Safe Sex

There are five frequently told lies on university campuses, unwittingly believed by too many.

Lie Number One: There is safe sex.

Safe sex according to WebMD is no sex at all: The safest occurs between a husband and wife in a drug-free, lifelong, monogamous relationship.  The concept that a condom provides safety is wrong from a number of perspectives.  A materials scientist in any reputable College of Engineering will tell you that a film of 0.015 mm thickness provides scant protection, especially considering pores in rubber exist and occasionally provide spaces that very small viruses might pass through, and it only takes one.  While .015mm is thin, and imperfect, that is only part of the story.  In the sociology department, the social/economic burdens of fatherless and/or motherless child rearing will be widely understood.  The psychology department could enumerate the emotional costs of “one night stands”, and “hook-ups” at the bar.  The heaviest burdens fall to women, but men carry the results of socially and personally irresponsible behavior too. Sometimes until they die.  Safe sex is a lie outside of a marriage, on- or off-campus, for better or worse.  Condom distribution tables in student centers don’t create safety no matter what a committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Lie Number Two: We can conduct business as usual.

Universities are in the midst of dramatic change. Free community colleges will impact all but the elite universities in our nation. If “free” translates into bachelor degrees granted by community colleges, California’s recent decision has “Richter Scale” impacts rippling out to every university in the land.  Conversely if a “free first two years” works at community colleges, the logical extension to a free first two years at every state university follows — a step of about 0.015 mm.  Public education has produced phenomenal results in empowering our nation of immigrants, especially their offspring, after the turn of the 20th century, and the baby boomers after the century’s midpoint, but from its inception education has never been “free.”   This progress occurred in a social, political, and cultural environment that no longer exists. Universities should mindfully approach changing norms, demographics, and evolving expectations of, by, and for students.

Lie Number Three:  “A” means excellent and “B” means good. 

The most commonly given grade at Harvard is an “A.”  The Department of Educational Psychology or the faculty senate will “crawfish” all over this.  (“Crawfish” is a Louisiana idiom that means vacillate, be indecisive, and walk backwards like a crawfish.) Of course there are too many “A’s”.  Who wants to be the “bad guy” to the student? Students fill out perceptions of teaching quality surveys that impact tenure and promotion decisions.  Student perceptions turn, to the detriment of all, into customer satisfaction surveys.   Go to any department of Institutional Research on any university campus and ask to see grade distribution records.  With alarming frequency four of five grades given are “A” or “B”, with the preponderance being “A”s.  When a student brings home an “A” it may not mean much.  In this case the difference between “State U” and Harvard is about 0.015mm.

Lie Number Four:  Committees make the best decisions.

In any environment other than a constitutional republic that selects leaders with a committee of the whole through a popular vote — a frequently imperfect exercise but the best available — committees should never decide anything. They should be convened for input and perspective constantly, but they should never make “the” decision. In human relations, the exchange of favors by various interest groups causes constituency groups to look after and barter group interests.  Too often presidents and CEOs look after self-interest:  It is the nature of the human organization and the human organism. Moreover, committees eradicate personal responsibility. All lament the imperfection of the process but argue that the art of compromise produces intelligent decisions.  The real result is perfected blamelessness.  The difference between a committee decision and the decision of a leader committed to an organization’s purpose is frequently more like 15 m, rather than 0.015 mm.  The leader must be responsible for the considerable difference of 14,999.985 mm.  And real leaders won’t blame subordinates or committees.

Lie Number Five:  The Whopper — A degree is a meal ticket.

The number of unemployed degree-holding college graduates has increased markedly over the last quarter century.  In 1990, slightly over 5% of college graduates were unemployed and now it’s over 8.5%.  Small differences?  Not for the 3.5%. Under-employment in 1994 for recent college graduates was just over 40% and now, it is near 50%. A diploma is not a meal ticket or a guarantee, but too often a false hope perpetuated in a way that deceives people into borrowing excessive sums on wisps of hope for careers that don’t exist or won’t pay the notes.  In New York 18% of the cabbies have a college degree, up from 1% a few decades ago.  A college education is powerful to be sure.  This particular lie is so damnable precisely because at first glance it’s too close to the truth about the college experience.  The purported and real value is about 0.015mm apart, but it might as well be a mile.

Of course a college education has great worth, especially when it satisfies legitimate intellectual curiosity and builds critical skills.  To be sure, a college degree will provide excellent possibilities for employment, especially if it educates people for occupations of national or local need, or adequately prepares students for graduate or professional study.  Without a doubt, a college education paid for when attained is an excellent investment, but when compared to lost opportunity costs and hyped hope a poorly conceived, responsibility-free ride for four years on a borrowed nickel, it is not a boom, but a bust.

Like safe sex.