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Friday, October 20, 2006

The conspiracy against library culture (no Strauss involved)

It's probably inaccurate and unfair to chalk up all the social and structural "reforms" at this school to the administration's subversive effort to remake the U of C in the image of Northwestern and Columbia and other such "cool" schools. There probably is no conspiracy to oppress the nerds here, to marginalize imbalanced, socially inept devotees of the classics and theoretical physics through a hegemonic discourse of "well-roundedness" and "social engagement" and, worst of all, "fun." No, it's probably all a product of my overly suspicious imagination. It's probably just a coincidence that, the same year that our US News ranking skyrockets, THE OVERNIGHT STUDY SPACE IN THE REG IS SHUT DOWN FOREVER!* Just blind luck that, at the same time as the number of trendy RSOs and university-run social events rise, THE COMFY CHAIRS AND HEATING DISAPPEAR FROM HARPER LIBRARY! Oh, it's all just a random confluence of events, I'm sure! It's not a targeted effort by the University puppeteers to eradicate Chicago's deeply entrenched and crucially important library culture!

Julia and Alex think "library culture" is a misnomer, but I think it fairly describes the results of the library's being the center of social and academic life at the U of C. For many students, including Miss Self-Important, whose opinions count double, the library is a second home. Its versatility allows one to eat (ex Libris), sleep (everywhere), read (books), write (MacLab and USITE), study (everywhere), socialize (A-Level), date (4th floor), hook up (stacks), etc. And, given the convenient proximity of BartMart, Bartlett, and the Reynold's Club, one may even "go out" in the evenings for a change of scenery. Entire lives could be (and probably are) lived in the Reg! Imagine what effect it has on the student body when studying becomes the conduit for all other experiences. That is the essence of library culture, as a Maroon article lamenting the closing of the A-level, notes: "The A-level had a certain mystique among late-night studiers, attracting students who never left Regenstein as well as those who rarely opened their books." Everyone knows that after 5 pm, the Reg becomes the pulse of the university. And Harper--the prime destination (along with the McCormick Lounge, now also conspicuously devoid of comfy seating) for a between-class on-campus nap. The cozy temperatures and soft recliners that would lull even the most determined reader straight to sleep--no more. Now it's an uncomfortable freezer designed to make Harper sojourns as short as possible. No more napping in public places! says the U of C.

Why all these sweeping changes? Because library culture is not good for recruitment. Imagine telling a promising high school senior that if he comes here--oh boy!--he can expect to spend all his waking hours in or around the library, that everyone does it, that this will be fun and satisfying and worth his while. No, if we want to steal some of Northwestern's matriculants, we need to direct people to more "healthy" destinations in the evenings and deprogram their instinctive library drives. As if. It's a conspiracy and everyone knows it. No one's going to go to this mythical "Crerar" place. They're just going to go home and be normal. LAME. (Moreover, in order for us to be able to go home and be normal, we'd need to be assigned less work. Has anyone informed professors of this situation?)

*Actually, it's only closed until 2009 or 2010 or something, but let's be real. That's a whole generation at a university. A whole generation who will never know the agonies and joys of staying up until 4 am in the basement of the Reg during finals week, surrounded by rank B.O. and coffee cups and annoying, obnoxious frat boys and sorority girls who dress up for the occasion of studying all night. A whole generation who will never have to strip naked in the MacLab computer oven in order to escape ashyxiation. A whole generation who will never associate the library with overdosing, undersleeping, and the general epicenter of their social lives. Anyone who has ever read a dystopian novel knows that when you want to erase communal memories in a society and alter its behavior, the place to start is with the children. Once the memory of A-level life is erased, its re-opening will be meaningless! Student consciousness will be altered such that the significance of the space will be gone! This is the end of an era! Plus, where the fuck am I supposed to study now?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Work perks

It is the rare job in which one finds out both Slavoj Zizek's and J.M. Coetzee's home addresses in the same day.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The future, part #164: The GDP of my life

I had a meeting with my advisor today. I was told I have to think about the future. I've been told this at every meeting with my advisor since the winter quarter of first year, but it gets me every time. Today, it got me while I was reading about the calculation of GDP, and produced the following speculation about the GDP of my future, based on chapter 5 of the sixth edition of Michael Parkin's Macroeconomics.

Let's begin with the economic premise that income equals expenditure equals GDP. In the future, I need to make money. Lots of money. Either that, or prestige. Lots of prestige. Currently, the equation worked out in my mind is that my net income (Y) and net prestige (P) need to equal the total cost of inputs that went into my bachelor's degree (D). Thus, Y + P = D. D is the sum of such factors as cost of tuition (very high), effort expended on coursework (never enough, but still a lot), effort expended on extracurriculars, employment, and summer resume-enhancement bullshit (a lot). Thus, D = T + C + BS.

The measure of income is pretty self-explanatory. Prestige is more complex. It is measured partially relative to the futures of my classmates. This is the CPI--the classmate prestige index--an average of the possibilities available to people in a position similar to mine (U of C grads, good students, low social skills, etc.). So if my classmates are Rhodes Scholars or making $80,000 starting salaries at JP Morgan, and I am working at Border's, then my P-result will be pretty low, indicating that I failed to take advantage of the opportunities available to me this year and that Y + P < B. Especially if the i-banker making $80,000 was, like, a total moron. Part of the P-measure is in absolute terms--publishing a book is good, even if no one else is doing it. Border's is bad, even if everyone else is doing it (though if that were the case, it would probably mean that the economy had collapsed and/or everyone had lost their minds, thereby negating the usefulness of this personal GDP calculator). Grad school is good, but only a good school in a real program in which I would be doing well. Ed.D's at Northeastern Illinois don't count. Because of some property of addition I have long since forgotten, I can earn a low income, but still balance the equation if prestige is high, and vice versa.

Even accounting for such issues as personal perspective parity (relative differences in my classmates' ideas of how successful they are) and depreciation (prestige is deflated in fields to which all graduates flock, like i-banking and medicine), our formula for GDP is still inaccurate and not necessarily representative of what my textbook calls "economic quality," but which, for our purposes will be referred to as "happiness." Mitigating factors not accounted for in our GDP calculation like household production (marriage and the making of rugrats), environment (location of residence), leisure (self-explanatory), underground production (whether or not I ever finish my novel), and social justice (this is a broad category encompassing the many things that piss me off in everyday life) can also affect my future quality of life.

The conclusion? In order for Y + P to equal B, I need to make more than $60,000 a year in a mind-sucking job, or more than $30,000 in a relatively prestigious job, or have no income to speak of, but get a PhD from Yale.

See, economics is doubly useful for life.