effort required to succeed.

Writing the above makes me a little nervous, mostly because implying that students are anything but ideal causes concern, raises Imageeyebrows, suggests insensitivity. Often at the end of the term, professors are asked to explain why a certain percentage of students failed to successfully complete the class. The reasons are contained in this post. In fifteen years as a college instructor, I have never failed a student who did the work and came to class. Never. Success and failure is the direct result of student work. If I sound frustrated, it is because I am. The 21st century world requires a complex network of knowledge and skills, and too many students are failing behind of their own volition.

There are critical skills for success in academic life, and all professors routinely attempt to impress upon their students the vital behaviors for scholastic achievement. Recently, I created a “Student Empowerment Treatise” that I distribute and discuss at the beginning of the term in all my classes. Item #2 reads, “I understand that if I fulfill the required assignments and attend and participate in class, I can expect to earn a C or better in class.” Therein lays the mystery of success: show up and do the work.

I can encourage students to wake up in the morning, but they themselves must use their own power to get out of bed, and undertake whatever it is they hope to accomplish. I want my students to learn, but they alone must do the work of learning.

Attending class

I was fortunate that when I went off to college, I had six older siblings who shared with me the paramount importance of going to class. Students who attend class regularly succeed at a much higher rate. Also, it is likely that if students come to class, they actually might learn something interesting, or meet someone exciting, or hear about an event on campus, or any other wonderful occurrence that is directly tied to actively engaging in education.

 Focusing in class

Many of my more generous colleagues will blame themselves for students’ inattention, striving to be more charming or inventive. I strive to be entertaining and student-centered, but the notion that learning can always be fun is simply ridiculous. Learning is complicated, and frequently arduous. Granted, it is hard to pay attention, but accomplishing anything requires focus. Even doing the dishes entails addressing the nature and scope of the task at hand. When a student forces himself or herself to pay attention to what is going on in the lecture, the text, or the discussion, he or she is exerting the self-discipline necessary to realizing any goal.

Completing course work

These are the smaller tasks that involve the practice of skills associated with a subject or discipline. These are assignments for whichImage a student can earn 100% just for completing the work. The work need not be perfect or completely correct. It just needs to be done. Each week, there are typically short readings assigned, Discussion Board posts related to readings, and in-class written responses on a variety of topics, either covered in lectures or other content areas. If I did the statistical analysis of the percentage of students who actually accomplish these weekly tasks, it would be horrifying.

Submitting projects on time

Each term, a few large projects are assigned per course. The nature of these projects depends on the class, but all courses require larger, more polished work that illustrates an advanced understanding of central skills and concepts. For example, HUM 120 (Introduction to Literature), consists of three course sections: poetry, short fiction, and drama. Each segment of the course culminates in an essay, exam, or presentation. I do not take late work (unless there is a documented illness) mostly because it would devastate my own grading schedule to let students submit work whenever they wish to do so. To those students who protest that they have paid for the class and should be able to submit late work, I remind them that simply purchasing a plane ticket does not guarantee the plane won’t leave without them if they fail to show up on time. Deadlines are a part of every endeavor, and time management is expected in every professional field.

Using available resources

There are scores of people working at every college in the United States whose job it is to help students in every possible way. There are tutors, administrators, librarians, advisors, counselors, coaches, and professors who are present throughout the week for consultation. Students who utilize the available resources quickly learn that spending thirty minutes with any one of these mentors can radically improve their understanding. I wish more students utilized support services.

Persevering, even when faced with difficult challenges and unthinkable obstacles

Students face day-to-day struggles that make completing studies extremely difficult, which is always the case for everyone. Every student endures a unique set of hardships. College graduates are those individuals who found the power within to complete coursework despite the overwhelming challenges that are a part of life.

I’ve Been There; I’m Still Here

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I learned to practice the behaviors associated with scholastic advancement. I was not a perfect student; I struggled in many classes; I earned bad grades; I went to tutoring. All of my skills improved with time. My academic performance developed as my professors continually pressured me to create meaningful work. I hope my current work in the classroom serves the same fundamental purpose. I do not expect my students to be perfect learners. However, I hope my students begin to achieve their highest potential through consistent and significant effort.

As long as I am teaching, I will continue to require the practice of the fundamentals of academic success in the hopes that students are listening. There are two more ideas I share with my students on the first day of class.

I tell them, “I want you to thrive.”

I also entreat them to stop considering higher education something they buy; a product-based description is scarcely useful. I do not want them to invest in an education.

I say, “Invest in Yourself.”