A disturbing side effect of the current budget crisis has started to hit home: I see news about other colleges' struggles and I secretly wonder how their pain can become our profit. For-profit schools going out of business? Colleges getting bad press because of cuts or scandals? Embattled schools cutting programs? Maybe we can snag some of their castoff students!
I hate myself every time such a thought comes into my head. When did a devotion to the life of the mind start to feel like all-out war, like a winner-take-all battle to the death? When this kind of cutthroat thinking takes over, I fear that the biggest casualty will be the quality of the education we offer and students will become collateral damage.
One response would be to turn my back on the battlefield, retreat to the ivory tower, and wall myself in with my books and my students, stuffing wax in my ears to drown out the battle sounds in the background. But the ivory tower was never real--it's a metaphor, just like the battlefield (or, for that matter, "the life of the mind"). I'm not inhabiting a fairy tale or a metaphor or a nebulous concept; I'm teaching real students in a real world that sometimes gets a little messy and contentious, and if my world feels a little less stable than it once did, that's no excuse for passing that discomfort on to students or rejoicing in others' suffering.
If we're all in the same boat, I think we're gonna need a bigger metaphor.