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Priced Higher Education - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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Priced Higher Education

There was a major local event in Ithaca this weekend: the independent Cornell student radio station, WVBR, formally dedicated its new Collegetown home, successor to a fairly old and ugly Linden Avenue location, to be known as the Olbermann-Corneliess Studios. The major donor for the project was Keith Olbermann, a 1979 Cornell graduate (much as it pisses off Ann Coulter to share an alma mater with him) and perhaps the station's most famous alum, but the naming is in honor of Keith's late father, and for Glenn Corneliess, another VBR alum of Keith's era who died not too long and way too soon ago.

In that era, I was part of another fiercely independent home of student media- The Cornell Daily Sun. We also had an older, if not quite as ugly, off-campus home- ours even offer-campus, down the hill on the downtown Commons.  The Sun was so determined to maintain independence, it refused to register as an official student organization with the Dean of Students' Office; when on-campus meeting rooms were needed in my day, they were signed out by the "officers" of a very ephemeral "student organization" named "Hal's Pals," listed as a "fan club" (fans, I would later learn, of the best damn kosher deli north of Katz's, where we often ate during nightly work sessions).  The two media groups competed, to be sure- I even knew Keith a little, finding him a bit bombastic even then- and I got rather tired of the on-air reporters cramming forward with their microphones- but our newsgathering efforts and theirs were both equally determined to get and promulgate the truth.

The Sun has also moved from those old-timey quarters, to a building it now owns, an effort likewise funded largely by its own alumni.  Seeing the notices I get as a Sun alum, and the smiling faces at the new VBR studios this past weekend on various friends' pages, got me wondering about a fundamental question:

What of real value, exactly, did our presitigious university actually teach us?

Don't get me wrong: I had good professors. I was an English major, and for most of my final two years I was mostly in very small, focused and thoughtful classes with kind and often inspired faculty.  Yet I learned so much more down the hill, off the credit hours, and entirely for free. I suspect KO and many of my friends-from-then at VBR would say the same thing.

So what does the whole degree on the wall amount to? Not much more than the SAT that preceded it or the law school education that, in my case, followed it. It's a predictor, and a gatekeeper- nothing more, nothing less.  Only over the past 30 years since I exited the ivory towers, it's become far more stratified and incredibly more expensive. With a single stroke of an electronic pen in 2010, I reacquired the entire amount of student loan indebtedness I'd piled up over seven years in Ithaca and Buffalo- and that stroke has now struck three more times since then. Yes, Emily is getting good hands-on experience from it, but a lot of those funds are actually funding infrastructure she will never use, academic materials she will never open, and administrators she will never get a straight answer out of (not for lack of trying on more than one occasion).

At least the independence of media like The Sun and WVBR are still there to keep those administrators in line, and their often foolish decisions about infrastructure and materials out in the open.  That's becoming a harder and harder thing to do these days- the building dedication this year coincided with "Sunshine Week"- an organized effort by media to honor and preserve the public's right to know the goings-on of government. This piece from yesterday's paper here started with this stupid yet scary illustration of what my successors in the news business are now up against:

When the Valley Journals of Riverton, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, wanted to know the time of the town’s 2012 Easter egg hunt, they couldn’t find out. The city barred the parks official from speaking to reporters without permission, and nothing, not even the Second Coming, would pry that information loose.

That's an all-too-common reaction(ary) move by governments at all levels. Nobody speaks for the City of Buffalo except the Mayor's official mouthpiece, nor anyone for the Buffalo Police except theirs (a former TV sports reporter once derisively known as Mike "Boy" DeGeorge). Employees can be fired for telling the truth, and are given an ironclad excuse for not telling it on account of these gag-order policies.  Part of our journalistic training back in those days was to crack these barriers, but this almost vampire-like fear of sunshine on public facts makes that kind of effort dangerously more difficult now.

Not that it will ever stop the likes of Ithaca's Only Morning Newspaper or of All Day Music- or whatever they're calling themselves these days;)

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glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: March 17th, 2014 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Journalism has been, and will continue to be, built on relationships with news sources. And brass balls. The initial cold and abrupt turn-down is where many such relationships begin. A worthy journalist presses on and, after a while, familiarity can breed actual news.

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