Can We Hold This Meeting Outside?

Provost John Etchemendy good-naturedly poked fun at student’s usual calls for outside classes during today’s Faculty Senate meeting.  It was indeed a lovely day and his remark was a welcomed moment of relief amidst discussion of the failing humanities, the fantastically successful GSB and the overall decline of student mental health.

President Hennessy opened the meeting with the dire news that the humanities are, indeed, on the brink of (self?) destruction.  He spoke mainly to reassure his colleagues that he was aware of the problem and that he is in the midst of many conversations regarding this issue.  He mentioned the rethinking of IHUM, the success of SLE, how to attract more students to traditional liberal arts degrees, and how to prepare PhD students for a wider range of careers – for jobs (wait for it) *outside *of academia.  His words, not mine.  These are all fine ideas, no solutions were attempted but I assume that it will take more than a two hour meeting to save Aristotle and Dante.  In the meantime English, Languages, Classics, History, Philosophy, and all those other departments we’re never sure if we should include or not in the category, hang tight – you are beautiful, and a really cool guy once said “Beauty will save the world.”  I believe him most of the time.

Next: The Dean of GSB, Garth Saloner, gives a snazzy presentation about why his school is the best, and to be honest, I was almost convinced.  And then I remembered the Nike swooshes on the GSB mortarboards at graduation a few years ago and my doubts returned.  Nevertheless GSB is thriving, it is small compared to other business schools, it is highly selective, and the students just got a whole new set of buildings!  Lucky bums.

The meeting closed on a positive note with a discussion of mental health among students.  The bottom line: things could be better.  The phrase “duck syndrome” was thrown around quite a bit and although it is a clever metaphor, sometimes we say it with hint of pride, with a glimmer of self-satisfaction.  We’ve embraced the duck syndrome, we’ve romanticized it  – we all must be involved in countless activities, groups, clubs, brilliant in the classroom, happy in our dorms to truly live the Stanford experience.  But I was struck by a remark that students really just want to have meaningful conversations, to truly talk about the meaning of life, to ponder existence, to question why they are here.  “Talk deeply, be happy”, to quote the New York Times.  Roll your eyes all you want (I’m doing it too), but you know that after watching *Garden State *(it’s so college, admit it) you thought about your life for a moment and maybe you screamed when the characters screamed and you thought about ” exploring the infinite abyss” –  not as much as Zach Braff did, but almost.

In short (or in long) the humanities are struggling, GSB is not, and to all the ducks out there: multitasking is a lie.  Now let’s all go outside and enjoy the weather “just so we can stick it to those people on the East Coast and in the Midwest” – an actual response to Provost Etchemendy’s request.

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