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Monday, September 22, 2008

Why don't you call me anymore?

When people talk about their formative years, they seldom refer to college. This is interesting because, on the whole, college and a person's first jobs are more formative of the personality they'll go around sporting for the rest of their lives than summer camp in 6th grade or how much time they spent being bored at Grandma's house on a rainy day.

The term Alma mater is used to describe universities. This term means (to embrace all possible meanings of Alma) "beneficent mother." Originally this just meant that you were a suckling at the teat of knowledge, but it's become more true in recent times than it was in 1088 when the phrase was coined.

So the question arises, as it does with all neglected mothers, "Why don't you call me anymore?" Most people spend more time communicating with the people they met in college than the people they met in high school, unless of course they return to their home town after graduation rather than pursuing a career in strange and foreign states. Census numbers show that most people who get married actually met their future spouse in high school or college with that number weighted toward college for professionals.

So given that we've established that college is a major and important part of life, forms relationships which last lifetimes and is responsible for the formation of much of your personality, politics and opinions later in life, why don't you call anymore?

Alumni associations are surprisingly small, and alumni involvement at most universities is reasonably slight - even the donations come from only a small minority of graduates. I'd be interested to hear whether college papers regularly hear from recent graduates who weren't involved in the college paper during school. So what's the deal? Why do people suddenly lose interest in their alma mater after graduation, save on football weekends?

The alumni associations at universities tend to be seen as a sort of good-old-boys network for the rich and famous and for those who were involved in campus governance in their glory years. Mr. Magoo and Mr. Burns in their fur coats with their 1921 pennants. This conception isn't helped by the fact that they charge dues as if they were a country club.

So how do you keep graduated students actually involved in current events at the university? I think the answer is the same way people keep in touch with their college buddies now: over the web. What is necessary is the creation of an entity which describes current events, but not in such a dense stream as the school paper, maintains discussion boards, takes polls regarding public opinion of major campus issues, makes arranging get-togethers easier, etc. Who would do such a thing?

How about the campus yearbook staff? They already have variety, life, politics, fraternity and sorority events, sports and retrospectives; why not have them continue doing this more often than once a year? Publish a digest form of the previous 4 years for graduating seniors, keep in touch with alumni who graduated as many as 4 years before to ask them about how previous events shaped current events. Keeping those graduates in touch with the university and interested in current issues seems like a proper endeavor. More public involvement with and awareness of the campus can never be a bad thing for the students who have to live there for 4 years.

Moreover, such a site, indexed, condensed, summarized by a diligent staff would produce something like an oral history of a campus.

We are living in an age where much of our culture is impermanent. Our media dissolves in under 50 years, our non-vital digital data from only 20 years ago has bit-rotted its way into oblivion, what digital culture existed 20 years ago is now lost forever save in the memories of those who lived it. We are in a time where history is an endangered species. Some things are worth preserving. The Quinn and I took a trip to a few libraries around campus just to find out what the old name for the Murrow Communications Center was before Edward R. Murrow was a pimp. It was surprisingly difficult. Yes, we found out. No, we won't tell you. Consider it an exercise.

I guess my point is that I don't really think that at site like this would be huge or popular, but it might snag that vocal minority who would have something to say about the campus and current events but don't because there is no venue for them to do it and they do not know of an audience who would listen.

I know I probably wouldn't.

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