Memories of Awe Episode 37

As Liz began to wind down her interviews, one phrase kept returning to her. Professor McKown had commented that universities were class conscious but individual blind. She wanted to explore this further.

LJ: What do you mean that universities can be class conscious but individual blind?

KMcK:  We like to promote the idea that we are lifting up those we teach so they can have purposeful lives. But when it comes to individual decisions, our actions sometimes can seem more like the Nazi practice of eugenics.

LJ: That’s a very strong statement.

KMcK:  It is. But I wish you could be a fly on the wall in a faculty meeting and hear the views that are made about students and their intellectual ability. It’s really not that different form how Nazis thought about others.

LJ: Can you give me an example?

KMcK:  Debbie was a bright student who came from a family of modest means. She was able to afford college with the help of scholarships. Everything was going well for her until her junior year.

LJ: What happened?

KMcK:  She failed a class in her major. The professor was notorious for his high failure rate. An F in his class was more the norm. The summer after the class was over Debbie found out that she had breast cancer.

She was treated with radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery. The cancer had gone into remission by the fall so she returned to class. She probably shouldn’t have returned so soon, but she was afraid she would lose her financial aid and scholarships.

She failed all of her classes that semester when the cancer returned after the drop date. We don’t account for individual circumstances in our policies on financial support. That’s my first example of how we treated her with individual blindness.

LJ: I’m afraid to ask about the rest of the story.

KMcK:  She lost her financial support and wasn’t able to return for a year. When she had saved up enough money, she came back. This is the second example of individual blindness. Our college has a rule that you can’t take a class if you failed it twice. Since the course she failed was a required course, she could no longer pursue the major she wanted. She appealed but our Associate Dean would not budge on the enforcement of the policy.

LJ: That’s terrible. I can’t understand that cruelty.

KMcK:  We have administrators who believe that they must protect the purity of the race.

LJ: Please tell me that there is a good ending to the story.

MKcK:  There is. She was able to get a degree in a major for returning students. Then we helped her get a job in her original major. She and her daughter are doing well, and she is still in remission.

LJ: I must say, I thought your comments earlier were too harsh, but I now I completely understand.

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“It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit form continuing their kind… Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (U.S. Supreme Court Justice)

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