The University of Tomorrow is Today

Perusall is a “digital learning platform” that allows students to “share” marginalia from the virtual margins of their virtual textbooks.  Thus, a student can peruse not only the textbook, but also his peer’s paratext of questions, reflections and objections.  Perusall also allows students to see the passages that their peers have highlighted, a feature that suggests Perusenomore might have been a more appropriate name.  To peruse is to read closely, and this feature clearly permits lazy students to skim the text by skipping from one peer-highlighted passage to the next.

It is often beneficial to discuss a book after you have read it, but reading should be a private activity.  A student should first wrestle with the author alone, and only then inquire how his classmates fared when they were likewise wrestling.  By turning reading into a social activity, Perusall will obviously enforce intellectual conformity through peer pressure. Eccentric and deviant readers will be corrected the instant they stray from the beaten trail of the class consensus, and those who persist in their eccentricity and deviance will of course leave a permanent record of their problematic highlights and offensive marginalia.

We are told that people have been fired because a photograph revealed a problematic or offensive title in their bookcase.  Imagine if a hostile heresy-sniffer could digitally search every underline and annotation you have made since you first learned to read with a pencil in one hand.  People have been fired for “liking” a Tweet.  Soon they will be fired for highlighting a sentence or placing a question mark against a line.  Perusall means peruseyou.

* * * * *

An archivist cannot save everything, and cultural prejudices influence the way archived material is catalogued and stored, so a collection of documents is always in some degree an interpretation of those documents.  The fact that a dead man’s letters have been saved suggests that there was something special about the dead man, as does the fact that they are filed under his name.  But in spite of all this, the primary mission of an archivist was until recently the preservation and efficient retrieval of documents.  It was not the archivist’s place to tell a scholar what a document meant before the scholar had chance to read the document.

This has changed because we now have social justice archivists.  Their primary mission is to preserve documents as evidence of racism and sexism in a way that clearly identifies the documents as evidence of such.  Thus, an old yearbook photograph of students in blackface is no longer open to interpretation, but comes pre-interpreted as evidence of a past crime.

Archivists for social justice thus accomplish two things.  First, they ensure speedy retrieval of incriminatory evidence that can be used to browbeat people and extort resources.  Second, they ensure that even dim and dusty archives provide provide plenty of “teachable moments” for these odious moralists to wag their fingers and share their wretched gospel of inexpiable sin.

* * * *

My department yesterday voted by a large majority to remove the GRE requirement from applications to our graduate program.  The GRE has been for many years the graduate-school equivalent to the undergraduate SAT or ACT.  Like the SAT and ACT, the GRE was first adopted to break down the “good old boys network” whereby well-connected professors could place their protégés in the most prestigious graduate programs.  It was the one way a bright graduate of Podunk State University could get into graduate school ahead of some numbskull with good letters of recommendation from Harvard.

Now all of that is gone.  The reason, as one of my colleagues put it, is that “the GRE predicts nothing but race.”  This is false, of course, but it persuaded a large majority of my colleagues.  Three out of four, as a matter of fact.  I was tempted to ask which of them had done so very poorly on the GRE, and yet gone on to falsify this insulting prediction.

Under the cover of racial justice, this shameful vote accomplished several sinister ends.  It obviously restores what is now a “good old boys and girls network” and gives a great advantage to sycophantic students of Great and Good Professors.  It slams the door on any bright white males from Podunk U.  It puts an end to the Asian invasion without curtailing the intake of international students who “test poorly” but look good under “holistic assessment.”  And it of course dooms anyone who shames his undergraduate professors by superior intelligence, or annoys them with dissident opinions.

7 thoughts on “The University of Tomorrow is Today

  1. I am in an online graduate program that did not require a GRE. I would say the overall standard of the education i’ve received has been approximately on-par with my undergraduate education, with the only difference being that I care more about my education now than I did back then. The GRE allows discrimination by performance and abiliy, and thereby allows the graduate program to be a worthy accomplishment, because one knows one went up against some of the brightest minds. I am definitely in a program with a few bright minds (Jury’s still out on whether my mind is among them) and many people whose companies are paying for them to have letters post-fixed to their name on their resume. Removing standards (predictably) lowers standards.

    Your earlier grafs reminded me of like an opposite of the idea of Precrime in the aptly named Minority Report. But it’s postcrime. This witchhunt phenomenon is searching through someone’s history and finding a crime to then accuse them of. It’s why I know I can never hold a position of responsibility or prominence, because I was a teenager once with an internet connection. I can’t vouch for what I said back then and I would rather not invite my memory to be refreshed.

    Back in the day, decorum meant treating everyone as if they were an upstanding citizen and letting them prove you wrong. Nowadays we need a committee to validate that someone is not a scoundrel before affording them any courtesies of decorum. Anyone who doesn’t past the test is guilty of postcrime.

    The really scary thing about postcrime is that it doesn’t matter whether justice has or has not already been served. All that matters is that what was not public knowledge becomes public, and whether anything happens or not, you’ve been cancelled.

    • Many people seem to think that graduate school is just more like the undergraduate years but harder. The truth is that graduate schools were originally conceived as seminaries of profession training that followed the liberal education of the Baccalaureate. After taking his bachelor’s laurels, a young man could go on to the School of Divinity, the Law School or the School of Medicine. Graduate schools training specialists in the modern sciences are an invention of the nineteenth century, as is the PhD. A lot of people are thrown off by the Latin, but the PhD is the newest academic degree, a sort of parvenu when compared to the DD, JD and MD. In any case, there is in theory no reason why graduate school should be harder than the undergraduate college, or that graduate students should be smarter. In theory, is should just be more specialized and vocational.

      One consolation in a regime of retroactive thoughtcrime is that the Woke are especially motivated to find badthink in the past lives of other Wokesters. This follows from the basic sociological principle that we are most hostile to people who are like us because they are our direct competitors. Say I am an amorous neck beard hankering for the favors of a winsome and sex-positive social justice warriorette. My rival will almost certainly be another amorous neck beard, and not the redneck whose pickup I see parked across the street. Thus I am much more motivated to riffle the social media of my rival the neckbeard.

  2. Pingback: The University of Tomorrow is Today | Reaction Times

  3. To be blunt, your university has a bunch of not-too-bright folks on its faculty; I assume that’s common in our country these days.

    • Most professors are vaguely idealistic nerds who get their opinions from NPR. Mostly they are nerds who are happiest looking through a microscope, etc. Others are good at managing nerds by packaging opinions as “smart,” “compassionate,” “research based,” etc. This is really the NPR grift–packaging opinions so that they do not look like packaged opinions.

  4. I’m so glad I grew up just before computers, social media and smartphones began to record every second of one’s life. I feel sorry for this generation – one can hardly imagine a more cruel way to go about things. It’s as if Mao or Stalin had access to this technology, with satanic consequences.Technique is a totalizing and totalitarian framework, but it’s impossible to escape. The “delete” button on your computer doesn’t actually delete anything.

    • It creates a system of universal blackmail and extortion. I don’t know what to believe about the shenanigans of Jeffry Epstein, but the theory that he drew powerful men into shameful behavior for purposes of extortion is symbolic of our times. We are rapidly becoming an oriental society where everyone lives in fear of saying (actually typing) the wrong thing, and where the surface meaning of every statement is false.

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