I live in a library. Not Hodges, which incidentally houses the Hodges fund — one of the largest in the nation for English departments due to the Hodges-Harbrace Handbook.
No. I live in a library of my own making.
I have read hundreds of books, ranging from the classics of literature to the most-cutting edge works in philosophy out today, from Aristotle to Marx, from Xenophon to Zizek. Thanks to this university, I am the beneficiary of millennia of Western knowledge. This is at the expense of taxpayers (for my scholarships) and the federal government (for my loans). But upon exiting the university system, when I no longer study under Ph.D. holders from Yale and instead partake in the newly-diminished economy of America-at-large, will I fondly reflect upon my studies or come to regret them? And if the latter, is such a system good? I think, as I hope you shall agree, the answer is no.
University is the great equalizer. Not only of sordid debt ratios, bless them much, but also of opportunity. Nowhere in the world is there such a nation as ours, which funds everything through debt while at the same time attempting to ensure it doesn't devolve into an oligarchy. We practically invented large-scale monopolies; we also practically invented the demolition of trusts. Where we see injustice and misery, we halt it, fix it, cure it.
We have done so with the arts — I am currently reading Richard Wright's "Black Boy" and recently submitted an article to a subset of the Johns Hopkins University press concerning Wright's "Native Son" — and we have done so with purely economic measures. The GI Bill is one example; the HOPE scholarship is another.
Why, then, the larger distrust of higher education, even within institutions of higher education themselves? Why do I feel that by studying the best minds of American history I ought to feel assaulted by the culture in which we live, where churches reign supreme and university is but an ideological apparatus meant to corrupt the youth? Why have I, a lover of university and all that it stands for, succumbed to the paranoia of the American South?
The answer is fear. I am afraid I will come to regret my studies — because of their economic cost — rather than rejoice in how much I have learned the last four years. I am afraid an entire cohort of graduates will feel the same. I am afraid that, upon entering what is haphazardly called "the real world," people will disabuse us of our love of education and instead place upon us the stigma of entitled youth. I am afraid we will come to agree with going "from pencils to paychecks" without pausing to reflect on whether or not the system, which views us as little more than batteries to be fit into slots, is actually worth maintaining.
The university is the site of cultural rebellion, criticism, revolt, change. If we come to regret our time here, will we enjoy our time anywhere? Et tu, Brute?
But fear has an antidote. Immanuel Kant's tried and true maxim "dare to know" has served to liberate many a student, group or nation. Frantz Fanon's insights into the subordinated psyche have, quite literally, incited riots in the Third World. Nowhere else are these men studied but in the university. This institution, UTK, is one among many that serve to inspire the young, educate them, and equip them with the knowledge necessary to liberate them from their circumstances, whether previous or in the future. It is where revolutions begin and, sometimes, where they end.
Need I fear an upcoming economic pitfall if indeed university convinces me economics is not only a dismal science, but a false one? No.
Jeremy Brunger is a senior in English. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.