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The Joke's on U By: Jon Sanders
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

In the new movie, "Accepted," a group of friends make up their own college after being rejected by real ones. It's a comedy, of course. But the real joke is, our protagonists don't dream up anything for their hoax college that you can't already find in American academe, even in some of the most reputable universities.

Why the ruse? Because their parents believe fervently in the canard that a college degree is the necessary prelude to the Good Life, without bothering to look deeper into any particular academic content. As a father puts it, loudly, in the movie, "Want to have a happy and successful life? Go to college!"


That notion is dispatched by a new report by the Pope Center of Higher Education entitled "The Overselling of Higher Education." In it, Pope Center director George C. Leef writes, "The belief that obtaining a college degree is the only way for young people to find good employment and enjoy a prosperous life is widespread, but mistaken. Having a college degree is neither necessary nor sufficient for success."


On screen, Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long), the comic victim of the canard — exhibiting enough ingenuity to succeed on his own without a college degree — sets up a web site for his "college" and leases a warehouse nearby to fool his parents (with the tuition money they gave him). A web site glitch automatically enrolls anyone who clicks the phony "Apply Now" link, and Gaines finds his college filled with dozens of kids like him.


The hoaxer is suddenly an entrepreneur, and he faces a dilemma uncomfortably close to that faced by real schools. Gaines realizes that the way to satisfy the parents and the kids is to do what real universities do: double-talk the folks, give the kids beer and circus, and everyone's happy.


The Pope Center report put it this way: "The great expansion of higher education has led to an infusion of large numbers of 'disengaged students,' which has a deleterious effect on academic standards. In order to keep such students enrolled, schools have lowered academic standards, inflated grades, and degraded the curriculum."


"We throw a lot of fancy words in front of these kids in the belief that they're going to have a better life," the dean of Gaines' college tells parents. (As if inspired by the University of Colorado's Ethnic Studies Dept.'s choice in Ward Churchill, Gaines' choice to play the role of dean is his friend's crazy uncle.)


At Gaines' university, "the students are the teachers." That would be like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's C-START program (the labored acronym is for Carolina Students Taking Academic Responsibility through Teaching), which has produced student-taught courses on "The Post-Modern Comic Book," "The MTV Generation: Why Do We Want Our MTV?" and "Lobbying for Higher Education" (where students received course credit just by signing the registration form). The University of California at Berkeley's de-Cal program ("Democratic Education at Cal") has featured courses on the TV shows "Sex in the City" and "Seinfeld," hookah smoking, comic books, and male and female sexuality. In 2001, a "Male Sexuality" course involved trips to strip clubs, watching the student instructor engage in sexual intercourse, and orgies at the instructor's house, among other things.


Gaines' students studied such topics as "Slacking 101," "How to Be a Rock Star," "Babe Watching," and "Men: The Weaker Sex." Actual universities carry courses focused on video games, movies, NASCAR, and TV shows such as "The Simpsons" and "SpongeBob SquarePants"; courses on rock & roll and hip-hop; classes in sexuality and pornography; and entire departments devoted to "Women's Studies."


During a "Babe Watching" class, poolside, one of Gaines' students remarks, "I can't believe this is a class!" It's a common sentiment.


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Jon Sanders (jsanders@johnlocke.org) is a research editor at the John Locke Foundation.

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